It wasn't pretty, but for the time being, style points are a minor consideration. Plus, as Pau Gasol noted, "ugly" and "valuable" aren't mutually exclusive. "I like these kind of wins better than if we would have won by 20 points," explained El Spaniard. "I think we had to work hard. I think we had to earn it."
Within the first six minutes, he'd picked up five rebounds, setting the tone for an exceptionally hard working night. The man was a monster around the rim, grabbing a season-high 20 in all and eight on the offensive glass. One putback basket was the result of cleaning up his own miss after trying to clean one from Gasol. He simply worked non-stop. This hard-charging attitude eventually bled into success in the scoring column. Two-for-nine from the field for just four points after the first half, Odom refused to give up, eventually rediscovering his touch and finishing with 20 points on nearly 50 percent shooting.
Odom picked up a horrible shooting foul running smack into Kevin Martin at the arc, and was caught in no man's land on a few critical defensive possessions. But his hustle can't be knocked, as Jay-Z would say. The energy was off the charts and infectious.
After absentee performances against the Kings and Celtics, Gasol asserted himself in the ways fans have come to expect. Yes, he was often matched against the smaller-in-stature Chuck Hayes, but the Houston center is immobile in a good way. Dude doesn't get pushed off the block without use of a bulldozer, but Gasol nonetheless didn't settle constantly for jumpers as he's often been inclined during bouts with rootless inconsistency. Defenders were forced to check him and as a result, Pau earned six trips to the line, his highest total since January 15.
He was as guilty of lockdown lapses as every Laker from time to time, but offset these mistakes with 16 rebounds and four blocks. All in all, it was a very strong night for a player in need of a good showing, particularly with Andrew Bynum shelved.
Kobe's first quarter play-making
There has been a lot of recent debate about whether the offense has been too Kobe-centric, but judging by the first quarter, you wouldn't have known it was ever a talking point. Kobe took only three shots, all errant, but helped create an eight point advantage by virtue of his facilitating skills. Cutters were located at the rim and around the arc, often while working patiently with a defender on his back and a double coming. On one sequence, he made dimes literally look easy with a casual underhanded flip to Shannon Brown at the downtown stripe for a splashed three.
Kobe was increasingly aggressive seeking his shot as the game progressed, and the results were a mixed bag. His clip (13-25) was certainly acceptable, and the shot total not even outrageous, considering the bonus basketball. But as we often remind, it's not necessarily about quantity, but quality.
Throughout the second half, several shots were forced with tunnel vision, the worst a triple-teamed fourth quarter baseline jumper with Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, and Odom (frantically waving his arms) all unguarded. In the meantime, just four more assists were accumulated after the first quarter, and this wasn't a case of teammates not making shots. He simply ignored them at times. Thankfully, Bryant toned things down during overtime, and it almost felt like the lesson learned in a fable when he scored the team's final bucket after getting set up off-ball by LO.
I wouldn't say Kobe played badly beyond the first quarter, but he was definitely reckless at times. The flow was much smoother when he was going out of his way to involve everyone. The entire roster plays a part in creating balance, and tonight, Bryant wasn't as successful as capable at maintaining even scales.
Nine points, his highest total since December 9. Six shots, tying his highest total since November 26. As someone who's banged his head against the wall pleading for a stronger offensive mindset from the backup point guard, this was a welcome sight. As a bonus, Blake racked three dimes and grabbed six rebounds, the latter tied with Kobe for third on the night.
There were seven during the first half, which Houston converted into 11 points. Then another seven in the third quarter alone, which lead to another nine points for the visitors. Gaffes like these made it possible for the Rockets to hang around despite shooting just 43 percent on the night.
Second/third chance points for Houston
15 in all. Remember what I said about making turnovers making it possible for Houston to hang around with a low percentage? This, too.
The third Quarter
I mentioned the turnovers during the frame, but the focus coming out of intermission in general left a lot to be desired. Composure was lost, as Kobe picked up a technical after getting hit with a three second violation and that demeanor was eventually displayed by everyone on the floor. Referees were getting earfuls and eyeballs whenever the whistles didn't arrive, which in turn seemed to prevent solid decision making.
Ron Artest launched a pull-up three in transition with 18 seconds on the clock, a bad decision beyond the outcome (a miss). Kobe strayed from Kevin Martin without purpose, which allowed an unchallenged three. Martin launched a three even more wide open after literally all five players collapsed on a penetrating Kyle Lowry in the lane. That's never the best way to handle a break, but in this case, it was especially poor form, particularly considering Fisher had actually slowed Houston's point guard with a swipe at the ball.
The Lakers were outscored 26-20 during the third frame, and it felt like even more. The momentum for Houston to creep back into the game was built here.
Three point line defense
Houston's percentage (10-38) was unimpressive, but the Lakers were often luckier than truly stout. Too many shots were left uncontested from distance, and as the game continued, the lack of resistance was often jaw-dropping. In particular, Martin got a disturbing amount of clean looks.
Luke Walton's offense
He was hearing "booooooo" not "Luuuuukkkkkkke" after a missed, rushed and totally unnecessary 14-footer in the lane. Can't say I blame the Staples faithful, considering this was his second regrettable launch from the paint within about a minute. Another time, he got blocked by Courtney Lee after laboring far too long on a post up going nowhere at a glacial speed. These were his only three shots, and they all represented Luke at his worst. He also nearly traveled in traffic on a sloppy possession before inelegantly pushing the ball out to Shannon Brown (who ironically turned the ball over on a charge).
There are times when Walton is a knee jerk magnet for criticism among fans, but in this case, any complaints weren't exaggerated.