Did that just happen?
In one of the more confounding games the Lakers have played in years -- all at once exhilarating and totally infuriating, at least from the perspective of Lakers fans and coaches -- L.A. kept its post-All-Star roll alive with a 139-137, triple-OT victory over Phoenix on Tuesday night at Staples.
Here's how it broke down ...
1. Lamar Odom (Save the Absolutely Inexcusable Last-Second Foul on Channing Frye in OT... see below). From a more macro view, when the Lakers re-signed Lamar Odom a couple of summers back, it helped bring last year's title and may very well have unknowingly aided in perhaps the greatest flurry of movement in high-end player talent the league has ever seen. In the micro, having Odom around came in awfully handy Tuesday night. With Andrew Bynum serving the second game of his two game ban, L.O. was a monster all over the floor. Odom was inside; he was outside. He ran the floor, he scored and distributed. And while was the jumper working -- Odom had everything working, really -- as his shot chart indicates, he was extremely effective getting himself to the bucket.
He was particularly good with dribble penetration and away from the ball, making himself available for teammates and helping find holes in the defense when Phoenix threw out a zone. In overtime, Odom had two big baskets, along with a critical offensive rebound with 10 seconds to play, a second-chance opportunity cashed in by the Lakers when, with the Suns forced to foul, Derek Fisher eventually went to the line, putting the Lakers up by three.
Odom finished with 29 points on 13-of-22 shooting from the floor, plus a team-high 16 rebounds, five assists and a block, and (awful foul aside) was L.A.'s most consistent player on the floor all night.
2. Kobe Bryant. Through three quarters, the Efficiency Gods who had been deserting Bryant over his past five games seemed once again to smile on him. He entered the fourth with 26 points on an incredibly economical 14 shots, building on the momentum created in the last four minutes of Sunday's win over Portland. Bryant had control of the full arsenal. A jab step three on the wing in front of Jared Dudley -- a play he used later with a pump fake, getting Dudley in the air and springing him for an elbow jumper -- right after sticking another triple in Grant Hill's face. Bryant was his typically effective self from mid-range, whether probing off penetration or quickly finding his spots to work off the catch.
The shot selection -- not simply the results -- was strong. In the fourth, Bryant continued hitting at a high percentage, making three of six, and while I didn't like the last trip in regulation (he, and the Lakers along with him, had been effective working Bryant off the ball, and it was a great time to try it again), it's hard to argue about 32 points (12-for-20) in regulation.
Particularly since Bryant was great moving the ball racking up seven assists over the first 48 minutes, including a few of the high-end variety. A particularly slick example came in the third, when Kobe spun away from a double-team, rising for his patented baseline jumper, but instead hit a cutting Matt Barnes for a layup. Add seven rebounds and obviously we're talking about a spectacularly effective game from 24 heading into overtime (and overtime, and overtime).
The extra periods were far less kind, at least in terms of efficiency and shot selection. Bryant forced more plays, and at one point missed eight of ten, including all four of his shots in the first OT. Still, he hit two huge shots down the stretch of the third overtime, and it's reasonable to chalk up some of his drop-off to mental and physical fatigue. There was too much hero ball in the extra periods -- something often coming on when Bryant starts wearing down -- but not nearly enough to disqualify his night. 42 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and only three turnovers.
Sure, what could have been a truly epic night was diminished by some bobbles down the stretch, but it was still a near trip-dub with key points in the final OT. Hard to call it anything but a high-end game.
3. Matt Barnes. He rightly earns praise for doing a lot of things valuable to a team but not appearing in the box score. On Tuesday, Barnes did plenty of that stuff -- cutting effectively off the ball, tapping out contested rebounds, hustling for loose balls -- but also chipped in with a lot of stuff scorekeepers track. Points and rebounds, for example. In about 18 minutes of burn, Barnes finished with 13 of the former (on a robust 6-for-9 from the floor) and five of the latter, two coming on the offensive end.
In the seven games he'd played since returning to the lineup, Barnes had shown signs, but against the Suns he showed the sort of influence he exerted on games before the injury.
4. Derek Fisher. He didn't have a field goal, but Fisher did a ton of work around the floor, playing some very solid and often timely defense, delivering key steals among his four on the evening. And his only two points -- a pair of free throws in the first OT -- proved crucial.
