"There’s no excuse for giving up 117 points, giving up 35- or 40-point quarters, there's no excuse for not running back on defense, there’s no excuse on a couple of schemes we have to get done," D’Antoni said.
"The only excuse there is that they’re not quite tuned in. It’s not natural, but it will come. I just don’t think we’ve had a ‘gut-checking’ moment yet. At some point, we’re going to draw a line in the sand and that’s it, you have to fight." - December 9th, 2012 - Kevin Ding, OC Register
Tuesday night the Los Angeles Lakers were run down by the Charlotte Bobcats. A team full of young and athletic players pushed the tempo and took advantage of a Lakers team that is susceptible to miserable quarters, and halves, of defense. As the Bobcats landed blow after blow it looked as if the purple and gold would lose to a team on an 11 game losing streak. A team with the worst defense in the league. A team featuring Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Byron Mullens, and Bismack Biyombo as their starting five. Despair, and fear, set into the hearts of the faithful fans. Frustration boiled over watching the Lakers continue to underperform. Was this the rock bottom we were witnessing; the fans booing loudly in Staples as the Bobcats had their way with the "mighty" Los Angeles Lakers. The rafters hosting a crowd of banners looking down on the team in shame and embarrassment.
Here's the gut-check moment.
Do you lose to a team, at home, on an 11 game losing streak? Do you fail to win when you have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard out on the floor? Or do you fight back from the 18 point deficit and find a way to squeak out a win?
The Lakers certainly didn't play a good game of basketball. Laucnhing up 31 three pointers while only making 10 isn't the greatest plan of action against a team that can push the ball against the old bones wearing Lakers jerseys. Giving up 18 offensive rebounds, 7 of which went to Bismack Biyombo alone, is a disaster. Tinkering with the lineup; first starting Devin Ebanks (he only played a 4:49 stretch in the first quarter and never saw the floor again), then trying all sorts of cutesy things with Dwight, Pau, and Metta, is certainly a path leading to confused players and roles. Dwight Howard having another 5 turnovers while trying to establish a post presence, especially when trying to utilize the 4 out 1 in they've been showing lately, was problematic.
The Lakers were playing losing basketball.
This was a game by and large the Bobcats deserved to win. They hit tough shots, hustled on the glass, and wore the Lakers out while playing to their strengths. They played a complete game of basketball while the Lakers struggled to put it together beyond 30% of the game. Early on, the Bobcats certainly had Lady Luck on their side as no matter how well defended their shots were they found their way through the hoop. Eventually it caught up, and when they looked back what was left behind in the wake of their destruction was an 18 point lead in Staples. Kemba Walker was dominant, scoring 24 points on 12-24, dropping 7 dimes, and gathering 5 boards for his team. Walker blew by Chris Duhon for the majority of the game and was quick to unleash his floater that even the wingspan of Dwight Howard couldn't affect.
Of course in his return to Los Angeles Ramon Sessions had a very productive night off the bench. 17 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and the reminder of the promise he showed early on in his stint with the Lakers. At $5 million a year over the next two years the Bobcats have quite a backup point guard to spell Kemba Walker with. Adding to the scoring was Gerald Henderson, who ended his night with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 absolutely WOW moment in which he threw down (literally) a monster dunk. There's a trend here as we run down what the Bobcats did to succeed against the Lakers. They grabbed rebounds (they won the battle 50-46) and moved the ball (24 total assists on the night).
Yes, the Lakers were reeling. A quick left and an overhand right from the Bobcats had the Lakers on the ropes with the weight of an 18 point deficit and the crowd letting them know what they thought in waves of disgruntled and frustrated boos. With 5:30 left in the 3rd quarter, down 80-62, the line had finally been drawn in the sand for the Lakers. It was time to fight back.
By the time the Lakers had brawled their way back into the game there was 9:52 left in the 4th quarter, and they were up 86-84. Holding the Bobcats to six points as they grabbed hold of the lead speaks to how important it is for the Lakers to embrace playing lockdown defense. Both big men were actively engaged defensively as Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol combined for 8 blocks (they each had 4 on the night). Metta World Peace had ANOTHER stellar game with his new-found bench enforcer role. Four steals on the night for MWP, with the majority coming while he played Byron Mullens in the power forward slot, were huge in this game. Over the last three games (all wins) he's had a total of 11 steals and has been instrumental for the Lakers defense. Against the Bobcats he had a absolutely monstrous 91 defensive rating, and while advanced defensive stats certainly have a great deal of room for growth and clarity, it adds up to how important he was for the Lakers as they needed every shred of fight they could muster. If there's one thing that no one can knock MWP on it's the amount of hustle and heart he plays with. Yes, at times his shots are errant. Yes, at times he becomes a victim of the moment. His emphatic play, though, has become a key in the Lakers finding a pulse on a nightly basis.
