The ovation Kobe Bryant received when entering the tunnel in Fresno’s Save Mart Center prior to warmups sounded like what one might hear if the Jonas Brothers had come out to a throng of teenage girls.
On the court, a few immediate observations cross one’s mind, first on the Lakers’ side: Sasha Vujacic didn’t make the trip; Sun Yue is dressed; and Derek Fisher’s super-low fives and spider walk during starting lineups is money. For the Clippers: how odd to see Baron Davis, Marcus Camby and Ricky Davis wearing red, blue and white; the Clips have lost 86-of-111 games between these two squads; there isn’t a Clipper jersey to be found in an arena painted yellow and purple.
After winning the tip, Pau Gasol immediately set up on the low left block, got an entry pass and sunk a left-handed hook. The Spaniard then grabbed a Tim Thomas miss on the first defensive possession for the Lakers, and hit a little jumper in the lane. He looks fantastic. Defensively, Trevor Ariza’s matched up on second-year forward Al Thornton, who likes shooting as much as Manny Ramirez likes spraying liners around the park.
Rickey Davis, rightly placed in an instant-offense-off-the-bench role, came in and quickly swished a deep three to put the Clips up 18-13 at the 6:45 mark, countering three Fisher free throws. In related news, not much defense is being played on either side in the early goings. BD looked pretty solid with seven early points, eclipsed only by eight from Gasol in a 24-18 Clipper lead – at least until Davis popped another triple.
Our first look at the Gasol-Bynum combo came near the five-minute mark. Here’s what Ty and I saw in succession:
- Bynum did well to contest a Kaman shot, forcing a miss.
- Gasol took the high post position on offense with Bynum set up down low and hit another J in the lane.
- Ty noticed that neither big set up in the paint defensively on the next possession, meaning Kaman was fed early … But Bynum rotated over to block his shot.
- Bynum scored his first bucket on the next possession as the Clips seemed uncertain whom to send down to cover him. The Clippers are one of the few teams that can match up defensively with Bynum and Gasol thanks to Kaman and Camby, but Camby has yet to see the floor.
- Bryant fed Gasol on the wing, who drew a double and tried to lob the ball into Bynum underneath the rim, only to have the pass deflected. Mark that play down – Gasol’s a terrific passer and Bynum might often be the beneficiary. Gasol checked out at the 1:30 mark, but the two bigs looked better together than I, for one, expected.
Vladimir Radmonovic dropped consecutive threes to pull the Lakers within four (34-30) before Ricky Davis culminated an on-fire quarter with a deep jumper to give him 11 points and the Clips a six-point lead.
The Lakers’ second unit looked good early in the period, carving five points off the lead at the 8:47 mark as Sun Yue checked in for his first NBA action.
By the way, just a few stats worthy of an early mention were the Clippers’ 29 shot attempts to just 16 for the Lakers in quarter No. 1, due in part to five Laker turnovers and four Clipper offensive rebounds to zero for the gold jerseys. After Vlad-Rad buried a few more jumpers in the second, the Lakers struggled to produce good shots out of their offense, while the Clippers seemed to get what they wanted in building a 10-point lead. To be fair, the only starters on the floor during that time were Bryant and Cuttino Mobley.
Back-to-back threes from Steve Novak, a third-year gunner out of Marquette, pushed the Clipper lead to 55-42 with 2:30 to go in the half. The scoreboard, however, did teach us that Andrew Bynum’s favorite food is fried chicken with his mom’s mashed potatoes and collard greens. So it’s not all bad. L.A. chipped two points off that margin for a 59-48 advantage.
Ty’s and my halftime stats:
- The Lakers grabbed 13 rebounds in the second quarter after collecting just seven in the first.
- Eight-of-21 from the field in the second half didn’t help the Lakers cut into a six-point Clipper lead that rose to as many as 13.
- Vladimir Radmonovic made 4-of-5 shots, including three three-pointers.
- Andrew Bynum grabbed four boards, notched two assists, blocked a shot (for which he wasn’t given credit) and changed at least two others, while Pau Gasol made 5-of-6 shots for 10 points, plus a board and a block.
- The Lakers improved from Tuesday at the free throw line, making 9-of-11, but turned the ball over nine times to three from the Clips.
Let’s just say this about a poor to quite poor opening to a third quarter in which Bynum started alongside Gasol: the biggest ovation from the crowd came when the arena “Kiss Cam” centered on an elderly couple.
Even though it’s just preseason game No. 2, it would be nice to see a solid stretch of play from L.A.’s starters, but they simply looked out of sync for the better part of six minutes in the third. Why, you ask? What went wrong? Well, one might say that the Clippers were more aggressive and be right, or one could say that the Lakers are still figuring out who should go where in the Bynum-Gasol-Odom front line. The result was a 74-56 Clipper lead after a 10-0 run.
Enter Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza, whose hustle and athleticism paid immediate dividends, helping the Lakers snipe eight points off the lead and give L.A.’s more famous team a chance heading into the fourth quarter. The formula for Ariza and Farmar was this: frenetic defense + beating the Clips up the floor + finishing at the rim in transition. The final minute alone featured a Farmar steal leading to an Ariza dunk, and an Ariza block leading to a Farmar finger roll. 75-65, Clippers.
Man, Ariza and Farmar are killing the Clippers.
How about a gorgeous Farmar finish off the glass on a quick-step drive, followed by an Ariza slam in transition, followed by a 24-second violation by the Clips and finally an Ariza steal and drop-in next to the hoop. That’s eight points in about three minutes for Ariza – plus six for Farmar, and a six-point lead for the Clips down from 18.
The Clipper answer came not from Ricky Davis, who was so hot in the first half, but Steve Nowak, who cut the net with his third and fourth threes of the evening to build the lead back to 10 at the 5:30 mark. Jackson responded by putting Brandon Heath, Joe Crawford, Sun Yue, Chris Mihm and Josh Powell into the game, but must have been happy – at least – with what Farmar and Ariza had to offer.
Your final score was 107-80, after the Clippers went on an unnecessary run in the final minutes of the fourth even as L.A. had cut the lead to six earlier in the period.
It’s hard to take too much away from Thursday night’s action, other than not overreacting to some generally poor play that promises not to become a pattern into the season. Your squad will get ‘em next time…
Check back tomorrow for some video reaction in the locker room, and have a good evening.