The Lakers entered Tuesday night’s game against the Spurs having dropped two straight games by double digit margins, the most recent of which was an embarrassing blowout loss to the Heat in a much-anticipated Christmas Day showdown. With the media and fans increasingly critical of the team’s recent play, the two veteran leaders, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, stepped up and challenged their teammates to bring more energy in what they knew would be a tough match against San Antonio, the league’s best team. In the end, Kobe and D-Fish’s challenges were not enough as the Lakers fell to the Spurs 97-82. What, then, went wrong? How did the Lakers drop their third consecutive game by 10 or more points?
First and foremost, the Lakers shot terribly from the field. They ended the game 29-for-82 as a team, which calculates to a dismal 35.4 percent. Everyone expected Kobe to have a great “bounce back” game, and in the early going it certainly looked like it would be just that. Kobe came out extremely aggressive from the get-go; he banked in a shot from the post over Manu Ginobili at the 11:30 mark in the first. If you remember, he didn’t score until the second quarter versus the Heat. He then hit another jumper at the top of the circle, a fade away in the key, and an off-balance shot in the key to give him 8 of the Lakers’ first 10 points. But his red hot shooting cooled off as quickly as it initially heated up; over the course of the second and third quarters, Kobe bricked 13 straight shots, which led to his brutal 8-for-27 final line on the night. Anyone can look at the box score and tell you he had a bad night from the floor, but it was more than that. Kobe was visibly frustrated and that resulted in a lot of forced shots/passes and a lot of pressing in general. During his dry spell, I saw the Lakers play a lot of isolation basketball in which they would hand Kobe the basketball and watch him attempt to take his defender off the dribble. We all know how well the team plays when they resort to that type of offense.
Speaking of pressing, the Lakers never looked comfortable out on the court and turned in a very sloppy effort. Offensively, LA turned the ball over 16 times (compared to the Spurs’ 9), which led to 17 fast break points for San Antonio on the night. Defensively, the Lakers looked a step too slow. They were constantly beat off the dribble by Tony Parker who weaved his way through the defense for 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting and they allowed the Spurs to chuck open three after open three. The Spurs came in to tonight’s game as the number-one three-point shooting team in the league, and the Lakers are lucky they did not shoot up to potential. The Spurs attempted a whopping 32 triples on the night and only connected on 9 of them.
And what happened to Pau Gasol? The Spaniard had only 8 total shot attempts tonight and finished the game with 9 points. I barely remember him touching the ball and he had absolutely no bearing on the outcome of tonight’s game. The only big men that mattered tonight were the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum and the Spurs’ DeJuan Blair.
Bynum was a bright spot for the Lakers. He played 22 minutes tonight, which represents his highest minute total in any game since his return. He finished 4-for-4 from the field for 10 points, with 7 rebounds and 1 blocked shot. But, most importantly, he brought an edge to the Lakers on both sides of the court. Bynum played physical all night long; he committed a hard foul on Thiago Splitter that set the tone from the moment he entered the game. On defense, he altered several shots and did not allow any easy buckets down low. And on offense, he used his length to make some nice short hooks and even threw down a big slam. The only downside of his performance was his anemic 2-for-8 clip from the charity stripe.
As for the Spurs’ Blair, he proved to many why I thought he was such a huge steal for San Antonio in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft. Blair was a monster on both ends of the court. Not only did he finish the game with a double-double (17 points and 15 rebounds), but he pleased his coaches/teammates and excited the fans with great hustle plays and even a nifty revere layup. The Lakers sure could use someone like him on their roster.
Some other final notes:
- The Lakers’ bench continues to play poorly. Although he grabbed 11 rebounds, Shannon Brown looked lost on offense and shot 1-for-11 from the field.
- Ron Artest played aggressively tonight and had a decent showing.
- With 4:03 left in the 3rd quarter, Derek Fisher was knocked to the ground by Richard Jefferson. No foul was called on the play. Afterward, Fisher ran halfway down the court to get in Jefferson’s face and talk trash. He was called for a technical foul. It was a boneheaded play that I would never imagine seeing from Fisher. If there was anyone to go after, it was the refs.
Tomorrow night the defending champs will try, once again, to right the ship. They travel to New Orleans where a talented opponent awaits them. Check back with us for the post-game recap.