When the dust finally settled after 53 minutes of basketball Tuesday night at Staples - Overtime for the people!- the Lakers had a much needed win, a few points of interest emerged. The first concerned Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, with L.A.'s two-time Finals MVP encouraging his All-Star big to crank up the aggression.
The results showed, as Gasol dropped 26 points on the Rockets to go with 16 rebounds and four blocks. (Though I'm sure Pau would have preferred Bryant compare him to something other than a swan, even the apparently more menacing black variety. Maybe something with claws? Or at least teeth?)
Another was a key bucket for the Lakers, coming with under 40 seconds to play in overtime. Working off the ball- typically something happening less as games wear on, and often not at all in late game situations- Kobe used a screen off the left side of the lane to get into the paint, accepted a well-timed pass from Lamar Odom, and finished with a layup putting the Lakers up by four. The previous trip, Kobe fed Gasol in a nice example of two-man play for an easy basket. Both were in contrast to a few wonky possessions down the stretch of the fourth quarter, and interesting in the context of all the talk about the team's late game offense. "One of the issues I have is they went a lot of times early to Kobe in the offense, rather than late. It's one of the keys I think to our game, to get everybody involved, and use Kobe late in the game, or clock, where he has an operating space and everybody else is focused on how to play their own man," Phil Jackson said.
"Then it's not all about the central effect of a defense, team defense, is to play Kobe. Then it becomes an individual matter and he's too good for a single individual to play."
Said Kobe of the off-ball possession, "That's something I told Lamar. He's such a great passer, [if] it's just [me] going one-on-three, one-on-four, I don't care how good you are, that's tough to do. I told him, "You be the playmaker, and let me come off the ball." Now I catch it, and the defense is not set. I can make plays, I can take the shot, make the defense collapse and make the play to Pau or something like that. I think that's much better."
"I think having Lamar be the playmaker I think really is what threw them off," Bryant continued. "They're used to seeing me at the top of the floor, where everybody can defend and then close out on shooters. Once we put him at the top and moved me off the ball, I don't think they really knew what to do."
Those plays, especially when combined with uglier, iso-heavy trips near the end of regulation, emphasize what I've been writing for a few days: The Lakers, rich with ball movers and scoring threats, have the requisite skill to buck leaguewide trends towards "hero ball" during crunch time. It's not about taking shots and touches away from Bryant, but maximizing the team's offensive potential. Kobe is incredibly effective working the screen and roll, particularly with Gasol. He's also a nightmare for defenses away from the ball, and the Lakers thrive using him that way as well. Locking into one offensive pattern does everyone, Bryant included, a disservice.
And now onto the videos, from Odom and Gasol... including special Chinese New Year tidings from El Spaniard.
Gasol, on his conversation with Bryant, and Tuesday's game:
Gasol on bubbling trade talk, and how players "demand the ball":
Odom, on playing with Kobe, and his performance against the Rockets:
Gasol, on Happy Chinese New Year: