It's only one game and as we learned after the Big Easy beatdown, one blowout win does not "problems cured" equal. But man alive, was this a sight for sore eyes!
A night where Kobe passed Dominique Wilkins for 10th place on the all-time scoring list ironically began with the superstar unable to drop a pea in the ocean while unguarded. Eight misses in as many tries, with plenty of misses from point-blank range. Whether a matter of hurt fingers (are any healthy?) or faulty timing, dude just wasn't on point.
What I like, however, was the way Bryant handled his 0-fer conundrum.
Instead of forcing the issue with long, contested jumpers, Bryant recognized the inability of any Piston to contain him in single coverage and continued driving to the cup. It took a while, but the ball eventually dropped. The next two quarters were wrapped up at a plenty solid six-for-10 clip, and six free throws were earned during those two frames.
I don't expect Kobe to shut it down altogether on nights when the ball won't cooperate. He is, after all, a scorer and an elite one at that. But he is obligated to make sure whatever misses come off sensible shots, and this was a fantastic example of mindfully working through a drought. All the while, he did a nice job filling a stat line. Seven boards. Eight assists (against just one turnover), with five coming as he negotiated his first quarter shooting slump. One steal.
Plus, a piece of quality leadership caught my eye. In the third quarter, there was a sequence where Andrew Bynum backed down Ben Wallace with Kobe wide open at the arc and visibly signaling for the ball. The rock swung to Kobe, and I was concerned about a three-pointer coming while Bynum had such good position. Instead, Kobe zipped a bullet pass to Pau Gasol underneath the rim. Easy basket, and as everybody got back on D, Kobe went out of his way to congratulates Drew for the hockey assist creating two points.
One could quibble about occasional defensive lapses against Tracy McGrady (the apparent "answer" for Detroit at point guard), but all in all, this was a high-quality effort to complement the milestone.
As our man Patrick Hayes from PistonPowered told us, having one's way inside (or even outside) against Detroit ain't the toughest of tasks for those 6 feet 11 or taller. The purple and gold triple towers proved the True Hoop scribe no dummy.
Bynum finished with 13 points on six-for-six shooting, a tally that could have been higher if he hadn't picked up two early fouls and sat for a spell. Drew also had a fantastic play where he tapped and corralled a miss, then snaked a wraparound pass to Lamar Odom for an easy layup. For his part, LO finished with 16/9/4 in 28 minutes, his highlight-reel moment coming off a coast-to-coast rebound ending with a bounce pass threaded to set up Steve Blake for a layup. Odom also made a heads-up play sliding to cut off the floor after Kobe forced T-Mac into dribbling out of the corner. Clearly surprised by LO's move, "Sleepy" was then forced into a travel. As for Gasol, he did a good job offsetting the early struggles for Kobe and Drew (seven points and three rebounds in the first quarter) en route to his game-high 21 points. Seven rebounds were snared, and rookie Greg Monroe was given a harsh lesson at El Spaniard's hands (literally) on an emphatic swat. After several listless games from Gasol (lowlighted by a missed shootaround on Sunday), this was the presence Lakers fans have been waiting to see provided.
The Lakers have been, shall we say, on the sloppy side these days handling the rock. Thus, a game with only six turnovers feels like arriving at an oasis after wandering the desert for 40 years. The first frame finished completely clean, and the Lakers came two minutes and six seconds away from an entire half without a turnover. (Once Luke Walton gave Detroit the ball back by stepping out of bounds, Derek Fisher apparently felt free to add another turnover with just 46 seconds remaining).
These are signs, if nothing else, of a rededicated effort to 48 minutes worth of focus. And not a minute too soon.
First half defense (51.6 percent shooting for Day-Twah), Shannon Brown's shooting (four-for-12 for nine points) and... punt. Seriously, there are more candidates for further praise (Derek Fisher's continual harassment of Ben Gordon, Ron Artest's energy, Luke Walton making a courtside Tom Hanks laugh while getting a technical foul) than legitimate criticism.