Overtime preseason roundball! You gotta love it! Actually, not so much. At least it was a Laker win keeping me out late. 105-102 over the Golden State Warriors, pushing the exhibition season record to an even .500 (4-4).
As usual, a trio of highlights and lowlights to consider:
Keeping with an October theme, the Mamba's shot didn't drop much (six-for-19 for 22 points). But as I've hammered home, that will take time and his percentage doesn't matter to me. I care how Kobe looks, and overall, his activity was terrific.
Nine trips to the line, as he drew fouls on double clutches, drives and his patented "hand sweep." He set up Shannon Brown for a three-pointer off a fantastic display of footwork in the lane, swinging right and left without losing his pivot, then releasing a perfect catch-and-shoot pass. This was just one of seven assists, including a critical dime near the end of regulation.
Brian Shaw, filling in for an "ill" Phil Jackson (ill at the prospect of shlepping on the 10 Freeway, I'm guessing), said Bryant requested to play in the OT period, obviously a good sign. Shaw eventually replaced Bryant not because of anything physical, but fear of doomsday under his watch.
"After the first one or two times up the court, I was like, 'I don't want it to be on me if something happens,'" smiled Kobe's Three-peat bud.
In any event, a positive outing for Bryant after missing Thursday's contest.
The fourth quarter push
Since Bryant isn't himself yet, the 12-time All-Star can't necessarily be counted to carry a come-from-behind win. Thankfully, he didn't have to. A sizable deficit was initially cut with Kobe on the bench, and the lead eventually secured with Kobe on the floor, but role players hitting big shots.
A group effort from Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Derrick Caracter, Devin Ebanks and Vujacic sparked a 12 point swing in less than six minutes, with everyone finding ways to chip in. Half a dozen points each for Caracter (perfect on three attempts) and Vujacic (highlighted by a gorgeous reverse layup). Two dimes for Blake. Turnovers forced and energy galore, which set the table for the starters to close out.
From there, Brown hit a three pushing the game into OT, and all seven OT points were racked by Brown and Artest. For certain, Kobe did his part, notably the assist to Brown. But like the Game 7 win over the Celtics, this game served as a reminder of how his supporting cast shouldn't need him to do it all.
Which works out fantastic, since right now he can't.
With 11 points (four in OT), seven rebounds, three assists, five steals, and a pair of blocks, this was a terrific all-around game to put the bow on a strong preseason for Ron-Ron.
Luke Walton's hamstring
Thursday, Walton make his preseason debut after missing the opening six games while recovering from last season's back problems and an offseason hamstring injury. It took just four minutes, thirty seconds of run tonight to land back in the trainer's room. The troublesome right hammy was somehow re-aggravated in the second quarter, followed by a grimace prompting Shaw to call a 20 second timeout. Beyond the physical discomfort, Walton's frustration was palpable as he took the bench before eventually heading to the locker room for good.
(For those seeking positives, this unhappy moment allowed Kobe to demonstrate terrific leadership. As Walton sat and stewed, his captain placed a towel over his head, then offered him several pats on the shoulder and obvious words of encouragement. The moment may have been missed by his teammates as they listened to Shaw give instructions, but I'm guessing Luke appreciated it.)
The overwhelming majority of defense against Monta Ellis
I realize Ellis can fill up a bucket with the best of them. I also realize dudes sometimes just get hot. But seriously, 15-20 for 36 points? In just three quarters? And this was after picking up two fouls in the opening two minutes, which I thought might lay the foundation for a disgruntled, ineffective evening for the often-mercurial guard.
I was, er, wrong.
Basically anybody listed as a Laker guard took a crack at Ellis over the first three quarters and enjoyed little success. Thankfully, Vujacic and Barnes finally discovered ways to slow him over the last frame, which may have been the eventual difference between winning and losing.
Pau Gasol's defense and rebounding
I realize Lamar Odom's (left thumb) and Theo Ratliff's (sore left knee) names added to Andrew Bynum's among absent Laker bigs leaves Gasol on his lonesome to protect the rim and clean the glass. That's no picnic with Ellis penetrating at will and David Lee and Andris Biedrins averaging over 33 rebounds between them during the preseason. But sometimes it's more about stepping up than succeeding, and in Shaw's opinion, Gasol fell short of the mission.
"The advantage that we have usually against a team like Golden State is getting the ball inside," noted Shaw. Offensively, I know Pau can get it done. He's talented. As talented as any big man in the league. I think what we want to see from him is more of a presence on the defensive end, especially on the defensive boards.
"We were missing Lamar. He's our best rebounder. So without him in a game like tonight We want Pau to step up and have a presence in the paint. I don't think that he provided that."
For what it's worth, Shaw definitely wasn't laying an evening of defensive lapses purely on El Spaniard's shoulders.
"I didn't like our defense at all," said Shaw. "We can score points, but with Kobe not at 100 percent, not having Andrew in there, and having some other guys that may have some injury issues, points may be a little bit harder for us to come by. Our defense is going to have to tighten up and we're gonna have to shut teams down."