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Lakers: Chris Mihm, Sun Yue
Raptors: Nathan Jawai
Hi everyone – let’s get right to your starters:
Lakers: Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
Raptors: Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani*
*Bargnani is starting in place of Jermaine O’Neal, who decided before the game that his ankle and knee weren’t quite ready for game action.
Awww … What a nice lil’ hug from Spaniards Pau Gasol and Jose Calderon just before the tip. Very sweet.
The thing to keep an eye on early is the matchups at the four and five positions, as O’Neal’s absence means that the Raptors have to go small, playing the perimeter-oriented Bargnani at the five. Before the game, Phil Jackson said he actually would have preferred that O’Neal played (even though he had five straight double-doubles before getting hurt) so that the matchups fit better. Jackson doesn’t love it when Gasol has to roam on the perimeter, plus Bynum doesn’t matchup great with Chris Bosh. Of course, these things go both ways, and if the Lakers can pound the ball down low on Toronto, it’s all good.
These matchups played out as expected in the opening minutes, with Bosh hitting a wide-open jumper as Bynum couldn’t get out in time, and Bargnani hitting two shots from the perimeter himself, one being a three. At the other end, however, the Lakers had no trouble with Toronto’s D, as Bryant and Radmanovic snuck into the paint absent a shotblocker. Furthermore, Gasol had three wide open looks at the hoop, converting each time for six points and helping L.A. to an early 19-13 advantage.
Toronto then went on a 7-0 run to take a brief lead, thanks primarily to Calderon’s distribution (six helpers in the first nine minutes), plus Bosh’s menacing presence at the top of the key. Speaking of Bosh…
Who’d know Chris Bosh’s game better than the guy that spends nearly every day practicing against him? Since I couldn’t think of an answer, I spent a few moments before the game with Toronto’s backup forward Kris Humphries, who had this to say:
“His shooting has become so consistent that his face up game has become really dangerous, so you have to get out there to guard him. Then he can use his speed to blow right by you, so he’s killing it this year. Plus you have a guy who’s capable of getting the b all every single time down the floor, and that makes it tough.”
OK, Chris … The best way to guard Bosh?
“Well first, you try not to let him touch the ball anywhere near the basket. You (used to be able to) send him right, but now he’s doing that really well. Still, you want him to go right if you can, because he finishes so well going left going to the basket. You can try and bait him into taking a jumper and then contest, but in practice for me, I’m just trying to take away everything.”
Back on the floor … Scoring remained quite easy for the purple and gold throughout a first quarter that produced 34 points for the home team, led by 12 from Gasol and nine from Bryant. The defense wasn’t quite as good since Toronto scored 29 points of its own (led by eight from Bargnani), but nobody was complaining in the arena. Both teams made about half their shots, thought five offensive boards helped the Lakers to 11 second-chance points (none for Toronto). We’ve seen this pattern develop over several games already, with L.A.’s offense coming easily for much of the game, and the defense biding its time before locking down completely and producing a big run. This should worry Toronto on this eve, since L.A. hadn’t played good defense yet and still held a five-point edge.
Before I forget, let me mention that Kobe’s 81-point game against Toronto from a few years back is set to start at 9:30 p.m. after “Lakers Live” tonight on FS West. If you’re like me, you’ll be watching.
If L.A.’s offense in the first quarter was really good (Gladiator), the first three minutes of the second were really bad (Waterworld). Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar both took bad perimeter jumpers, while a more efficient Toronto team managed to sneak within a point. Apparently sensing that I highlighted their misses, both Ariza and Farmar scored pretty buckets in the lane (see guys, it’s easier to score in there!) before the aforementioned Humphries saw his perimeter J get swallowed up by Ariza, who then streaked down the court and drew a hard foul from Kris. Two free throws and a Farmar triple later and the Lakers were up 45-37 with 7:02 remaining. That was quick. I should point out bad perimeter jumpers more often.
The lead grew to 13 when Bryant dropped a left-handed dunk on the Raptors, courtesy of a pretty touch pass from Luke Walton, seeing meaningful minutes for the first time in several games. Walton, who’s stayed after pretty much every practice I’ve watched in the last month to work on his game, then missed an open three, which got me thinking how much different that triple (from near-side diagonal) Luke took just then was from the 50 or so shots he took from that spot before the game. Shooting is about repetition and rhythm, and it’s a lot to expect a player so far from game rhythm to hit his first open look from distance – yet perhaps we do expect just that, since they’re all pros. Just sayin’…
One thing that happens at least once a game to L.A.’s defense? A three-second call resulting in a technical. It didn’t take long to happen tonight (two minutes and change left in the second), and Calderon knocked down the foul shot. Bryant then fouled the three-point shooting Moon, who made all three shots for a four-point possession that shrunk L.A.’s lead to seven. Anthony Parker then nailed a wide-open triple courtesy of Bosh to make the score 55-51, inciting a tiny bit of unrest from STAPLES before Bryant hit a jumper to stop the bleeding.
