And breathe out...
Whew! That felt good! It's stating the obvious to say that the Lakers have worried their fans over the last couple of weeks. The end of Game 2 and last night's game were steps in the right direction, and should ease the fears of some Laker fans.
Jordan Farmar, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, and much more factor into the many things that went right last night. Read on after the jump...
Jordan Farmar – Because this is perhaps the most positive outcome of last night's game, Farmar gets to go first. In his first significant minutes in the playoffs, Farmar played his best game in recent memory (to put it kindly). In fact, Farmar had so many positives, we'll just do a list:
- Played three stretches (entire first quarter, end of second and start of third, and end of fourth). He had a positive +/- rating for all three stints.
- His overall +/- rating was tops in the game, at +18.
- He had 12 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, and only 1 turnover (a technicality) in 33 minutes of burn
- He played with energy and hustle for every moment that he was on the court, sacrificing his body for loose balls, creating plays, and playing solid defense
- He held Aaron Brooks to 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist while forcing him into 3 turnovers and drawing 3 of his 5 fouls
Not surprisingly — remember, this is the player who headed to the gym to practice the day the Lakers drafted point guard Javaris Crittenton — Farmar set an example for the rest of the team with his effort, hustling on every play, sacrificing his body, and rewarding Phil Jackson's faith in him. Most importantly, he played with maximum effort untili the final seconds, even during garbage time — a positive sign for the Lakers, whose bench has had a tendency to relax when they have a lead and let teams back in.
Most impressively of all, Farmar made good decisions with the basketball. He pushed the pace as usual, but as a welcome change, he was controlled in this game, instead of teetering on the brink of chaos. His only turnover was the result of a jump ball, which the Lakers weren't able to secure.
Kobe reminded us that Jordan always has confidence, but I can't help but think that last night's game was a very positive experience for him, mentallyl, and can only encourage him to continue playing well in the near future.
Kobe Bryant – He had a dry spell there in the middle, but overall, his effect on the game was hugely positive, as shown by his +17 rating. He hit five of his first six shots, leading the Lakers to a hot start and setting the tone for the game. When his shot stopped falling in the second quarter, his teammates were able to pick up the slack. He finished with 33 points, six rebounds, three assists, three blocks, two steals, and only two turnovers in 44 minutes. He also shot 4-6 on three-pointers, and compiled his usual highlight reel, which included the following:
- A very long, buzze-beating 3-pointer with Artest hot on his heels to end the third quarter
- A shot clock-beating 3-pointer with 2:21 left in the 4th that put the game out of reach and signaled the beginning of garbage time
- A ridiculous fall-away shot that would usually have been a block by Battier, except that Bryant simply held on until Battier had flown past, and shot the ball as he fell to the ground
- A block on Yao Ming
- Another block on Yao Ming
When Artest scored a couple baskets, Kobe switched onto him, played his classic ball-denial defense, and effectively took Artest out of the game. Let's see, what else? Oh, did I mention that he blocked Yao Ming... twice?! How old is he, again? Oh, 30. Yeah, he's definitely over the hill...
Trevor Ariza – Ariza didn't play well in Utah. Last night, he made up for that. He was the typical energetic, active Ariza that we have come to know at Staples Center, and he hit three out of four three-point attempts. He had 13 points, five rebounds, two assists, and four steals — indicative of his excellent defense. (Every time the Rockets made a risky pass, it seemed Ariza made them pay for it.) His +/- rating was the third highest on the team, at +16.
Lamar Odom – In his typical quiet fashion, Lamar left a solid imprint on the game, turning in a 16-point, 13-rebound performance almost without anyone noticing it. He added two blocks and a steal, while hitting both of his threes and shooting 7-11 overall.
3-Point Shooting – We knew the Lakers' long distance shooting woes would not last, and that when they started shooting well, the Rockets would have a problem. Sure enough, and sure enough. The Lakers shot 55% from beyond the arc, making 11 of 20 attempts. It could certainly be argued that this was the difference in the game. In particular, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, and Lamar Odom combined to hit nine out of 12 threes.
Defense – In the first quarter, the Lakers and Rockets both shot the lights out, en route to 58 combined points. For the remaining three quarters, the Lakers held the Rockets to 36.9% shooting, including a 24% third quarter in which the Lakers pulled away with a double digit lead.
Turnovers – The Lakers committed only six turnovers for the entire game, while forcing 17 by the Rockets. L.A. had a 20-5 points off turnovers advantage.
Coaching – Jackson's decision to put Farmar into the starting lineup against Brooks, to replace the suspended Fisher, was the right one, and it paid off. His decision to play Kobe the entire fourth quarter will likely be loudly applauded here at SS&R, and resulted in no significant lead reduction while the bench was in to start the fourt quarter.
The Bench – While perhaps not as horrific as they have been recently, they still shot a paltry 7-18 and were outscored 27-21 by the Rockets' bench. To their credit, at least they didn't give away a big lead to start the fourth. And in fact, they actually increased the lead slightly when they started the third. Still, the bench needs to focus on the primary goal of the game, which is to put the ball in the hole.
Sasha Vujacic – Okay, so the guy hit one three. Problem is, he missed his five other shots. Still, it could have been worse. He had only two fouls in 13 minutes, didn't put the Lakers in early foul trouble, and didn't turn the ball over.
Andrew Bynum – Relative to his play in the last seven games, we could actually put him under The Good. He played very good defense on Yao while he was in, let the game come to him, hit both of his shots, and collected five rebounds in 12 minutes. Some very good numbers on short minutes. Problem is, if he can't stop fouling (3 fouls in only 12 minutes), none of that will matter. It's the beginnings of a good night, wasted on fouls. That's why he's here.
Rebounding – This may be more bad than ugly, but the Lakers were out-rebounded by 13, including nine on the offensive boards, of which the Rockets collected 19. Every other statistic favored the Lakers. Had they been able to control the boards, this game would have been a blowout.
My Internet Connection – My friend's wireless connection pulled a Lamar Odom vanishing act, and I was unable to participate in the threads last night. Apologies for the late GameThread and Post-Game Thread.
Not much else to complain about. Our offense was good, our threes were falling, the energy was high, the effort was there, and there was no fourth quarter drop-off. All this while playing in Houston, where the Rockets' had previously won nine games in a row (streak stoppers, anyone?). Pretty hard to find problems with such a solid win, against such a strong team, on their home court.
So let's look at the Rockets.
Ron Artest lived up to expectations. He shot 10-23, but that stat was padded by the four straight shots he hit at the end of the game when he started chucking up desperation heaves, which while impressive, were not indicative of his overall game. He shot 6-19 before the final two minutes of the game, including 2-8 overall from distance. He also got ejected from the game for the second straight time, this time for a Flagrant II foul — but we've already discussed that in an earlier post.
Yao Ming had 19 points and 14 rebounds, but he shot only 6-14, as the Lakers defended him well on most possessions. Unfortunately, he was hindered late by an apparent leg injury that had him limping, and he showed his toughness by refusing to come out until the final seconds, with the game decided. Hopefully, he is ready to go in Game 4. Much respect to him.
Overall, the Rockets weren't terrible; they just weren't that great, etiher. They played decently, and they were reasonably close for a brief moment in the fourth quarter, but from the start of the game, the Lakers' win never really seemed to be in doubt.
A solid win by Los Angeles that takes back home court advantage and gives them the clear upper hand in the series. They displayed the kind of effort necessary to win at a high level in the playoffs, took care of business, and by and large didn't give away any huge leads late in the game. In short, they played much more like the team they are supposed to be.
Last night's win gives them momentum going into Game 4, though the Rockets aren't about to roll over. Given the results of this game, I think it highly unlikely that Houston will win the next two in Houston, and almost impossible that they will win any more at all in L.A. The tides surely have turned, and a five-game series no longer seems absurd, though my six-game prediction is still the most reasonable guess. Still, a win in Game 4, in my mind, would almost guarantee a five-game series.