Welcome to our new post series: "So...how did the Lakers manage to win last night?" For every Lakers win this season—and admittedly, there may not be as many as we're quite used to around these parts—we'll examine just how the undermanned Lake Show managed to add to their lonely win column for the 2014-2015 season. Here we go!
One factor in the Lakers' unexpected victory over a vastly superior Toronto squad was undoubtedly the absence of DeMar DeRozan. Toronto is clearly still adjusting to the absence of the former Trojan, who was averaging 19.4 ppg this season. As the rest of the team adjusts to playing a larger role in his absence they will be vulnerable to upsets like this.
That caveat aside, the Lakers deserve some real credit for going out and beating a squad that even in DeRozan's absence had LA outgunned. The main headline was of course 36-year-old Kobe Bryant's 31 point/12 assist/10 rebound triple double, but Nick Young also chipped in 20 points with five three-pointers. In fact, every Lakers player other than Bryant (11-24) and Jeremy Lin (3-11) shot above 50% from the field. Add in some timely late game defense and hounding Kyle Lowry into 10-28 shooting and the purple and gold had the recipe for a rare win.
Coming off a season lowlight in a loss against the Timberwolves, it was anyone's guess which Lakers team would show up last night. Luckily it was the good one. It's tempting to say that this game hinged on a vintage triple-double performance from the Mamba and the absence of DeMar DeRozan for the Raptors, but I think that's an oversimplification. This was Kobe's night - he was certainly incredible as he ripped down boards, set up his teammates, hit big shots, and (mostly) scored within the flow of the offense. Still, his teammates were plenty of help as well and were efficient across the board. Jordan Hill was everywhere, blocking shots and nailing jump shots en route to a double double. Nick Young had another big game off the bench with five 3s. As a team, the Lakers shot nearly 50%, including 10-24 three-pointers. For their part, the Raptors played tough and repeatedly fought to stay in the game, despite missing their leading scorer and having plenty of reasons to fold up on the road.
Last night was a ton of fun - an exciting overtime thriller that saw the Lakers come out with a big victory, but there were also some things to be worried about. The team looked lost on defense at times, with some of the purple and gold going into a zone and the others playing man to man as they tried to set up their defense. In transition and when attacking, the offense looked fluid and unselfish, but it was also incredibly stagnant at times in the half court. I found myself wondering when the easy baskets would come, the type of shots created by executing the pick and roll or a play designed to open up a shooter. Instead, the Lakers had to hit tough jump shots out of isolation far too often for my liking. In particular, the Mamba had to work hard for every point in over 41 minutes of run. Scott should look to employ more plays and sets that take advantage of Kobe's scoring ability without forcing him to create in isolation as well, which could both extend his career and improve his efficiency. Kobe won't ever quit, but that doesn't mean he should try to sustain this kind of workload over 82 games.
The Lakers won because their shots were falling, finally. It's really that simple. Their defense was pretty bad, particularly through the first half, but their offense was firing. Much of that can be attributed to Kobe Bryant slinging the ball around like he was possessed by the spirit of Steve Nash as the de facto point guard for Los Angeles.
It didn't hurt that the Raptors were without DeMar DeRozan, either, who would have given Kobe a harder time on both ends of the floor. Ultimately, the Raptors just didn't have enough firepower to match Kobe, who hit plenty of big buckets in the fourth quarter and overtime to put the game away. Sustainable? Probably not, but it was nice to see the ball moving, just as much as it was nice to see Kobe hitting some of his signature moves to put the finishing touches on a team. And that crossover he hit on Terrence Ross? Ice. Cold.
The Great Mambino
To me, this was the most "a Lakers win vs. an Opponent's loss" as we've seen all season....or may see all season. The team truly maxed out on offense, with the exception of Jeremy Lin. The Raptors played solid defense as far as I could see, contesting shots and bodying up the Lakers, but to the credit of LA, they just kept on executing. Kobe Bryant saw the light of efficiency, doling out assist after assist while his teammates like Nick Young, Jordan Hill and even Robert Sacre hit on tough field goal attempts. I truly believe that this was the best form of the Lakers offensively: Kobe as a healthy balance between facilitator and gunner, with Young firmly planted on the perimeter and Boozer, Hill and Sacre being able to finish inside. It was a very impressive performance that I'm not sure the team is likely to repeat any time soon, but certainly commendable under any circumstance.
However, I'd be remiss to not mention the absence of DeMar DeRozan, which really seemed to discombobulate Toronto. Stu Lantz mentioned it several times last night and it showed on the floor: the Raps are still trying to figure out their rotations without the former USC swingman, the team's leader in FGAs. Toronto has the second most efficient offense in the league and it was very clearly thrown off by not having their leading scorer on the court. The Lakers were definitely better on defense than we saw on Friday night, but looking at T-Dot's 58 points in the paint, there are obviously still some wrinkles to iron out.