Yet and still, Toronto had made a nice push to cut the lead heading into the half, which is always a good sign for a team. Well … at least until Bryant leaked out for consecutive transition hoops ahead of the pack, building L.A.’s lead back up to 10. That’s demoralizing, Canada.
Youngest to 22,000?
The score stood at 61-51 at the half, with Bryant responsible for 21 of L.A.’s points, meaning he needed 17 in the second half to become the NBA’s youngest player to 22,000 points. What’s funny is that Bryant can only become the youngest to get there if he gets there tonight, as he’s now 30 years and 99 days old. Wilt Chamberlain got to 22,000 at 30 years and 100 days. By the way, don’t think for a second that Bryant’s not aware of this fact*.
Correction: After the game, Bryant was adamant that he didn’t even know about the record, so I’ll believe him and admit an error in judgment. My fault, Kobe!
The start of third quarters has been a danger area for Lakers opponents all season, and tonight the Raptors needed anything but a 5-0 Lakers spurt and a 15-points deficit (biggest of the game) that caused Sam Mitchell to call timeout. If you’re looking for a piece of bad news, Vladi’s 0-for-4 from three on the night.
Literally the next possession after I dropped the Vladi shooting line, which was actually more important than it looked since the Raptors had managed to nail three triples in about a minute (Moon, Bosh and Parker) to make it a nine-point game. Toronto would trim another point off after Calderon’s three in transition made it 73-65 at the 5:57 mark, after Bynum had scored on Bosh in the paint even as the Raptor’s All-Star wrapped himself around ‘Drew like Turtle on Meadow Soprano.
Moments later, an Odom three, Gasol jumper and Ariza oop layup from Odom’s alley (following?) put L.A. back up by 15 at 84-69, forcing another Raptors timeout with 2:18 to play. Bryant had scored just one basket in the third, but had dished four assists (seven total) and grabbed two boards. But boy, was Toronto shooting that three ball in the third, sinking two more (Kapono and Parker) to give the Raptors six in the quarter (on eight attempts) and 10 for the game. Conceding triples at that rate would have been slightly worrisome had the Lakers not been able to continually score with ease on the other end, including ten in the quarter from Gasol and nine from Bynum as L.A. preserved a 90-81 lead heading into the final period.
It’s certainly good to see that the Lakers went back to their size advantage over the Raptors by continually feeding Gasol and Bynum in that third quarter, because Toronto had fewer answers than Audrina in an AP Calc class (OK, sorry, she wouldn’t be in AP would she…). Alas, chalk one up for the game plan, Jim Cleamons.
Look no further than points in the paint and second chance points to see a margin that would be much bigger had the Raptors not been lights out from three. L.A. doubled up the Raptors 44-22 in the purple lane, had outscored the visitors 26-6 in second chance points and led 14-5 in fastbreak points.
A sweet stretch from Vujacic near the fourth quarter’s opening produced a slashing Slovenian layup, and consecutive pretty assists first to Ariza and second to Bynum for a huge one-handed slam on the alley-oop, pushing the Lakers lead to 12.
But the crowd really went nuts when Bynum came back down on the next possession and slammed home another alley-oop, this time from Farmar. However, with Joey Graham waiting underneath the giant, a collective sigh of relief went out amidst the cheers as ‘Drew picked himself off the ground. Moments later on defense, Bynum grabbed his 10th rebound for his second consecutive double-double, with L.A. leading 103-88 at the 6:40 mark. Bynum concluded a great second half with another dunk, again from Vujacic (four assists), before Jackson wisely took him out for the conclusion. That’s 18 and 10 for consecutive games since the big kid hurt his foot.
With the game well in hand, D.J. Mbenga got three minutes of burn to close the game, and swatted the stuffing out of Hassan Adams first, and later Roko Ukic (I think?) which was fun to watch. Other than that, Walton hit a jumper, Josh Powell cashed in from the perimeter and things like that. Plus, the crowd got what it wanted as Toronto managed just 99 points, one away from the free tacos. Good things.
Neither Kobe nor Pau needed to play in the fourth, and the final score of 112-99 meant that L.A. started the 2008-09 season 14-1.