Shannon Brown elevates while elevating the Lakers.
In my five seasons covering the Lakers, they've often been a team with fortunes heavily shaped by third quarter fates. Good first halves pushed into blowouts. Quality starts tripped up by coming out of the locker room with heads unscrewed. Lamar Odom in particular continually stresses the importance of establishing a tone after the halftime intermission. And the Lakers did just that as the third frame commenced. Unfortunately, the mood left little to be desired.
Ball movement at a stand still as everyone took turns going into iso-mode for shots either awkward, contested or hurried. Getting crushed on the glass (Orlando reserve big man Marcin Gortat grabbed five boards by himself in five minutes, three coming on the offensive glass). Allowing eight points in their paint, despite nary a field goal from All-Star center Dwight Howard. Before a driving layup from Kobe Bryant at the 4:08 mark, the Lakers were shooting 1-13 during the quarter, and Mamba's bucket was immediately answered by three-pointers from Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus. Even more deflating, the Lakers actually played good defense during the frame, holding Orlando to 33 percent. They were simply shooting more accurately at their own feet than the basket, which made everything even more frustrating to watch.
Phil Jackson, consistent with his style, let the Lakers play through the mess, hoping they might get it together without a lecture. Clearly wasn't happening, and with 2:38 to go in the midst of what eventually became a 20-2 Orlando run, PJ relented and opted for stoppage. Aside from --I'm speculating-- reminding the team to move the ball more than once every six possessions, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest took a seat in favor of Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown, providing a spark of energy to the proceedings. The substitutions and timely regroup marked the start of a game slowly but surely retaken by the purple and gold. The deficit, once swollen to nine points, was chipped away to a quartet, then quickly converted back to a Laker advantage.
So what was the key behind the 180? Beyond a steadfast devotion to running something remotely resembling an organized offense, it was key contributions from the reserves. Brown doubled a strong first half showing, celebrating his official dunk contest invite by matching the eleven points notched over the opening dozen minutes. Farmar, mostly quiet until now, was an immediate spark plug, pitching in nine points and playing with a boatload of verve. And like most cases when the bench comes through, you had Odom in the middle of everything. Consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter embodied everything LO brought to the table. On the first trip, he scored a putback of his own miss, which came after tracking down another from Pau Gasol. Soon after, he tapped in a miss from Farmar at the rim after running the break on a defensive board.
Even more refreshing, the Lakers managed to sustain momentum as Luke Walton provided Kobe --who struggled through a 4-19 night from the field-- a much needed breather during the fourth quarter. More than just sustain it, really. They went on a 8-0 run sans the Mamba's services, building on a recent theme of strong, unified play without Bryant as a security binkie.
The night wasn't always pretty and will leave plenty to harp on during a film session, but bottom line, the Lakers eventually came through and maintained some mo' before kicking off a eight-game roadie.