Phil Jackson had been the exact opposite of happy with L.A.’s near 21-foot frontcourt lineup of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.
“I don’t think there’s been anything that’s been good about it,” he said before Tuesday’s contest against Golden State.
Fair enough (can’t argue with 10 championships).
But with Ron Artest out for the third consecutive game (concussion), Jackson was compelled to roll out his giants yet again against a Warriors squad that preferred to run-and-shoot like Warren Moon’s Houston Oilers.
As it turned out, the Warriors did in fact run right by the Lakers … but only in the first half, scoring 35 first quarter points and 60 at the half before Bryant led the Lakers to 71 second half points of their own in a 124-118 victory.
Bryant, brilliant as he’s been so often this season, scored a season-high 44 points on 13-of-27 shooting (48.1 percent) and a perfect 16-for-16 from the foul line. Oh by the way, he added a season-high 11 assists and four rebounds.
“That guy is amazing,” said Warriors Coach Don Nelson. “To be able to shoot like he did with the (avulsion fracture of his index finger) on his shooting hand, it’s amazing … I love watching him play.”
As for that big lineup?
Gasol played well throughout, notching 27 points (his own season high) and 12 rebounds. Bynum saw only 24 minutes of playing time, scoring 11 points with seven rebounds but according to Jackson struggled to stay with the Warriors at times. It was Odom, however, who was the X-factor with an excellent second half. This after – by his own admission – he was, well, really bad in the first half (0-for-5, two rebounds).
“He just has to remember sometimes what a great player he is,” said Bryant. “He kind of starts to doubt himself too much, which he shouldn’t.”
Odom remembered right from the third quarter jump, sporting a newfound aggression at both ends of the floor. And when he’s playing like that, the Lakers really become the Lakers.
He attacked the glass (six rebounds in the first six minutes), drove into the paint and dished (two assists), blocked a shot, then stole a perimeter pass and converted free throws at the other end. It wasn’t a coincidence, of course, that during Odom’s hot stretch the Lakers started the quarter on an 23-11 run to open a 76-71 lead after Odom’s foul shots.
Then after a short rest, the lanky lefty returned in the fourth to make three key plays down the stretch that helped seal a victory. First, he took advantage of his size to drop a lefty hook over Corey Maggette to give the Lakers a three-point lead with 3:28 to play. Then came a key defensive swat of Anthony Morrow near the rim, and finally an offensive rebound and immediate put-back bucket with 1:45 left to again give L.A. a three-point cushion. All eleven of Odom’s points came in the second half, as did 9-of-his-11 rebounds.
Finishing off the home team’s three-pronged attack was, fittingly, the Bryant-Gasol All-Star duo, which combined to swish six free throws en route to a six-point victory.
The effort of Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic off the bench shouldn’t be forgotten, as Jackson inserted both players into the game with 3:41 left in the third quarter and kept them on the court for the duration with Derek Fisher and Bynum resting on the bench.
“Jordan was active and aggressive,” said Jackson. “I thought he played a pretty good game tonight. Sasha had matchups that we could use. It was the direction that we wanted to do things out there.”
Farmar nailed an important three-pointer with 2:44 remaining and finished with 12 points and five assists, while Vujacic added six points, two boards and two assists. Both players helped counter Golden State’s athleticism in the backcourt with solid transition defense, a key second half factor towards the ultimate outcome.
In the process, the Lakers improved to a league-best 25-6, which they’ll put on the line with upcoming games against Sacramento, Dallas and Houston.
Until then, your numbers:
7 40+ point games for Kobe Bryant this year, after only four such efforts last season.
15 Fast break points for the Warriors in the first half, key to their 60-53 advantage as the Lakers managed only two.
22 Second-chance points on the Lakers, a full 16 more than their opponents thanks in part to 12 offensive rebounds.
30.4 Bryant’s points per game averaged thanks to his season-high 44, pushing him past Carmelo Anthony (30.0) for the league lead.
71 Second half points for the Lakers, to 58 for Golden State. Bryant had 27 in the period, while Odom, Gasol and Farmar all added double figures (11, 11 and 10, respectively).