5. Ron Artest. As the game went on, Artest's performance grew. He hit a huge 3 near the end of the first overtime, blowing kisses to the crowd like a Roman emperor/WWE superstar on his way down the floor. After a critical steal and thunderous dunk in the third OT, Artest did his now-patented double-biceps kiss, which he quickly followed with an improbable jumper from the right elbow, falling away from the bucket. Add some critical offensive rebounds, and in the end the Lakers needed every ounce of what Artest gave them.
6. Turnovers. If there's a number glowing radioactive from tonight's game, it's this one: The Lakers turned the ball over six times. Six. In 63 minutes of play. (Nine if you count shot clock violations, but those don't get Phoenix's break going.) And only once in the three overtimes. They weren't great defensively (they weren't even good defensively), but they did the Suns absolutely no favors by giving the ball away.
7. Endurance. On both sides. For the Suns, Frye played an almost comical 56:59, while Marcin Gortat logged 53:05 in relief of "starter" Robin Lopez. For the Lakers, no starter played fewer than Fisher's 46:01. Kobe finished with the aforementioned 48, Artest 48:29, Pau Gasol 55:22 and Odom a team-high 55:13. This is brutally tough stuff, and makes the clutch plays delivered on both sides even more impressive.
1. Rebounding. Against one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, the Lakers were out-boarded 42-36 in regulation before finishing the game with a 56-52 advantage. And while the offensive glass wasn't a massive issue in total -- Phoenix managed a very tolerable 10 ORBs on 51 misses -- failure to secure the ball earned Phoenix the shot sending the game to overtime, as well as an extra possession at the end of the first free five minutes, eventually leading to Odom's foul on Frye.
Secure the initial miss on either play and everyone gets home a lot earlier.
2. Odom's Foul On Frye. Truly a shocking blemish on an otherwise sterling night. It wasn't that L.O. wanted to foul him -- had he done it when Frye caught the ball, it would have been a smart play -- but instead he waited until Frye, deeeeeeeep along the right wing, turned to launch a desperation 3 before the buzzer. Then he made contact. After Frye hit all three of his freebies, the game went into double OT.
From my vantage point -- almost diagonal on the opposite side of the floor -- I thought L.O. had in fact made the foul before Frye turned to shoot. I saw him reaching, trying to initiate contact. Looking at the replay, though, it's pretty clear Odom didn't do a good enough job of making the foul crystal clear, eliminating any wiggle room for the referees. He obviously knew they had a foul to give and wanted to deliver it, but did a horrible job in execution. Too tentative initially, then too aggressive at the end. Once Frye was able to turn to the bucket without Odom earning a whistle, he should have let him go.
"I fouled him on purpose. I wanted to get him before he took the shot. I thought I did my job, but obviously I didn’t," Odom said.
To say the least, he beat himself up over the play. "If I lose that game, I can’t walk into the locker room with these guys. You know what I mean? So I’m playing for pride at the end of the game."
Even in victory, the play stuck with him.
"I will remember the foul call. I always tell you guys basketball is a humbling experience," he said. "Because I can think about throughout the game, ‘Yeah, I’m playing good. I’m having a good one.’ And then, right before you know it, I’m the dope."
Fortunately, it didn't come to that.
3. Defense. As the game went along, breakdowns were to be expected. Odom and Pau Gasol both cracked the 50-minute barrier, Kobe and Artest almost got there, and Fisher played 42 (never a good thing when his minutes easily exceed his age). I'll give them a pass for mistakes later in the game, but early on the Lakers weren't exactly stout defending their goal. The Suns shot 50 percent in regulation, and the Lakers allowed no fewer than 26 points in any given quarter. Particularly disturbing was the letdown in the third quarter, when after coming out of the locker room with serious purpose, ripping off a 16-5 run starting the second half -- a lead they'd push to 21 -- the Lakers let down late, allowing the Suns to close on an 18-6 spurt, closing the game to a much more manageable nine points.
About 3:30 into the fourth, the lead was basically gone, as was any chance to snuff out the Suns in comfort.
Again, had the Lakers stepped up earlier in the game, they could have prevented an enormous amount of work later.
4. Pau Gasol. Kudos for some critical rebounds and cojones-laden free throws tying the game with 2.5 seconds to go in the first OT, but overall it was a tough night for Pau. Any night he misses 16 of 25 shots is one he'll look back on with some disappointment. Particularly when Gortat more than compensates for his output at the other end.