In a firm reminder of just how deep and talented they really are, the Lakers rallied to a 101-89 victory over visiting San Antonio despite the absence of their best, and biggest, players.
Kobe Bryant (ankle) missed his second straight game, and Andrew Bynum (hip) joined him on the inactive list, just the third game the young center missed this season and the second Bryant has missed in three seasons.
The Lakers are no stranger to playing without Bynum, but playing without Kobe never seemed a possibility until he literally didn’t take the floor of L.A.’s Saturday evening win in Portland. No. 24′s previous missed game due to an injury? Check all the way back to December of 2006.
But on Monday, there was a noticeable extra collective hop in the remaining Lakers’ step in pregame warm ups that carried through the contest. All of those who saw the floor found a way to contribute, led by a huge game from Pau Gasol and by Lamar Odom’s all-around play.
Gasol, who struggled with his shot (8-of-20) due in part to fatigue (46 minutes), still managed to score 21 points, grab 19 rebounds, toss eight assists and block five shots. Odom added a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double of his own, but it was a complete effort that saw seven Lakers score at least eight points that ultimately did the trick.
“It was fun,” said Gasol of the all-around effort. “I think it was a good challenge for us; the way we played tonight was beautiful to be out there … we played hard and got a nice win.”
Phil Jackson cited L.A.’s rebounding (45-42 edge), defense (held the Spurs to 55 points in the final three quarters) and the respective individual efforts of each of his players.
“It is always good for a ball club to feel like they rally,” he said. “We stepped into the game with two starters that were out and we had to put two or three guys from the bench on the court that probably do not have too many minutes.”
There was Ron Artest, who nailed back-to-back three-pointers to counter a 9-0 start to the game and finished with a line of 18 points, five rebounds and four assists.
And Derek Fisher, who canned 6-of-9 shots for 13 points and provided steady floor leadership throughout.
There was Sasha Vujacic, who has struggled for much of the year but checked in late in the second and immediately nailed his first three shots, two of them three-pointers, to help erase a nine-point S.A. lead. Later, he offered some scrappy defense in the fourth quarter.
And Jordan Farmar, who in 18 minutes off the bench scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting … Shannon Brown, who started in place of Bryant and scored eight points with three assists … Luke Walton, who played only 11 minutes but added four points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal to the effort.
“You never want to see your teammates injured in any way, but I think anytime guys get an opportunity to prove that they belong in this league, that they can play at a high level, they’re going to take it,” said Fisher. “When Kobe and Andrew are out, we have to execute to get high quality shots, so the ball moves more. When those guys are in there, we can rely on them to do great things.”
Speaking of that execution…
“We were aware of how we needed to play, especially being short handed,” explained Odom. “We limited their second-shot opportunities, ran the triangle and played good team defense.”
It wasn’t easy at first, as Tony Parker repeatedly got into the lane and helped the Spurs score 34 points in the opening quarter (Bynum’s interior presence may have helped), 20 of which came in the paint. But L.A.’s defense collectively stepped up in the second, holding the Spurs to 13 points total while scoring 22 of their own to turn a six-point deficit after one into a three-point halftime lead.
Then in a solid all-around third quarter, the Lakers opened an 11-point lead, but the Spurs chipped six points off that margin to create a 73-68 margin into the fourth. There, Gasol was terrific, as documented by his eight points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the final period alone as the Spurs never got closer than six points.
“Pau is a good director out there with the ball,” said Jackson. “He is unselfish, he reads the defenses well. He made some really goo passes tonight and I told him his defense was good.”
“(Gasol) put it together tonight,” added an admiring Bryant after the game. “We’ve seen glimpses of that this season … hopefully he can keep it up.”
Whether Gasol will have Bryant at his side when he and the rest of the Lakers face Utah on Wednesday night* is yet to be determined, however.
*Bynum is doubtful
“I’ll make a decision on Wednesday,” said Kobe. “Game-time decision. If I’m ready to go I’ll play.”
Yet as Bryant acknowledged, if the Lakers play team basketball as they did in defeating the Blazers and Spurs without him, there’s little need for him to rush it in Salt Lake City.
Until then, your numbers:
4 Personal fouls committed by the Lakers in the second half, to 12 by the Spurs. That resulted in 13 free throws to six for San Antonio.
7 Lakers who scored at least eight points.
20 Spurs points in the paint in the first quarter alone as Tony Parker repeatedly got into the lane, aided by the absence of Andrew Bynum. L.A. improved significantly afterwards, however, holding S.A. to 28 paint points for the rest of the game.
43.9 L.A.’s winning percentage (18-23) without Kobe Bryant since 2003-04 in 41 games heading into the victory over the Spurs.
46 Minutes played by Pau Gasol, who did yeoman’s work in a 21-point, 19-rebound, 8-assist, 5-block effort.