A "Sad" Performance for the Lakers at IndianaThe L.A. Lakers squandered a nine point third quarter lead and lost 95-84 to the Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse on Friday night. The Lakers scored just six points in the first 10:40 of the fourth quarter, their offense grinding to a complete halt after producing 29 third quarter points. In his postgame standup, Lakers' Coach Phil Jackson first offered a serious explanation for the fourth quarter collapse: "I might have been putting too much of a responsibility on Lamar (Odom) out there with the younger kids. They've done pretty well over the course of the season but they weren't ready for that tonight." Pressed further, Jackson turned a bit whimsical, saying, "They just got 'sad' tonight--'s-a-d,' you know what that is, right? It's sunlight deprivation--when you get out here, it's all gray and the California boys get depressed and they can't take it. They were very 'sad' tonight." There you have it--the first NBA loss ever attributed--tongue in cheek--to seasonal affective disorder.
Kobe Bryant finished with 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and a season-high five steals, but he shot just 7-25 from the field. A couple of those misses were desperation three pointers in the last minute of the game but he also made a couple three pointers during that time, so he actually shot better on his late three point attempts than he did during the bulk of the contest. Smush Parker had a nice game with 20 points and a season-high six steals, while Odom had 10 points and 12 rebounds but also shot 4-10 from the field and committed six turnovers. Jermaine O'Neal led Indiana with 22 points, adding nine rebounds and four blocked shots but he shot just 7-21 from the field. O'Neal shot 4-4 in the game's first 3:24 and just 3-17 the rest of the way. Jamaal Tinsley had a solid game (16 points, six assists) and Jeff Foster provided his customary work on the boards (12) and scored nine points. The real story off of the bench for the Pacers was Darrell Armstrong, the 38 year old point guard who seems to have discovered the Fountain of Youth. He had 14 points, three assists, three rebounds and a spectacular blocked shot in less than 16 minutes of playing time.
The first half of the game was marred by sloppy ballhandling--each team had 11 turnovers--and poor shooting (.381 for the Pacers, .368 for the Lakers). Indiana led 44-41 at halftime but it almost felt like the Lakers were winning because Bryant had shot just 1-8 for seven points and it looked like the slightest bit of production from him in the second half would be enough to carry the Lakers to a win. The pace of the game picked up in the third quarter but Indiana maintained a two to five point lead until Bryant's fast break layup tied the score at 53 at the 5:57 mark. The Lakers turned on the defensive pressure in the latter part of the quarter and converted the resulting steals into a 17-8 run to take their biggest lead of the night, 70-61. Armstrong scored on a layup after a defensive breakdown near the end of the period, making the score 70-63 going into the fourth quarter.
Bryant took his customary rest to start the fourth quarter--and the Lakers did not score a point the entire 3:53 that he sat out, during which the Pacers tied the score at 70. As Odom said after the game, "When Kobe goes out, we act like we don't know what the hell we are doing." After Bryant's return, the Lakers took leads of 72-70 and 74-72 but they were unable to regain any real offensive rhythm. Odom's two free throws with 5:04 remaining were the Lakers' only points between the 7:11 mark and the 1:23 mark. Indiana led 89-76 at that point but Bryant's back to back three pointers cut the margin to 89-82 with :58.1 remaining, providing at least a glimmer of hope for the Lakers; the crowd certainly got quieter, at least for a moment--but Bryant subsequently turned the ball over and missed two shots, while the Pacers hit six of eight free throws to clinch the win.
Notes From Courtside:
During his pre-game standup, Coach Jackson was asked what he thought of LeBron James' flagrant foul against Dwyane Wade on Thursday night and if James should be suspended because Bryant was suspended previously. With his trademark wry grin, Jackson replied, "I think that we should start wearing helmets with facemasks in the NBA and that will settle it right there."
Jackson also answered a question about the Lakers' next game, a Saturday showdown with Agent Zero, who heated up his hibachi for 60 points the last time the Lakers played the Wizards. Is Jackson worried that Bryant will deviate from the game plan in an effort to either shut down Gilbert Arenas and/or go back at Arenas to score a lot of points? Jackson replied, "We're not concerned at all. Actually, Kobe asked to guard Arenas late in that ball game, in the fourth quarter. I think Arenas had, what, 15 points in the overtime and nine were on free throws? Am I right? (Arenas actually made six free throws in the overtime). That's a very unusual situation with that amount of points scored late. But, there is a rivalry there and there will be a point in the game when I put Kobe on Arenas. That's not how we're going to start and that is not what we are thinking about now." Jackson also asked some of the members of the media about Arenas' catch phrases--Agent Zero, hibachi, "quality shots," calling this year "the takeover"--and after we listed them he said, "I like that. He's got a quirky nature that I like."
Former Laker Caron Butler is now an All-Star with the Wizards. Jackson said, "We didn't want to have to trade him. There's no doubt about it but we had to give up something to get a big man. At that particular point we really needed a big man in this organization. We got Andrew (Bynum) and Kwame in the same year and Caron was the guy who had to go in that situation. I never had the opportunity to coach him but I liked the way that he played." Reading between the lines, you can't help but speculate that if the Lakers had known how quickly Bynum would develop that they might not have traded Butler.
