Lakers 114, Rockets 106 (OT)

After they dropped their past two games, the Lakers entered Tuesday night’s contest against the Rockets needing a win to carry some positive momentum into Thursday’s highly anticipated match against the San Antonio Spurs. As we saw last week, the Lakers could not have afforded to take these Rockets for granted; Houston is a scrappy bunch who is dangerous enough to upset a good team on any given night. Although it took four quarters and some extra time, the Lakers managed to oust the Rockets 114-106; those 50-plus minutes of basketball gave us plenty to talk about, so let’s jump right in!

The Two Sides of Efficiency: Kobe Bryant vs. Kevin Martin

The basketball world was thrown into a frenzy this past week after TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott released this article that attempted to debunk the “myth” that Kobe is the NBA’s best clutch performer. Part of Abbott’s argument is the idea of offensive efficiency, a statistic that has gained tons of steam in recent years in the basketball community. On Tuesday night, we witnessed players on opposite ends of the efficiency spectrum; Kobe on the poor end and Martin on the strong end.

The two guards both poured in 30 points or more (Bryant 32, Martin 30). However, how they scored those points must be noted. Kobe took 25 total shots, whereas Martin took only 15 shots; this means that Kobe scored 1.28 points per shot, whereas Martin scored a whopping 2 points per shot. Not only did Martin shoot a higher percentage from the field (53% to Kobe’s 52%), but he also took advantage of the three-point shot (4 to Kobe’s zero) and made four more trips to the free throw line (11 to Kobe’s 7). I’m not saying Martin is better than Kobe; I’m just saying that he makes better use of his shots and his points come at less expense. It’s food for thought.

The Two Sides of Kobe

The game within the game was noticing how Kobe would respond to his 41-point, 0-assist performance in the team’s loss to the Celtics. A lot of people gave Kobe crap for taking too many shots and not recording a single assist. And rightfully so; the Lakers stunk that night and recorded a pathetic 10 team assists.

Well, it was clear from the get-go that Kobe wanted to get others involved and move the ball around. Through the first nine minutes of the game, Kobe was the only starter that had not scored. Furthermore, Kobe recorded 7 assists before he scored his first point. I remember there was one play in which Kobe shook his defender and had an easy layup, but instead he chose to whip a pass over his shoulder to Pau so that the Spaniard could get a not-as-easy bucket. It was a clear statement that Kobe was intent on getting others, most notably Gasol, the rock.

Remember how I mentioned that the Lakers recorded only 10 assists versus the Celtics? The Lakers erased that memory very quickly tonight–the team tallied the same amount of assists (10) in tonight’s first quarter alone! And while Kobe’s shot attempts were a bit high for my liking, it was nice to see him drop 11 dimes in the process.

On the flip side, there were times tonight when Kobe reverted back to old habits and played too much isolation basketball. I don’t mind Kobe “taking over.” But I do mind when he plays one-on-one and no other Lakers touch the ball on a given possession. Most notably, in the fourth quarter with under 45 seconds to go in the game, Kobe took TWO shots outside of the regular Triangle offense. Both plays were pure isolation. The first was a missed jumper in the post; Odom grabbed the offensive rebound only to have KObe jack up a base line fade away over two defenders. The Rockets responded with a brilliant offensive play to tie the game, and suddenly the Lakers faced overtime. It was a clear dichotomy in styles with one team drawing up a play for an open guy and the other team opting to give the ball to its superstar and watch him make a play.

No Bynum, No Problem

With the big man sidelined because of a bone bruise, the workload was placed on the shoulders of Odom and Gasol. Fortunately, the Rockets front court is a little bit undersized, and length would not be an issue. Hustle/effort, on the other hand, was the key to winning the battle down low. While at times Houston’s big men Chuck Hayes and Luis Scola outworked the Lakers bigs, I was very impressed by the way Odom and Pau stepped up to the challenge.

Check out the stat line from the two front courts:

Odom/Gasol:  46 points (18-38 FG), 36 rebounds, 4 blocks
Hayes/Scola:  32 points (16-27 FG), 23 rebounds, 1 block

Furthermore, the Lakers outscored the Rockets in the paint 58 to 40. So on a night when the Lakers front court lost its biggest (literally) piece, and two nights after they got pushed around by Boston’s bigs, the team responded in an emphatic way.

Other Random Notes

  • The Lakers outscored the Rockets 17 to 4 in fast break points, which surprised me for a team that is “old” and “slow.”
  • Kevin Martin was the only Houston Rockets player to attempt a free throw.
  • The Rockets bench outscored the Lakers bench 33 to 16.
  • The Rockets made 10 three-point shots; the Lakers made 6.

Conclusion

At times it was not pretty, but overall I enjoyed the game and thought it was a nice victory for the champs for several reasons. First, I saw Kobe trust his teammates again, at least in the first quarter. Second, I saw Pau play more aggressively, blocking several shots and throwing down a hard dunk. And third, and most importantly, the Lakers were involved in a dog fight and did not back down. Instead, the Lakers rose to the challenge. Sure, it was against the Rockets–not exactly a contender. Nonetheless, the Lakers could have easily folded just as they have in similar situations this season. But they didn’t. And that makes me feel good about the team’s state of mind. Now let’s see if they can bring that same fight on Thursday against a Spurs team that is coming off a loss to Portland.

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