Time was dwindling down, though, and the teams exchanged baskets in the 4th. The Bobcats pushed back after being blitzed by a suddenly lively Lakers team. Kobe Bryant was there, though, to close the door on the Bobcats, with two critical possessions in the final 1:30 of the game. The Lakers had a comfy 101-97 lead with :52 to go in the 4th. Barring a complete collapse, and missed free throws, Bryant had done everything he could to hoist a win for the Lakers.
Not yet, not everything.
The collapse began. With under a minute to go and a four point differential, the Lakers needed to do everything in their power to prevent a three point play. Ramon Sessions drove the lane for a layup, was fouled in the process, and Howard committed a SILLY goaltend on a layup that had no earthly chance of going in. At the line, Sessions sank the gift from Howard, and suddenly the safe 4 point point lead was anything but. With 47 seconds left in the game the Lakers had a one point lead and a chance to put the game away. With the ball in his hands, Kobe Bryant took a high screen from Howard and the franchise center rolled to the basket. Nothing but the rim in front of him. As Kobe separated from the screen and his defender he pulled up, faded away, and missed a tough 21 foot jumper that the Bobcats recovered. All while Howard could have flushed it down with a well placed pass, but I digress.
The grand finale was now in the hands of the Bobcats, with 21 seconds remaining, and chance to stun the Lakers at home.
Something strange happened in a season that has been exasperating for both players and fans alike, though. As Kemba Walker drove past Kobe Bryant and right into the paint with the intention of delivering the knockout punch to the Lakers. Dwight Howard rotated over and slapped the attempt against the glass. The ball magically found it's way into the hands of Gerald Henderson, who instantly recognized there was no defense under the rim after Kemba drew away both Howard and Bryant, caught the ball in stride, and drove to the rim just as his teammate did. With absolutely no defense to alter his shot he gently rolled the ball up towards the hoop. And roll it did, right off of the rim and down into the paint. Byron Mullens scrambled for the rebound and flailed about, eventually sending the ball out to Ben Gordon in the midst of the chaos.
Oh boy, here it comes.
As the buzzer sounded and the ball flew towards the rim it was difficult to imagine the ball not finding it's home. After two missed opportunities, certainly the Lakers couldn't dodge a third knockout punch. But they did. The streamers fell down from the rafters, caressing a crowd that was cheering wildly despite booing the Lakers as the Bobcats built an 18 point lead. This was more heart attack than gut-check. In fact, this was roughly four heart attacks. Yes, the Lakers won, but in as distressing a fashion as possible.
But they won.
It wasn't sexy, it isn't worth being stuck to the fridge with a magnet, but it's a win. The third straight in fact. Yes, the Lakers have now beaten two teams without integral pieces of their roster and a floundering Bobcats team that has now lost 12 straight games and has the worst defense in the league. Down 18, looking as flat as we've come to expect as of late, the Lakers turned this game around and found a way to win while losing going into the 4th quarter for the first time this season. Kobe Bryant had another productive game, scoring 30 points (9-20), passing for 7 assists, and grabbing 6 rebounds. A new "record" for Kobe to claim as well against the Bobcats, as he becomes the only player 34 or older to record 7 straight 30+ point games in league history. Oh, and this is the third straight game where Kobe has scored 30 points and the Lakers won.
In other news, Pau Gasol had a very Pau Gasol return for the Lakers. 10 points (3-10), 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocked shots. His offense was certainly out of rhythm as he bobbled a few passes and missed all but one of his jumpers. Of note, D'Antoni made an effort to separate Howard and Gasol's time on the floor and elected to sit Pau in the game's final minutes. Overall, though, Pau looked great and was moving much more fluid than before his time away from the Lakers. Hopefully the tendinitis is behind him and he can continue to play at the pace he showed Tuesday night. On multiple possessions he was the first or second man on the other end of the court in transition, and while it didn't pay immediate dividends on this particular night, that kind of hustle will turn into a net gain for the Lakers and Gasol in time. The main takeaways from Gasol's return? He can move again, his defense was spirited as he blocked 4 shots, the Lakers finally have a player who actively tries to create for Dwight, and he still needs to find his groove on the offensive end.
The Lakers won, their guts were checked, and our nerves were wracked. A big layoff until Saturday's game against the Golden State Warriors, and more searching for the Lakers until then. Will Steve Nash be ready for Saturday's game? Will Mike D'Antoni adjust his rotations (he has already stated Kobe Bryant will be sliding up to small forward and Jodie Meeks will be starting at shooting guard)? Can Pau find a role and minutes that suit his abilities? Will D'Antoni find a way to utilize both Antawn Jamison (healthy and received a DNP-CD) and Jordan Hill in his big man rotation? Even with a win, the Lakers are surrounded by questions. A turbulent season similar to this turbulent win. Hopeful they both end the same, with the Lakers finding a way to win as the final buzzer sounds. Final score tonight, 101-100.
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|Final - 12.18.2012||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Los Angeles Lakers||27||26||24||24||101|