We get where you're coming from, Mamba, but these days, even beggars with rings can't be choosers. We'll also take the win and hold our noses, thank you very much.
Much more below the jump...
I've already noted how this year's Lakers team enjoys making fools of media types like myself who are consistently put in situations where we make predictions and evaluations. It's our job, and they seem to enjoy making us look bad.
Tuesday, I spent much of my day touting the strength of the Lakers' defense this year, and lamenting the lack of offense. I did it on the blog, I did it on the radio. I practically shouted it from the hilltops. It was the offense where L.A. has suffered. One game doesn't change a season's worth of data, but for one critical play against the Toronto Raptors tonight at Staples, I was, like Jack Woltz in The Godfather, made to look ridiculous.
With 19.3 seconds remaining, the Lakers were clinging to a three point lead. Toronto sent the ball up court with Jose Calderon, who started a high screen and roll with Chris Bosh. Pau Gasol tried to jump the play, but Calderon was able to gain enough space to penetrate slightly below the three point line, then feed back to Bosh, now guarded by Fish. Bosh rose and drilled a three. How they allowed that to happen was, frankly, beyond me. A clean three? Really?
The game was tied at 107, with 9.5 seconds to go.
From there, history will show the Lakers inbounded the ball to Gasol, who faked away from Kobe Bryant in the right corner- should anyone have bought it?- before Kobe flashed out high on the wing. "I was just surveying the floor a little bit," Bryant said. "Figured they were going to double me early, so I wanted the ball in a position where I could see my cutters. They didn't come out early, and that gave me the opportunity to escape baseline once they did come and I knocked down a shot."
"They" were Antoine Wright and Andrea Bargnani, who could effectively trap Bryant. He created space, shed Wright, and moved to the right baseline, then stepped back to shoot over Wright's late-recovering, outstretched arm. Lamar Odom would say in the locker room it looked pure coming out of Kobe's hand. Nothing about the snap of the net runs counter to his story.
The Lakers had a 109-107 win. It was another game winner for Kobe, his seventh of the season, a fairly remarkable move by a remarkable player. But Bryant wasn't exactly stoked to again play the hero.
"It's my job to bail us out," he said. "That's why baseball has closers."
Asked if there was anything positive they could take from tonight's win, good enough to break a three game losing streak, Kobe was emphatic. "Nothing. Our defense in Orlando was much better. And the effort. The effort we had in Orlando will be tough for a team to beat us four times. This thing tonight was garbage."
While fans will surely celebrate another great moment from 24, I can't imagine they'll feel any better about the win than Kobe did. One bounce here, a bad break there and they've dropped their fourth straight, this time to a team entering the building 10-19 on the road.
To extend Kobe's baseball metaphor a little further, they used to say Cal Ripken never had to dive at shortstop because he was always in the right spot to field the ball. The Lakers may have 47 wins, but they (Kobe, mostly) have spent an awful lot of time diving, relying on the spectacular rather than the routine. Makes for good highlights, but not healthy living.
At some point, it would be nice to win some games without creating reel for the time capsule.
THE KOBE ADJUSTMENT
More to come on this tomorrow, but here's Phil talking about how he adjusted Kobe Bryant's role in the offense from the first half to the second.
IMPORTANT MINUTES FOR ANDREW BYNUM
For Andrew Bynum, it's never been simply enough to log "X amount of minutes" per night. He's specifically hankered to be on the floor down the fourth quarter stretch when wins are often cemented. However, his well-established spot in this particular pecking order ranks third behind Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, veterans less prone to lapses on the screen-and-roll defense Phil Jackson has often cited as his chief reason for sitting Bynum.
Well, tonight offered the youngster his desired opportunity, as El Spaniard spent all but 2:15 of the fourth quarter on the bench after getting hit with a T for chastising the refs during the third frame's final seconds. In fairness, Gasol had a legit beef, as no whistle accompanied a failed put back attempt where Amir Johnson pulled on Pau's shorts hard enough to threaten a wardrobe malfunction. Still, Pau was four-of-eleven from the field and clearly frustrated, so his head wasn't in a good place to help mount a comeback.
Bynum, having already come through with several strong defensive stands and 19 points over three quarters, cashed in on the rare chance at nearly ten minute's of late-game burn. He scored a bucket on the quarter's second possession, drew a foul against Wright after a spin to the rack, and grabbed a pair of boards. More importantly, he was active defensively, challenging shots and playing a key role in Toronto's paltry 36.4 percent clip during the final frame. Once, his defense isolated against Bosh in the lane forced the All-Star to give up the ball and the possession eventually resulted in a badly missed three-pointer from Jose Calderon. And on what might have been the best defensive play of the game, he trapped Hedo Turkoglu along the sideline and forced a bad pass intercepted by Derek Fisher and converted into a pair of freebies for Artest.
Bonus: The sequence came while defending screen-and-roll.
Phil was asked afterward if this showing would translate into a bigger fourth quarter presence for Bynum. Phil wouldn't commit, labeling it "game by game, plan by plan" thing. But he went out of his way praise the young center and was "disappointed" the Lakers went away from Bynum during the fourth quarter, chiding the team's "impatience."
Kobe also gave props to his young teammate, noting how "it's a tough balance for us with him and Pau. It's either one plays well and the other doesn't. It's hard to get them both playing extremely. But that being said, we're very fortunate to have to seven-footers that can both put up big numbers. I think that's very important to have."
Andy set the backstory of Pau's technical above.
Tonight's outburst comes on the heels of a flagrant foul on Dwight Howard Sunday afternoon in Orlando, and more demonstrative behavior on the floor and towards the media of late. I'm no Dr. Phil, but it appears some frustration is building in Gasol. He seems physically tired- the result of never really getting his legs under him this year thanks to a summer of international play and a pair of hamstring injuries- and appears pretty sick of the liberties he feels the opposition takes with him. There's frustration at the drop of in his performance of late.
All in all, while Gasol remains among the most unfailingly polite guys you'll ever meet, increasingly there's an edge to him as well. How he responds over the next few weeks could play a major role in determining what Lakers team enters the playoffs.
44: The Lakers earned this many trips to the stripe, a season-high for a team getting to the line considerably less often last season. Against a team incapable of defending without fouling, it's exactly what the Lakers should be doing. Save Shannon Brown, every Laker who played at least 15 minutes shot at least a pair.
81.8: The purple and gold percentage on said trips to the line. While it's nice getting players and teams in foul trouble, there's a ceiling to the benefits if you don't convert. Bryant and Gasol visited the line eleven times each, making 10 and nine of them, respectively.
9: The Lakers turnover count, with just three coming in the second half. The win may have been "garbage," as Kobe put it, but proper care of the ball prevented it from being a garbage-ier loss.
4: The combined number of baskets from Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown on 16 shots. Needless to say, not an acceptable figure.
40.9: Toronto's clip from behind the arc. Pretty gaudy, but when you consider they entered halftime having drained seven of ten tries from distance, the second half improvement becomes obvious. The Raps went two-for-12 over the final 24 minutes, although Bosh's with under ten seconds in regulation was a potential crusher. Phil noted wryly afterward how he inserted Pau late in the game in part because he thought Bynum was gassed, but he also wanted his All-Star "guarding Bosh when he shot the three and some of the other things that happened out there."
As they say, the best laid plans of mice and men...
Phil Jackson, on Andrew Bynum's play
Pau Gasol, on the team's halftime mentality