Lakers – Cavaliers Running Diary

Derek Fisher CavsAs always, feel free to refresh your browser for live updates throughout the game … On second thought, I guess they wouldn’t technically be “live” updates since you have to press refresh. But whatever.

Lakers: Jordan Farmar, DJ Mbenga
Cavaliers: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eric Snow, Delonte West

Noticeably not inactive is Luke Walton, who’s eligible to see his first action since hurting his foot on January 2 against Utah. But that doesn’t mean he’ll play, as the Lakers have three healthy small forwards in Vladimir Radmanovic (starting), Lamar Odom (who also sees action at the four) and Trevor Ariza.

TNT’s Kenny Smith on Kobe vs. LeBron
In TNT’s pregame coverage of tonight’s showdown, here’s what Kenny Smith had to say about the superstar matchup:

“One thing I’ve never seen at least visible from LeBron is that he’s taking a challenge personally. I’ve seen Kobe Bryant say ‘I’ll take this personally.’ LeBron James hasn’t had to face that yet in his career, but I want to see if tonight he says, ‘I’m the new guy. I’m going to show you on your stage who’s the best player, and I’m taking it personally.’”

We can tell you this: Kobe has requested to guard James (who’s about 50 pounds heavier) early on, which should be fun to watch.

Lakers Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
Cavs Mo Williams, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao

First Quarter
12:00 A nice moment from Derek Fisher at midcourt before tipoff, mic in hand: “We’d like to take a moment to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” he said in celebration of Martin Luther King Day. “As we leave here tonight, let’s think about what we all can do to make this world a better place.”

12:00 In case you weren’t sure that LeBron was going to be in full out 100 percent attack mode, he not only homie-huggged every single Lakers player (including Vladi), but went over to L.A.’s bench to dap Phil Jackson and assistant Brian Shaw.

10:01 Bryant hurt his hand while trying to swipe the ball away from James, and was in obvious pain as he stood near the sideline for Cleveland’s full offensive possession. Two things here: it was on his shooting hand, and he’s not faking it. Clearly not the way L.A. wanted to start, though Bryant stayed in the game.

9:18 After Cleveland collected its fifth offensive rebound already, Varajao hit his second jumper to put the Cavs up 6-2.

Just learned from the TNT broadcast that Kobe dislocated the ring finger of his shooting hand, which Gary Vitti popped back in.

7:54 Kobe, after committing a foul a minute earlier on James, stripped LeBron to get possession back for the Lakers, which resulted in a Fisher three (6-5 Cavs) … That’s a bit better of a result than Kobe’s second foul.

6:51 A nice pass from Fish results in a wide-open Bynum dunk.

6:06 There’s LeBron with his first field goal, a pull-up triple on Radmanovic. Gasol, however, answered with a great move on Wallace that resulted in a one-handed dunk.

4:30 Pavlovic, a sixth year pro from Serbia (like Vladi), canned a three to answer Radmanovic’s rainbow on the previous possession and put Cleveland up 18-11. It’s early, but the Cavs are in a much better rhythm than the Lakers, as their shots seem to be coming easily while the purple and gold’s having to work pretty hard to get looks. More importantly, however, is Kobe’s finger. How’s he going to stroke that jumper with a dislocated finger, toughness aside?

3:30 LeBron takes a terrible shot, fading away from Bynum and Bryant in the corner, and misses. He seems to feel that everything’s going in, but the Lakers are fine with him taking tough perimeter jumpers.

2:38 Maybe we should talk about adrenaline? Will the juices keep Kobe from even noticing his finger? There’s a jumper, plus the harm, to bring L.A. within two. Both Gasol and Bynum had scored in the paint on the Lakers’ previous two possessions.

In other news, a Gran Torino add gives us Clint Eastwood’s “Get off my lawn.” Always fun to hear Clint saying fierce things. Plus, Sasha Vujacic, Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza checked in alongside Kobe and Pau.

2:14 Another bad shot from James, a contested 20-footer off glass … But it goes down. That’s seven points for LeBron, though he’s without an assist and has just one board.

1:02 After getting his layup attempt blocked by James, Vujacic responded by canning a three after Bryant collected the offensive rebound, pulling L.A. to within 24-20.

3.6 There’s Sasha, again for three, again off Bryant’s dime. That splash put L.A. up 25-24 to conclude the first quarter with a 14-6 Lakers run, after Cleveland had essentially dominated the first six minutes of the period.

