With 5:27 remaining in the third quarter, Pau Gasol, who'd been running pick and roll along the sideline with Lamar Odom, got doubled. The response was an over-the-shoulder pass to Odom, now underneath the bucket and quickly fouled by Marvin Williams just before he could get a shot up. Still, the Lakers had 14 seconds on the shot clock, a chance to set up a score.
Unfortunately, it was a score for Atlanta, as Kobe Bryant either faked a backdoor cut to the basket or was held up by Joe Johnson. Either way, LO lobbed an alley-oop pass like somebody was en route to receive it. The ball bounced off the backboard into Al Horford's hands and was transferred into Johnson's. A high screen from Horford freed up space between Kobe and the downtown stripe for All-Star swingman. Swish. Johnson hit a triple, the Hawks went up 14 and the Lakers' losing battle just grew more uphill.
The sequence felt like a microcosm of their night in general. The Lakers are just completely out of sorts right now, a reality surfacing on both sides of the ball.
It was present on the offense, where the Lakers took way too many jumpers at the expense of attacking a vulnerable Atlanta middle. How do I know this area was vulnerable? Because the Lakers spent the early goings penetrating it. Gasol drained all three of his shot attempts. Ron Artest was driving the lane and drawing fouls. After the first quarter concluded, the Lakers had racked 14 points in the paint. Over the next three quarters, just a dozen more added. The Lakers' paint presence dwindled, along with a 55.6 percent clip from the field over the opening frame.
As is often the case, the culprit was impatience and a willingness to settle for rushed jumpers, a temptation playing a large role in little offensive rhythm discovered. Don't let the eight-of-20 shooting from behind the arc fool you. Five makes came during the fourth quarter when the game was essentially out of reach. The Lakers were betrayed by the trey, doubly so when launched early in the clock and killing the momentum of scattered defensive stands.
Another issue was the bench. Jordan Farmar eventually tallied 16 second half points, but he and Shannon Brown scrounged up just a pair between them during a pivotal second quarter stretch when Atlanta surged and put the Lakers in "catch up" mode. After three quarters, their combined total reached eight. It's one thing when neither guy can match the punch of Jamal Crawford, the likely Sixth Man of the Year and a pure scorer. But when they're getting lapped by Mo Evans and Zaza Pachulia, it's reflective of the bench's erratic state. And with LO in the starting lineup for an injured Andrew Bynum, Luke Walton still on the shelf and Sasha Vujacic trapped inside a doghouse, the solution remains elusive.
The Hawks also took serious control of their own glass, grabbing 11 offensive boards and often making hay of additional chances. Four grabs alone belonged to Pachulia. Like I said, Atlanta's bench made a huge difference.
Defensively, the Lakers missed assignments, doubled at inopportune times and were slow to close on outside shooters. Cutters were lost on the way to the basket, particularly while running back door. Evans lost Artest running a curl and got an uncontested dunk off an inbound pass. Granted, the inability to put the ball in the basket will wear on the defense. But at the same time, the Lakers' 2010 offensive flow hasn't been nearly as good as 2009's, but this problem has largely been offset by stifling defense. As John Hollinger notes, not so much these days.
Even Kobe's monster first half (20 points on nine-of-15 shooting) gave me pause. Without question, dude was en fuego, having his way in the lane or along the baseline with a hand typically in his face. But when the Lakers are at their best, scoring is usually balanced with everyone chipping in their two cents. Kobe entered halftime with just two less points than the other four starters combined. I understand Kobe's urgency, given how a winning record for the roadie laid in the balance and various supporting members (Derek Fisher, LO, Brown, Farmar) offered little help. But the outburst felt like a bad omen. My inner-Nostradamus didn't fail me.
All in all, very little to cheer about.
As my brother tweeted in reference to Kobe's lollygag remark, "Does this sort of performance qualify as lollygagging? Or just gagging?"