Here, we will analyze the Lakers’ 97-94 victory over the Celtics:
Defense – The Lakers have shown they can seriously lock down opponents when they want to. In this game, the Lakers went on an 8-0 run at the very end of the game, turning a five point deficit into a three point lead. The fact that they were able to call on their defense down the stretch is a huge plus for them. Although the Celtics are no longer the team they once were, they still possess many offensive weapons led by a very capable point guard in Rajon Rondo. The Lakers had strong defensive performances from Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol, and just about everyone had a crucial play down the stretch. They should take many positives away from yesterday’s game, and attempt to build on them.
Andrew Bynum – Andrew Bynum possibly played his best game of the season yesterday. When he was out there with the second unit in the second quarter, he controlled the offense and dominated the game in all aspects. After sustaining a bruised knee before halftime, no one knew how he would perform in the second half. He didn’t play particularly aggressive, but he played with patience and confidence when called upon nonetheless.
The fact that he excelled in the final seconds of the game when given the responsibility to seal the victory speaks volumes about his progress. And the fact that Kobe Bryant decided it would be best to give the ball to Drew with the game on the line shows the trust he has garnered among his teammates, especially Bryant. The only other person Bryant likely trusted in crunch time situations to make a big play besides himself was Derek Fisher, but now he also trusts Bynum. At one point he trusted Pau Gasol, but it appears as if he decided to test Bynum and see if he has truly arrived as the Lakers’ second option. Bynum passed the test.
Metta World Peace – What is it with Metta World Peace and marquee games? When hyped up for a big game and facing a formidable opponent at his position, it seems as if World Peace turns back the clock and is able to lock down defenders, get steals at will, and even throw down vicious dunks. When asked about his solid offensive production, World Peace simply replied “I like playing against the good teams.” His defense wasn’t bad either, as he helped hold Paul Pierce to 13 points on 4-14 shooting.
When Metta is shooting well from the three-point line (3-5 yesterday), and being active overall, the Lakers are a nearly impossible team to beat. The “X-Factor” in years past had always been Lamar Odom, but it is very possible that this year’s “X-Factor” is World Peace.
Bench – The Lakers’ bench only scored 15 points, but the Celtics’ bench scored just 11. Both teams decided to play playoff-style basketball, relying on their respective starters to play heavy minutes. Perhaps the Lakers’ bench doesn’t do well when given big minutes, but they appear to maximize their efforts in limited minutes. Steve Blake contributed six assists while playing very aggressively in 22 minutes, and Matt Barnes was 3-3 from the field en route to six points and four rebounds in 17 minutes. Andrew Goudelock dropped in a quick five points as well in just six minutes.
In the playoffs, rotations typically shorten and minutes decrease for the reserve players, therefore it is important to maximize their production when they are out there. The Lakers’ bench appears to contribute just enough in these playoff-style games thus far. Only time will tell, but this second unit may not be as bad as most people think.
The Fire – When faced against teams that really get under the Lakers’ skin, the Purple and Gold seem to respond to the challenge. The starters typically play heavy minutes, and have played well so far. Derek Fisher contributes timely baskets, and Metta World Peace turns into a defensive stopper and an offensive threat, inside and out. Kobe Bryant plays efficiently, Andrew Bynum dominates offensively and defensively, and Pau Gasol does all the little things from grabbing offensive rebounds, getting putbacks, and/or setting hard screens to free up Bryant or other plays. They basically fall into their respective roles and play together. However, they can’t seem to do this consistently, or more specifically, on the road.
It is understandable that a team which has made three Finals appearances in the past four years will overlook certain teams or not always play with the type of energy they are capable of; not to mention that most of the key players are over 30 years of age. However, there is some sort of mental block when it comes to playing on the road for the Lakers. They have to somehow summon the fire they play with against these high-profile teams and take it on the road with them. We can’t expect them to play with this flair all the time, but they at least have to maintain their focus and make the correct decisions. Much of this will rely on the bench, as they will play more minutes against lesser teams and on back-to-back games. The games they have lost to sub-par teams have come after giving up big leads, many given up by the bench. Although the bench plays well enough in these big games, they have to find some consistency and tenacity on the road when given bigger minutes.
The Lakers have shown us all that they still have a fire burning inside them and a desire to be the best, now they just have to show us they are capable of playing this way on a consistent basis, especially on the road.