It looked good early, then looked good again fairly late. Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff in between (the second quarter, for example), didn't go so well. The Lakers dropped their third game of the season, but overall it was hardly a disaster.
Here's how it broke down...
Pau Gasol- Nine-of-14 from the floor for 21 points, plus five assists. When the Lakers dominated the first quarter, Gasol was at the center of it, making pinpoint passes to free up teammates for easy baskets. (Part of some outstanding ball/player movement for the Lakers, generally.) He was effective on the block, using a variety of moves and flashing his standard array of mid-range jumpers. At the end of the third, he'd missed only two of eleven shots. One big problem, though, was a general lack of involvement during the even-numbered quarters. He spent some of that time on the bench, but too often play went away from him. He was, for example, five-of-six at halftime. A great percentage, for sure, but there's a problem when a guy playing that well only gets six shots.
On the other end, Gasol was part of the problem L.A. had containing Deron Williams, who was absolutely masterful in all facets of the game. As Williams broke down the Lakers' D, Pau was too often caught in no-man's land. Gasol was hardly the only problem when it came to containing D-Will (who is, it should be noted, really freakin' good), but didn't necessarily distinguish himself, either.
Lamar Odom- A classic Swiss Army line from L.O. 16 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, plus a block. He was very effective early off the dribble, particularly taking Al Jefferson in space. Odom also worked incredibly off the ball, making himself available to teammates and generating good looks.
Kobe Bryant's Fourth Quarter- It took him a while to get there, no question. Most of Friday's game was an exercise in frustration, as Kobe missed a heaping pile of shots inside he'll typically make. His frustration was palpable as a series of balls rimmed out, and Bryant forced a couple shots he probably shouldn't have.
In the fourth, he tried to make up for lost time, hitting a three at the five minute mark tying the game at 85. It was only the Lakers' second three of the night in 13 tries. Bryant came back and hit another triple on the next trip. (I'd tell you it was only L.A.'s third three in 14 attempts, but figure you've got a handle on the math already.) He added a third straight bucket on the following Laker possession, and another triple on a fourth. 11 straight points put some shine on a night where he started five-for-16.
Rather than screw with a winning formula, the Lakers went right back to him, and 24 was fouled by Andrei Kirilenko on yet another three-point attempt. The ol' swing through claimed another victim. A trio of free throws gave him 14 straight over about two-and-a-half minutes, and put the Lakers up 96-91.
The flurry turned what would have been a brutal box score into something pretty decent- 31 points on 10-for-21, plus three assists. But the third of his three turnovers hurt. Overall, just as Tuesday's box score didn't look spectacular but wasn't reflective of his impact on the game, Friday's final line probably looks better than his overall game. But once again he showed how it only take a few moments for Bryant to swing the flow of a game. A few more buckets early in the game, and the Superman attempt pays off in the end.
Three-point Shooting- Kobe's flurry temporarily rescued the team's percentage, but only temporarily. The Lakers finished four-for-15 from beyond the arc. This is one of those tricky things. Yes, the percentage was terrible for about 47 of the 48 minutes, no they couldn't buy a bucket when they needed one. But at the same time, the Lakers didn't start jacking triples indiscriminately, almost exclusively launching off clean looks preceded by penetration and kicks. Meaning they got the shots they wanted, but couldn't get them to go down. That'll happen, but it drives home how much of a boost perimeter shooting has been for the league's most efficient offense. When they don't fall, the difference is pretty clear.
An Ill-Timed "Ron Artest" Moment- A couple weeks ago, I watched Artest work on a complicated jumper, where he'd come across the lane and shoot from the elbow, jumping away from the basket. After, I jokingly asked Phil Jackson if seeing him work on this sort of thing made him happy (good for you for putting in the time, Ron!) or nervous, because practicing might only encourage him to try such a shot in a real game. P.J. laughed. Not so much, tonight. Overall, Artest had some strong moments, getting inside and doing some good work on the glass. Glimpses of solid work in what has been a spotty run over the last 10 games or so.
But with the Lakers down two with just under a minute to play, Artest took the ball from the right corner, dribbled to the left elbow, and launched the fadeaway I watched him practice (and not make much). He was open- why would the Jazz possibly try to deny such a shot?- but missed badly. He'd later miss a wide open corner three, rimming out a good look. No problem with that ... but the damage had already been done. Shot selection simply must be better at that stage of the game.
Derek Fisher- He'd been red hot from the floor, but made only one shot in seven tries. Among the six misses were some dribble drives I could have done without. Plus, he had some rough moments trying to contain Williams (he had company). Even when he managed to stay in front of Utah's All Star point, it didn't work, as it was late in the fourth when Williams stuck a critical three late in the clock after Fisher effectively cut off penetration.
There was also a decided lack of bench production, which will happen from time to time, and serves mostly to reinforce how good the reserves have been this year. I'd again mention the second quarter but it seems a little too obvious. You don't need me to note it, right? When the Lakers undid all the good work they put out over the first 12 minutes?
More to come...