Basketball is a funny game sometimes. Take tonight's 86-78 Los Angeles Lakers victory over the Atlanta Hawks, for example. The final score indicates a low scoring affair where scoring was at a premium. The Lakers' 17 turnovers show a team that struggled to take care of the basketball. The Lakers' eFG coming in just under 50% indicates a team that made about as many shots as expected, no more, no less. And the Lakers' final tally of 0.95 points per possession is proof that the offensive performance wasn't that strong on paper.
But when the Lakers sit down to review tonight's game film, the coaches will have plenty to smile about. Even though the Lakers ended up with another pedestrian offensive performance, there was miles of difference between what was seen tonight and what has become commonplace over the course of a long season. There was a crispness to the Lakers ball movement that has been sorely lacking in so many contests this season. There was a confidence in the way shooters knew they were going to have an open shot prior to catching the ball. Troy Murphy's jump shot even had arc on it!
All in all, the positives of tonight's offensive performance far out-weigh the negatives, despite the numbers the Lakers ended up with. Kobe Bryant isn't going to go 5-18 or score just 10 points very often (the last time Kobe scored less was over three seasons ago). Pau Gasol isn't going to miss 13 shots very often either. For both of these rarities to take place on a night when the Lakers won, and won easily, shows just how strongly everybody else played. We know Kobe, and to a lesser extent Pau, will bounce back. If the rest of the squad can keep the good times rolling when they do, the Lakers might finally be able to build some momentum this season.
On the flip side of things, the Lakers held the Hawks to a moribund PPP of .87, and yet their defense seemed a little flat, especially as it pertained to limiting offensive rebounding. The Hawks routinely missed wide open layups (at one point missing three in a row), and the Lakers were often caught flat footed in watching the Hawks pursue loose balls. None of that mattered, because Atlanta couldn't hit a shot to save their lives. There were some strong defensive performances (Metta World Peace kept Joe Johnson in check, and Pau Gasol did a great job altering shots near the rim), but there was nothing overly special about the Lakers defensive performance, despite the very strong defensive result.
That's the irony of a strange game, but it's the kind of strange game the Lakers were sorely in need of. A comfortable win against a strong opponent is exactly the foot the Lakers wanted to start off on after coming back from a tough road trip.