L.A. made 11-of-21 (52 percent) of its shots, and capitalized on three Cavs turnovers in the final two minutes to score the last eight points of the quarter. Kobe was quite effective on James, denying him the ball and forcing him to take several perimeter jumpers, three of which he made in seven attempts. Bryant took just two shots nursing that finger, making one, but did total three assists, two boards, a steal and a block.

One other key stat from the first quarter:
$7,800 Dollars spent by Stephon Marbury to sit courtside at three Lakers games.

56538099Second Quarter
10:30 Vujacic, again, for three, and the Lakers led 31-26.

9:13 Bynum commits his second foul trying to catch Williams around, and then watched Williams pop a three on the ensuing play. He did, however, respond with his fourth make in seven attempts for eight early points.

7:38 There’s ‘Drew again, making his fifth shot in eight attempts to get into double figures and put the Lakers up 37-31 with James lurking at the scorer’s table.

6:23 Varejao, flailing limbs and bodying up everybody, somehow avoided a foul on attempts by both Bynum and Odom before ultimately drawing a charge. On the other end, Wally Szczerbiak scored his seventh straight point to put the Cavs back up one.

5:15 After a Fisher three, Odom sealed a rebound, pushed the ball and found Bynum uncovered underneath. ‘Drew drew the foul heading into a TV timeout, and will go to the line with the chance to make it a four-point game. You really have to like Bynum’s energy tonight if you’re a Lakers fan: His ten points lead the team, and he’s added three boards, two assists and really controlled the defensive paint for the Lakers.

4:39 Bynum misses his third and fourth free throw of the night. With two Gasol misses in the first quarter, L.A.’s only 2-of-7 from the line, while the Cavs have yet to even get to the line.

4:10 Bryant misses a jumper over James. The shot didn’t look great coming out of his hand, and you have to wonder about that finger…

2:50 The Cavs usually trap out of their pick and roll defense, which they did on Bryant and Gasol. Kobe, however, read the trap and quickly fed Gasol for a pull-up jumper and a 45-45 tie.

1:42 Good pass from Bryant turns into Odom’s third field goal and a one-point Cavs lead. Yet and still, the last few minutes have been controlled by Cleveland after the Lakers handled the last two of the first quarter.

0:46 Remember how Cleveland turned the ball over three times to close the first, leading to eight Lakers points? Bryant just turned it over twice, which this time resulted in 1-of-2 James free throws that put the Cavs up 50-47.

0:35 There’s turnover No. 3, as Odom tried to feed Gasol. Cleveland couldn’t capitalize, however, as Williams stepped out of bounds.

0:00.1 Kobe pulled up on LeBron to hit a buzzer-beating jumper from 16 feet to make it 50-49 Cavs. Still, Bryant’s finger must be, has to be, bothering him. He’d only attempted four shots and hit one before the final hit, opting to pass the ball for six assists. Not to mention that the finger to which it’s attached is his long-injured pinky. That’s tough.

During TNT’s halftime show, both Kenny Smith and Chris Webber said that they’d dislocated fingers before, and while the thing is basically numb for the rest of the day, neither missed any time.

Alas, for the half, James finished with 10 points on 4-of-11, plus three steals, three steals and two assists. You’ll take that in a heartbeat if you’re L.A. What you’re less happy about is that five different Cavs hit at least one three, going 6-for-11 (54.5 percent). Two even bigger differences were L.A.’s 11 turnovers to Cleveland’s five, and L.A.’s five missed foul shots. The Lakers did dominate the low block, grabbing 26 boards to Cleveland’s 20 and scoring 22 points in the paint to just 10 from the Cavs.

Kobe LeBronThird Quarter
11:45 James opens the half with a pull-up jumper. Swish. Meanwhile, Craig Sager (who used to be the mascot at Northwestern, Willie the Wildcat) tells us that Kobe said his finger was “swollen and very painful.”

10:17 To me, a sore Kobe shooting hand means this: go inside. And so they do, getting a hoop from Bynum to take a 53-52 lead.

9:42 Tough break for the Lakers as Bynum commits offensive interference on a Bryant shot that was going in. Though

8:20 A beautiful drive and finish from Kobe puts the Lakers up four, but clearly hurts him. The straight grimace on his face hinted towards that, plus the frequent flexing of the fingers and trips to Vitti on the sideline.

6:33 Kobe with a tough fade-away jumper. Just pushin’ through it. Lakers 62, Cavs 55, as L.A.’s defense has been limiting the Cavs to nothing but jumpers for their 2-for-7 start of the third (five points).

