Here are a few aspects of last night’s 113-108 victory over the Clippers we will analyze:
Defense – The Lakers allowed the Clippers to score 108 points last night, and even let them come back in the fourth quarter, but they were able to put the clamps on when they needed to and pulled out a tough victory. Whether it was a steal by Metta World Peace on elite point guard Chris Paul in the closing minutes, or a block by Pau Gasol on Blake Griffin in crunch time, the Lakers stepped up and made defensive plays. Andrew Bynum had four big blocks in the game as well. When the Lakers are locked in defensively, they are a tough team to deal with.
Kobe Bryant – What was most surprising about Bryant’s performance last night wasn’t necessarily his late game heroics; Kobe is known for hitting huge shots in the fourth quarter. The most positive aspect of Bryant’s game last night was the efficiency in which he shot the ball. He had been on a bad shooting stretch towards the end of March, but the month of April has been kind to Kobe.
Against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, he shot 16-for-28 (57 percent) followed by a 10-for-16 (62.5 percent) outing against the New Jersey Nets. Last night versus the Clippers, he again shot a very high percentage, making 13 of 19 shots (68.4 percent). Not to mention the amount of double-teams and tough shots he faces, this is a remarkable run even for a player like Kobe Bryant, who has been known to have weeks of scoring outbursts.
The fact that Kobe has managed to maintain his high percentage throughout the duration of ball games is a very positive sign for Lakers fans. This means the Black Mamba is getting into playoff mode, is healthy, and is perhaps finding easier shots now that Ramon Sessions is aiding him in ball-handling duties.
Andrew Bynum – Yes, he has had some unfavorable incidents lately within the organization, but it has definitely not translated to bad play on the court for Andrew Bynum. After sustaining an ankle injury during the first quarter of the Lakers’ game against the Warriors on Sunday, Andrew Bynum took one game off, and then absolutely dominated the Clippers in the paint en route to a 36 point, eight rebound, and four block performance. He just needs to get his rebounding groove back now.
Pau Gasol – Although Gasol got embarrassed by Blake Griffin on two plays in last night’s game (one in the first quarter in addition to the third quarter poster), he managed to maintain his composure and play his game down the stretch. He wasn’t as much of a focal point in the offense as he was on Tuesday night against the Nets (in which he scored 22 points and pulled down 12 rebounds), but he kept his edge and made plays down the stretch.
Gasol will have to find a way to be aggressive on both ends of the floor when Andrew Bynum is in the game, however. He is too talented and skilled of a player to not be a focal point on this team. The positive here is that he is unselfish and knows when to pick his spots.
Ramon Sessions – As we spoke on before when Ramon Sessions first joined the Lakers, Sessions would have to truly prove his worth in crunch time situations. There’s no doubt he is much more of a threat than Derek Fisher was offensively, and can create shots for others, but the question was how he could perform in crunch time. With Steve Blake not really possessing a killer instinct type of mindset, and Fisher’s killer instinct mindset in the clutch gone, it was necessary that Ramon Sessions be willing to take big time shots.
Last night, he proved he can do this as he saw an opening and attacked the basket hard to put the Lakers up by four with under a minute to go. In those type of situations–where Kobe is double-teamed and pressure is put on the big men down low–it is up for the other ball-handler to make the correct play. Last night, Sessions showed he has the confidence and willingness to make a play for himself in a big-moment situation.
The Bench – Although last night’s game was a playoff-type game and the bench players didn’t get much time due to the shortened rotations, the reserves have to step up. Luckily, the Clippers’ bench scored only 21 points, but the Lakers’ bench scored just 11! However, the Lakers’ reserves out-rebounded the Clippers’ reserves (14-8), dished out more assists (8-4), and also had fewer turnovers (just one compared with four for the Clippers).
The Lakers’ reserves just need to play under control and take and make quality shots while hustling on defense. If they do that, they should be able spell the starters for just enough time.
The Rivalry – There is no doubt that there is a legitimate rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers now. Every time they face each other, physical play and trash talking are present. It is very possible that these two teams will meet in the playoffs at some point, and it will be an intense series if they do.
There are so many storylines between these two teams whether it’s the match-up between the big men down low, the small forward position (offense versus defense in Caron Butler and Metta World Peace, respectively), or two of the best closers in the game (Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant).
The good thing for the Lakers is that they won the series tiebreaker (2-1) in a hard fought battle that featured all of that.