While seven years would be the shortest of times between championships for most professional franchises, it seemed far too long for Lakers fans that have celebrated the riches of a franchise that won five times in the 1980′s, three straight from 2000-02 and 15 total. It’s all relative, after all.
Yet when longtime PA announcer Lawrence Tanter introduced each Lakers player, coach and team staff member to a packed STAPLES Center as rings were collected from NBA Commissioner David Stern, it was easy to forget that an actual game needed to be played between L.A.’s two basketball teams.
Indeed, the building’s co-inhabitants (the Clippers, of course) had to sit through the ceremony … And then go 48 minutes with a defending champion that had beaten them in eight straight meetings.
Make that nine.
Behind solid all-around games from Kobe Bryant (game-high 33 points), Andrew Bynum (26 points, 13 rebounds)and Lamar Odom (16 points, 13 rebounds and five assists), the Lakers emerged from STAPLES Center with a 99-92 victory (not to mention a shiny new toy).
Prior to the game, there was some question as to the Lakers’ level of focus after receiving championship rings that Phil Jackson – who knows a thing or two about rings – called “spectacular*,” particularly in the absence of Pau Gasol (hamstring). Early on, at least, the Lakers turned to Bryant to ensure that didn’t happen, and the Finals MVP went on the attack for 13 first quarter points to get the purple and gold out of the gates the right way.
*You can read all about the rings by clicking here.
Gasol’s absence would be felt early in the second quarter, however: with L.A.’s usual rotations out of whack, the home team’s bench allowed the Clippers to trim what had been a 13-point lead all the way down to three halfway through the second quarter.
But back came Bryant, who steadily helped the Lakers build their lead back to double digits at the half, thanks to 17 points, five boards and three steals. Much of his help came from Bynum, who looked just as good as he did while averaging 20 points plus in the preseason while matching Bryant’s 17 points.
Jackson talked about how effective Bynum had been on the offensive end (“It’s very hard to keep Andrew away from the basket”), but concluded his statement by re-iterating how important it was for Bynum to protect the basket. And while Bynum was effective on the glass with six boards at the half, he nor any of his teammates blocked a single Clippers shot, and the red and blue shirts were able to outscore the defending champs 25-17 in the third quarter to cut the lead to just one (76-75) heading into the final period.
Yet the seesaw tilted back in the Lakers favor, as they tightend up defensively and scored easily in the paint, led by a heavy dose of Lamar Odom. In fact, in the first six minutes of the quarter, Odom scored eight points, grabbed two boards (both offensive) and nailed his second three-pointer, helping L.A. boost its lead to 10 once again until Bryant, Ron Artest and Bynum came in to close the game.
“I thought that second unit in the fourth quarter with Lamar out there really got things going and in the fourth we were able to sustain it,” said Jackson, who also reserved praise for Ron Artest in his first game as a Laker.
“Ron did really well,” the head coach continued. “I thought he shut down defensively really well. Some offensive things he had opportunities on he didn’t complete, but I thought he looked like he was in the mix and knew what was going on most of the time and felt comfortable with what we were trying to do.”
Artest did miss his fair share of open shots (3-of-10), but he moved the ball well within the offense (four assists), hit the glass (five rebounds) and played the type of defense Jackson described.
Meanwhile, Bryant hit the 33-point mark with roughly two minutes to go in the game, while Bynum and Odom polished their mutual double-doubles that helped render L.A.’s first victory of the 2009-10 season, allowing the large collective pregame grins to stick heading out of the arena.
Up next for the Lakers is a Friday evening tilt against Dallas, but until then a few numbers upon which to chew:
1 Fun story Phil Jackson told before the game: In his early days as an assistant coach for the Bulls, GM Jerry Krause forced him to wear the ring he won as a Knicks player because no one else had one (motivational tool). Jackson said he actually lost the diamond in the ring (there weren’t 14 diamonds then), and where did he lose it? Bennigan’s.
3 First half steals for a ball-hawking Kobe Bryant, who’d finish the game with four of L.A.’s 13 steals that helped push the Clippers to 20 turnovers.
9 Bench points for the Lakers, in limited time. The Clippers managed 29.
12 Second quarter points from Clippers reserve power forward Craig Smith, helping the Clips even up the Lakers at 27 for the period.
17 First half points for both Bryant and Andrew Bynum, who scored easily from inside and out.
22 Birthday for Bynum (video below), who celebrated the occasion by scoring 26 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing two assists.
33 Game-high points for Bryant on 11-of-26 shooting and 11-of-12 free throws, plus eight rebounds.
38 Minimum minutes played by four Lakers (Artest, Odom, Bynum and Bryant). The Clippers, in contrast, had only one player (Chris Kaman) play more than 36 minutes (36:53).