After the Rockets laid waste to the Lakers in Game 4, I can't imagine many Laker fans felt bad for the Rockets during Game 5. This is a piece on the good, the bad and the ugly, but it could very well be about the good, the better and the best after the Lakers' performance.
The Lakers came out with a fire, got contributions from all over the place (including a stunningly active Andrew Bynum) and for the first time in a while, played a full 48 minutes. Read on after the jump...
Defense, Defense, Defense- It's cliche and you hear it all the time...defense wins championships. Whether you agree with that statement or not, I think just about everyone would agree that's the case for this specific Lakers team. If the Lakers commit to playing defense for 48 minutes, there aren't many team that will beat them. In Game 5, the Lakers played awful defense for 5+ minutes, then locked down unlike they have all postseason until the final buzzer sounded.
Houston had 18 points just 5:42 into the game and it looked like the Lakers could be in for a rough night. All of a sudden, the purple and gold locked down all over the court. The strong-side zone took shape, they didn't get caught going for steals, they hedged harder on screens and their rotations were sharper. Most notably though, they committed to making someone not named Aaron Brooks beat them. The Lakers started bringing an early double on Brooks all the way out to the three point line and made him get rid of the ball early. Phil usually doesn't like doubling on the perimeter, almost to a fault, but in Game 5 it was clear that stopping Brooks was Phil's primary objective. While Brooks did have 14 points, he did so on only 4-11 shooting and wasn't allowed entry to the paint where he could kick it out for open jumpers so Brooks tallied only two assists.
In the final 18:18 of the first half, the Lakers held the Rockets to only 21 points and not only were they keeper Houston off the board, the defense ignited the offense. From the 6:18 mark of the first quarter through halftime, the Lakers outscored the Rockets 54-21. The Lakers forced 18 turnovers and held the Rockets to 32.6% shooting. When the Lakers play defense, they're darn tough to beat and the Rockets found that out in Game 5.
Andrew Bynum- A new brace and we see a new Drew. He's out of his big, bulky brace and into something that's a little smaller and looks much more flexible. Now, I don't know if that new brace's extra flexibility actually made the difference in Drew tonight or if it was more of a mental thing with the new brace, but we saw an active, determind #17 on the floor tonight. The big man was 5-6 from the field, he knocked dow all four of his free throws and reeled in six boards in 20 minutes of action.
Drew didn't record a block, but he was excellent defensively. Twice he altered shots in the paint and his presence on the strong side seemed to deter the Rockets' ball handlers from even attempting to go to the rim. Most notably though was when Bynum doubled early on Brooks above the three point line, forcing Brooks to get rid of the ball and then showing enough speed, quickness and awareness to get back to his man or clog up the paint.
If Drew can give the Lakers 20 minutes like he did tonight then opposing teams will be in trouble. Rick Adelman said in his postgame news conference that there's not much he can do against our frontline of Bynum and Gasol besides trying to stretch out his guys another six inches. Well, there isn't much other teams can do either if Drew is playing like he did tonight.
Backup Point Guards- Jordan Farmar is officially back from hibernation and Shannon Brown is still one of the more athletic point guards in the league. While Fisher continued to struggle on the defensive end (although he was better), Farmar and Brown were quick, active and got their hands in passing lane repeatedly.
Farmar was a +20 in his 22 minutes as he scored 12 points, none more exciting than his buzzer beater to cap the first quarter. Farmar spent a lot of time on the ball in Game 5, but it was sure good that he did because he was in complete control. The triangle offense doesn't really use a true point guard, but Farmar played as much of a true point as you'll see in the offense and he did it to perfection, picking up six assists.
Every game Brown has two or three moments where you just go "wow." There were a few of those tonight (such as skying 36 feet for a rebound, slight exaggeration), but was so impressive was his ability to harness that athleticism. He was splendid defensively and did so within the system. There have been times where Brown gets so excited looking for turnovers that he takes himself out of position chasing the ball, but tonight he was in complete control and picked all the right times to make a play on the ball. He brings an explosiveness to the game that few others do and creates havoc, but a good havoc.
Lamar Odom- He only played 19 minutes, but he played. If you took a look at all of the attention he was getting from the medical staff during the game, the way he gingerly moved around the court before the game and the fact that he took a golf cart through the arena to the locker room so as not to risk further injury to his back, getting 19 minutes and some pretty good ones is quite an accomplishment. Lamar picked up six board and 10 points, but maybe the most encouraging was his 5-6 shooting from the line after some abysmal shooting from the stripe earlier in the series.
Lamar was an astonishing +31 on the evening, the second best on the team. Think about that for a second. +31 in 19 minutes. That's a +1.6 per minute or +76.8 for 48 minutes. Bad back, limited minutes, unspectacular stat line, whatever. Lamar brought it tonight.
Pau Gasol- Odom's +31 was second on the team because Gasol was a +32. Pau led the team in minutes and set the tone in the first quarter as he dominated the paint. Pau's teammates picked up on the ridiculous size advantage that he holds over any healthy Rocket and gave him the ball early to set the tone. Through the first three quarters the Lakers outscored the Rockets 42-28 in the paint.
Pau defended the paint in picking up three blocks, spent enough time taking it to the rack to earn eight free throws and has 13 rebounds. The Rockets' top post defender Chuck Hayes played only 16 minutes because of foul trouble trying to man-up Pau. In both the first and third quarters, the Lakers were in the bonus within the first four or five minutes and a good number of the fouls that put the Lakers in the bonus so while he has only 16 points, he contributed to a whole lot more.
Kobe Bryant- Pau dominated the inside early on and Kobe came out dominating the perimeter, while still getting the paint a little more than we've seen from him lately. Kobe had 12 points on 5-7 shooting in the first quarter as he continued his trend of being aggressive and dominating early in games following a playoff loss. Kobe finished with 26 points and was a +30 in only three quarters of play and while those numbers seem pedestrian for arguably the game's top scorer, you had the feeling all game long that whenever Kobe wanted two points, they were his.
The Crowd- The Staples Center crowd this postseason has been awful. No game has had that buzz that usually accompanies postseason basketball and it took a lot to get the crowd going. That wasn't the case tonight.
As we were walking into the arena, my brother asked whether the crowd would be somber and ready to boo at the first sign of vulnerability following Sunday's massacre or energized by the importance of the game. I told him I had no idea, but what we got was outstanding. Yeah, good play makes it easy to cheer and tonight's play was phenomenal, but prior to tip and in those first six minutes where we were behind, the crowd was roaring.
Derek Fisher- I really don't want to continue hammering the guy's defense because there isn't much he can do about it. He'd older and his feet have slowed down, but we still need more from him. Brooks had four field goals in the game, each one with Fish on the floor. With Farmar and Brown playing well behind him and Fish playing less minutes than we're accustomed to tonight, you have to wonder how much playing time the veteran will get in Game 6.
Sasha Vujacic- He's still playing defense and working his tail off, but he's a shooter and he's not shooting well. I don't think I need to say much here because anyone that's watched the Lakers at just about any point this season knows what I'm talking about. If Sasha can find his shot again (that's a big if right now), the Lakers can go to a whole new level, but not only is he missing right now, but his shots aren't even in the same area code as the net.
We won by 40 points, played hard for 48 minutes and better defense than we have at any time this postseason. I don't think it's possible to describe anything the Lakers did as ugly tonight. Things can be improved, just like they always can, but there's no such thing as ugly in a 40 point win unless you want to hear about the stain I got on my jersey.