There will always be days like this. Even if you love what you do for a living, even if you were put on this earth to spend your days in the exact fashion that you do, there will always be days that feel like a grind. Where you didn't get enough sleep the night before, and you just don't have the energy you need to have, and all you want to do is call it a day and go home, go to bed and just move on to the next day. These days are a part of life. How you handle one of those days says something about you as a person. Do you give in to the weakness, cut out early, or half-ass your way through your day? Or do you rise to the challenge and push through the malaise. To fail in these types of situations is to be human. To succeed is to be a professional. Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers were the latter.
This was not a pretty game. The first half was one of the uglier 24 minute periods of basketball we've seen since the Lakers stopped being 1st round playoff fodder. No energy. Weak rotations. Missed shots. Poor transition defense. Nary a three point shot to be seen. And turnovers. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, 13 in all through two quarters. The Lakers were clearly tired, having gotten into town after 3 AM, having traveled played late the previous night nearly 1,000 miles in the distance. They were clearly unfocused, lagging, a step slow. They were lucky to go into the 2nd half only down four, as the Golden State Warriors helped out by coughing the ball up 9 times of their own and failing to capitalize on the Lakers' weakness.
Then, the second half came along, and the Lakers pushed through. Or were pushed through, by a familiar face. If there is one attribute of The Black Mamba that deserves universal praise and recognition, it is his ability to push through.
For the third time in four games, Kobe Bryant took more shots than the two big men who patrol the middle for the Lakers. For the third time in three games, Kobe Bryant shot a decent percentage and scored over 30 points. For the first straight game, I didn't have a single problem with Kobe calling his own number again and again. There are times when proper offensive balance, and strong ball movement, and equal distribution of shots are all important qualities of a successfully run offense. There are times when Kobe demands the ball too much, even if he is playing within the offense and distributing accordingly. Tonight was not one of them. Tonight was the kind of night where the rest of the Lakers all look to Kobe, because they know Kobe will push through. Tonight, Kobe played the hero card to perfection.
His stat line has a little bit of everything ... 39 points on 28 shots. 14 trips to the free throw line, four rebounds, seven assists. He "only" turned the ball over 3 times. Kobe played under control, didn't force too many bad and unnecessary shots, and drove hard to the lane whenever he felt like the Lakers needed a bit more of a guarantee than an outside shot would provide. And, on a night where Andrew Bynum was visibly exhausted and the whole team lacked a spark, Kobe Bryant played the entire 2nd half because he knew this was a game the Lakers had to win to build a bit of momentum in this fractured season. Above all things, Kobe Bryant is a warrior, and while there might be a few basketball players on this earth more able than he is, there are certainly none with more fight.
Kobe led his team to victory, but he did not drag them there. Come the second half, the Lakers played a much more inspired brand of ball, limiting turnovers to just 7 for the 2nd half (including just one in the pivotal 3rd quarter, where a 4 point deficit turned into a 9 point lead). Matt Barnes might have been the player of the game, despite Kobe's efforts, because it was Barnes' energy on defense, and speed in transition, that got the Lakers easy buckets. He shot 7-9 from the field for 16 points, including two gloriously accurate outside shots. Pau Gasol contributed a solid effort, with 17 points and 11 boards. And Drew Bynum had his first bad game of the year. Going toe to toe with one of the few guys in the league with the size to stand up to him (I warned you all about Kwame Brown being just right for the challenge), and lacking the legs to make shots he might normally devour, Drew hit just 3 of 9 shots and 3 of 8 free throws, scoring only 9 points. Oh, and he grabbed 16 boards too. On a night when Drew pretty clearly had an empty tank, he still cleaned up on the glass, because he is a titan in a game of mere giants.
This was not a good win, because the Warriors are not a good team. They were without one of their primary cogs, with Steph Curry missing time due to a sprained ankle. The Lakers defense was lazy in the first half and porous in the second, as Monta Ellis repeatedly found easy assists off penetration to the basket. This win doesn't absolve all of that, doesn't paint a rosier picture of where this Lakers team is at then it should. What this game does is show that the Lakers have the capability to be professional about their jobs, to come to work and give what they can, even when they know it's less than 100%.
This was not a good win, but in a season like the one we are embarking on, it was an important one. Teams that can't win games like this are going to find games hard to win at all.