The Lakers built a big first half lead. The Lakers lost a big first half lead. The Lakers won a tight contest made incredibly more complicated than necessary. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Here are three takeaways.
1) Ramon Sessions and Kobe Bryant capitalized on the ball residing in Sessions' hands more often.
Ever since being promoted to the starting unit, the opportunities for Sessions to operate as a true floor general have fluctuated. In particular, the balance between him and Kobe Bryant has proved difficult to discover. Both have claimed to be working off the ball more than they're used to. And while that may be the case at times, with all due respect to The Mamba, he may not be working off the ball quite as often as it may feel like to him. Tonight, however, Bryant truly worked away from the rock, especially during the first half, often fed for catch-and-shoots or a prime spot for attacking off the wing. Bryant took just 16 shots, largely of the effortless variety, and scored his 24 points with primo efficiency.
Some detractors will dismiss this as a ball hog simply doing what any selfless player would do, but working so often without the rock constitutes a genuine adjustment on Kobe's part. Giving and working outside a comfort zone is required, and tonight he did just that. Thus, it actually felt appropriate that the Mamba would end up once again the hero after rattling in the game-icing 3-pointer with ticks remaining on the clock. Well, it actually felt inappropriate, since such a shot should never have been necessary in the first place. But you know what I mean.
As for Sessions, his 19-point, 11-assist double-double nicely combined self-created jumpers and forays to the rim, plus a healthy dose of smart passes. In particular, I liked a first quarter sequence where Sessions, running the ball upcourt, spotted Pau Gasol in the lane with a defender attached to him. Both exhibited good patience and waited until Gasol's man left to help on the approaching point guard. Sessions casually dumped the ball over the top to El Spaniard who threw down a quick dunk before the weakside help arrived. Neither player in question seemed to break a sweat, and it was a treat to watch such smart basketball.
Obviously, against a better team with a credible defense, unison between the guards won't come as easily. But games with the emphasis on this division of labor have been few and far between of late. Practice can hopefully make perfect, even when the reps come against inferior competition.
2) Pau Gasol can be the physical aggressor.
Call me crazy, but I just don't picture Pau on his off-days vegging on the couch with a tub of popcorn and a "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" marathon. Given his fondness of opera, piano, observing surgeries, and other intellectually stimulating activities, that just doesn't strike me as his cup of tea. Thus, he may have had no idea why the Staples Center crowd so vigorously booed Kris Humphries every time he touched the ball. (Frankly, I don't get it, either. Were Angelenos really expecting these kids to find true love, only to have their hearts ripped out when the union hit the skids? In a town chock full of people marrying for money, convenience or other superficial reasons, why is this sham relationship so particularly offensive?) But boo Lamar Odom's ex-brother-in-law the people did, with great vengeance and furious anger. And since Gasol is nothing if not a man of the people, he matched the banger's physicality with some of his own in the third quarter, shoving the power forward from behind as the two jostled for a rebound. Humphries got in Gasol's grill, and Josh McRoberts quickly entered the fray to play enforcer.
However, Gasol, who got hit with a T, never backed down. After the game, he said too many elbows were flying around for his taste, and if the referees weren't going to maintain control, matters needed to taken into this own hands. It's nice to see him strike first every now and then, particularly in a game without Andrew Bynum patrolling the middle.
3) This team appears either incapable or unwilling to do what it takes to put opponents away.
Neither explanation is ideal. And both could very well lead to a disappointing postseason if they don't get their collective acts together and fast.
Bold play of the game: With time running down before the first quarter elapsed, McRoberts sprinted the ball upcourt with all the grace and fluidity of a construction worker with a jackhammer. The ball was dribbled behind his back to shake a defender, then bounced around haphazardly as the handle was lost. McRoberts then gathered the Spalding, went behind the back again, and hucked a 19-footer. Splash, just before the buzzer. Every Laker including McRoberts, was laughing their butts off.
By the way, if Mike Brown wants to improve his reputation as a coach lacking offensive creativity, he should tell us that's exactly how he drew up the sequence. Even Nellie in his prime never boasted such eccentric vision.