Hey, I watched the Game 2 of the Lakers-Hornets series expecting an LA blow-out, as any reasonable Laker fan would. What I got was one team doing an uncanny impression of Butler’s NCAA title game performance, and another playing only slightly better. Good thing Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum showed up, or the Lakers would be down 2-0 heading to New Orleans and the proverbial sky would be falling on them.
If you are looking for silver linings, you’ll have to squint hard to find ’em. Game one featured the most entitled of all defending champions looking utterly dumbstruck at the notion that the Hornets wouldn’t be willing to bow down to their immense Lakerness, while game two starred a slightly more humble team determined to FOLLOW THE GAME PLAN, despite the fact that it wasn’t exactly knocking New Orleans dead. Rest assured, 87 points won’t win you a whole lot of NBA Playoff games, and if not for the inspired, almost desperate Laker defense, they would have lost this one, too. Sure, packing the ball inside at all costs is an almost full-proof (and rather inartistic) way to beat the vertically challenged Hornets, but the Lakers are gonna have to reacquaint themselves with concepts like shot-making and physical toughness by the time the next opponent rolls into Staples Center or shit is gonna get ugly in a hurry.
I mean, I can’t even remember an nastier stretch in a playoff game than the first 6 minutes of the 3rd quarter of this one. Shots, passes and dirty picks flyin’ every which way but in the basket. It really was quiet unseemly.
Yeah, Kobe had a poor game statistically, but it was mostly the product of him being in good-solider mode and be willing to eschew his 20 shots a game in the name of establishing inside dominance. Also, I’m fairly certain he was fouled about 27 times on drives to the basket and was only rewarded with 8 free throws, half of them in garbage time. Safe to say that number will even out over the course of the series.
What to think of Pau Gasol’s massive regression is another story altogether.
Hey, it’s not the first time we’ve seen it, and it won’t be the last. By nature, Pau is not an aggressive dude, and the fact that he’s pushed himself to become a reasonable facsimile of one is arguably the most impressive thing I can say about a player who is among the best in the league. Anybody who watched him get his lunch money taken by Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett when he first got here can tell you all about the strides he’s made in this area. Plays like this one sum up the whole sordid affair quite nicely:
Of course, it also means he’s prone to relapses of softness, indecision and excessive complaining to referees, which has been the case in the first two games of the series. Shit, last night got bad enough that I couldn’t be entirely sure I wasn’t watching a DVD of the 2008 NBA Finals and Aaron Gray wasn’t wearing a Celtics jersey.
To be clear, I can abide by a guy missing shots or getting outmuscled for rebounds by bigger players. Watching Gasol try his little heart out to show the world how strong/tough he is by insisting on backing down stronger men, only to have his shot blocked or outright ripped from his clutches is somewhat less acceptable. Knowing that his face-up game in infinitely more effective only compounds my personal frustration, to say nothing of my 9 month old Pug-mix Bootzilla, who responds to my screams of “stop posting and FACE THAT SLOW FUCKER UP!” with a look that is equal parts confusion and fright. Of course, these Gasol “slumps” happen about 3 times per season, so I (and my dog) have a reasonable amount of faith that he’ll get it sorted.
Bottom line is, he’d better be able to muster more than 8 points and 5 rebounds (on a ghastly 21% shooting!), or the Lakers are gonna need 15 more games of Andrew Bynum dominance to have a chance at the Three-peat.
Or no chance, in other words.
John Hathwell can be reached at email@example.com