I asked Jackson the following question: "There is a lot of talk about how Kobe is passing the ball more this year but isn't there also an adjustment by the other players, that they are more willing and able to be in the right position in the triangle to catch the ball and make shots? So there has been at least as much a change with how they are playing as there has been with how Kobe is playing. Would you agree with that?" Jackson replied, "Yeah. One of the things that set us off the right way is that Kobe was out early. Early in the season, they came out and played well and understood the offense and (when Kobe came back) he just kept the offense rolling."
I followed up by asking, "Would you say that that change even started to occur a little bit toward the end of last season and into the playoff series, with the players finally getting used to the triangle?"
Jackson answered, "Well, Kobe got off on a scoring run last year that was unbelievable. That was great, but during the playoffs we said that against a great team like Phoenix one person is not going to outscore their team, so we have to have other contributors. We were able to execute it and Kobe really bought in to it and understood that he could get himself a 45 point game but that we needed 100+ points (to win), so we needed some other scoring to do that. We had our chances. That was a good playoff for us, gave us a lot of confidence and guys came back from that with a feel (for how the team needs to play to be successful)."
Kobe Bryant was the last Lakers player to emerge from the training room and face the media after the game. He joked that the media members covering this game were the "select few" who were not sent to the Super Bowl and then tried to explain what went wrong down the stretch. Bryant said that the fourth quarter was one of the Lakers' worst of the season from an execution standpoint because "the ball stayed stagnant too much and didn't move."
As for his poor shooting, he shrugged, smiled and said, "The ball just wasn't going in for me. I'm an eternal optimist, so hopefully I will shoot better tomorrow. It was just one of those nights."
Someone asked Bryant why do the Lakers look so good on some nights and so bad on others and how can they sustain a high level of play and he responded, "It comes from maturity. We have to understand how to bring that effort every night, especially on long road trips. On long road trips, (other) teams are going to be ready to play and we have to continue to increase our intensity level and learn how to do that."
As for Saturday's game against Agent Zero and the Wizards, Bryant said, "They're playing extremely, extremely well and we have to be ready. I'm excited for the challenge and I'm sure that everybody else is excited, especially after the way that we played tonight, and hopefully we will give a good effort."
I asked the natural followup: "What are your thoughts about going against Gilbert Arenas? Everyone is talking about this game because he had 60 when he played against you guys the last time. What are your thoughts about going against the Wizards and, specifically, Arenas?"
Bryant answered, "I'm looking forward to the game. I think that it is a 'we' thing more than a 'me' thing. I'm not really tripping about him, to be honest with you. I think that he is a great player who got hot that night and had a hell of a game but for us as a team it is much more important--much more important; this is a big game for us. We're 1-2 on this trip and we want to come out there and try to win this game."
Odom and Sasha Vujacic got into some sort of argument on the sidelines during the game, sparked by Armstrong blocking Vujacic's shot in the fourth quarter. Someone asked Bryant what he thought about this and what he said to them. Bryant replied, "There's nothing you can do about it. That's what I was telling them. It was almost comical. There's nothing you can do about shouting and yelling. If my wife is mad because I didn't put the toilet seat down, what am I going to do? I have to put it down the next time. What are you going to do? You can't sit there and bark my head off. I didn't put it down; I'll put it down the next time. Right? You've got to move on. You've got to forget about it and move on to the next play. Especially as a guard, you have to be able to detach yourself from the game somewhat. Sasha cares so much about trying to do the right thing that he gets too wrapped up into the game emotionally. He's got to be able to step back from that and be more calm...In this type of offense you really have to learn how to be fluid and really separate yourself from the game. That is one of Phil's big teaching points. You can't go out there and play so emotionally that you kind of lose your way."
Vujacic is still learning how to do this, Bryant added: "It's a challenge for him. It's just like learning how to handle the ball or learning how to shoot. It's part of the game. Phil is a master of teaching that and once he (Vujacic) understands how to separate himself emotionally I think that things will sharpen up for him, because then it becomes inconsequential whether you have a turnover or you get fouled or you miss a shot. You just forget about it and move on to the next play."
By this point, it was getting late and the other media members left, so I was the last one remaining as Bryant headed out of the locker room and toward the team bus. I mentioned to him that he always has had the kind of focus that Vujacic is still trying to develop--bad plays never seemed to dissuade Bryant, even as a young player. I said to him, "Other players never learn that (how to focus) or it takes them a lot longer." Bryant replied, "I was a big Bruce Lee fan growing up. Watching him and analyzing him, listening to his philosophies kind of carried with me. Once I came into the NBA and once Phil came on board, he has a similar philosophy--you can't top it."
The classic early example of Bryant's confidence and unflappability, of course, is the three air balls that he shot against the Utah Jazz in a playoff game. I told Bryant, "I'll never forget that game because a lot of people were saying, 'What is that guy doing? He's the youngest guy on the team and he keeps shooting these airballs.' I said at the time, 'No, he's going to be a great player because he keeps thinking he's going to make it. Eventually, he's going to be making them.'"
Bryant laughed as he recalled that snapshot from his early struggles and said, "For better or worse, I'm very optimistic. I'm glad that I don't have a gambling vice."
posted by David Friedman @ 2:55 AM