4:42 As Gasol hits a jumper from 17 feet, the Cavs call a timeout to talk about how L.A. has scored 17 points in seven minutes to take a 66-59 lead. The Spaniard and beacon of efficiency has now hit 7-of-8 shots in the game for his game-high 14 points. Many have been on jumpers, which is something Cleveland doesn’t get at all from its frontcourt when Big Z is out – neither Wallace nor Varejao can shoot reliably.

2:58 L.A. continues to be extremely effective on offense, getting back-to-back buckets from Gasol. The second came on a great pass from Bryant – his ninth assist – that got Pau to 18 points and gave L.A. its biggest lead at 70-62. This is an obvious statement, but clearly the Lakers are so much better when they’re using Pau.

1:23 Vujacic nailed another three, with a hand in his face, and is now 4-of-4 from three in the game. There’s L.A.’s biggest lead, 75-64. He appeared to come down on Gibson’s foot, and limped for a few seconds before shaking it off.

Cleveland was able to pull back two points on a Varejao layup, but managed only 16 points in a great quarter for L.A. The Cavs’ lack of a low-post scoring threat really caught up to them that quarter, because when the jumpers weren’t falling, they didn’t have another answer. Meanwhile, the Lakers scored 26 points in the quarter, including eight from Gasol and six from Bryant, who is five boards and an assist away from his second straight triple-double.

Fourth Quarter
11:44 A slick move from Odom got L.A. going right the right way to start the final quarter.

11:02 Kobe just willed a triple to go in. Maybe 10 percent physical, 90 percent mental.

9:50 Bryant with an 18-foot fadeaway jumper over LeBron. Dirty.

9:27 Bynum pulls down a tough board (his fifth), which moments later leads to a massive MVP chant after Bryant fades away and arches a shot over LeBron. Swish. The STAPLES faithful are going nuts after two straight gutty hoops from their star, and an 84-72 lead.

9:02 An interesting interchange after Bynum fouls James hard near the hoop. James, who’s been waltzing his way through the NBA this season, seemed shocked to receive a hard foul, and began to stare at ‘Drew. Bynum didn’t stare back, but nonetheless, the Lakers – Kobe in particular – don’t seem eager to let James and his Cavs have anything for free. James made 1-of-2 and is now 3-of-6 for the game.

7:37 Bryant’s 10th assist couldn’t have come on a nicer play, as after Ariza swiped the ball from James and fed Kobe up the floor, Kobe threw an oop to Ariza for a huge two-handed flush and an 89-73 lead. Ensue crowd flipping out.

6:38 What is it with Ariza and fourth quarter steals? If that were a separate category, there’s no way he’s not number one with a bullet. This time was his second swipe of LeBron, and led to an open dunk from Bryant – who used his left hand to put L.A. up 91-73.

That play capped an 11-1 run from L.A. in the last 3:50 of action, including six points and a dime from Kobe. The Lakers have openly fed off Bryant’s refuse-to-lose energy tonight, and particularly in the second half have shown an all-out effort that’s left Cleveland without an answer.

4:31 After buckets by James and Varejao, J.J. Hickson made two free throws for a quick 6-0 Cavs run that cut L.A.’s lead to 91-79.

4:02 After Bryant’s second long jumper in the last two minutes missed, Williams responded with a triple to cut the lead all the way down to nine.

3:32 Make it seven. That’s an 11-0 run, capped by James’ putback of his own miss. The Cavs finally found a way to get into the paint, where eight of those 11 points came. Perhaps its not a coincidence that Bynum went out before the run?

3:11 Tough, contested jumper from Fisher with the shot clock running out. No matter. Swish. Crucial.

2:43 Odom makes a terrific backdoor pass to Gasol for a dunk after Pau cut to the hoop to put L.A. back up 10. Great work there in the three-man game … Phil knew that was coming, didn’t he.

1:55 Dagger. The three came from Ariza, who had just two points up to that point.

1:29 OK, Ariza’s rubbing it in. After stealing the ball from Williams and drawing a flagrant foul on Pavlovic, Ariza made both free throws … L.A. kept the ball, got it to Ariza in the corner, and he nailed another three for a 103-85 lead.

0:50.3 There’s Pau again, another hoop for his 11-of-13 evening (23 points).

0:30.1 Nice gesture from Jackson to take Kobe out and let the crowd give him his well-deserved roar. As the Lakers would emerge with a 105-88 victory by outscoring the Cavs 56-38 in the second half, Kobe Bryant – with his pain-filled 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds – had an emphatic answer for Kenny Smith’s inquiry about LeBron James perhaps taking over the league’s best player: Not yet.