The Lakers hosted the New Jersey Nets on Thursday night in a game that wasn’t supposed to be much of a game. In fact, the main story on Tuesday had nothing to do with the game and everything to do with center Andrew Bynum. After suffering a sprained ankle on Sunday night against the Golden State Warriors, Bynum announced that he would not play against the Nets.
However, the bigger story involving Bynum had nothing to do with his ankle and everything to do with his attitude. The team announced Tuesday afternoon that Bynum had been fined an undisclosed amount for recent “infractions.” These are believed to include his three-point attempt and subsequent benching, as well as his attitude around the locker room lately.
Still, the Lakers had a game to play Tuesday night, and they were without Bynum for the action. This left Pau Gasol to play center, and Mike Brown inserted Josh McRoberts into Gasol’s traditional power forward position.
The Lakers opened the game with good ball movement and offensive spacing. While this was certainly encouraging, often times this season a hot start has been fool’s gold for Los Angeles. The offensive tempo was established by point guard Ramon Sessions, who came out of the gate controlling the offense. He dished out four quick assists and scored six points in the first six minutes of the quarter.
Unfortunately, it was a familiar foe that haunted the Lakers in the first quarter. Turnovers allowed the Nets to stay close in the first, as they were able to capitalize off the mistakes L.A. kept making. Still, the Lakers managed to hold onto their lead for the duration of the quarter.
As things wound down the Lakers managed to put a little space between them and the Nets. They were able to build their lead thanks to finally getting control of the ball and limiting their mistakes. They finished off the quarter with a fairly ridiculous play from forward Josh McRoberts, who dribbled behind his back, lost the ball, picked it back up and beat the buzzer for two points. After McRoberts’ shot the Lakers led 32-23 at the end of the first.
After a strong first quarter the Lakers were looking to have an even better second period. There were plenty of mistakes made in the first 12 minutes that allowed the Nets to hang with the Lakers throughout the first. However, for much of the second they were able to limit those mistakes and extend their lead.
Playing in the place of the injured Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol really stepped up offensively in the first half for the Lakers. He made a variety of different plays in the paint, taking advantage of an undersized New Jersey frontline. One of the main reasons he was able to be so successful on offense was the team ball movement. Often times this season if the team is struggling it’s because they’re not moving the ball enough. That wasn’t a problem in the second quarter on Tuesday, mainly because of Ramon Sessions. The newest Laker had eight assists by halftime, several of which were to Gasol.
Gasol finished the first half leading all scorers with 18 points. Still, Sessions’ impact could not be denied. Besides the eight assists, Sessions also had 12 points of his own in the first 24 minutes. The Lakers also got some unexpected offense from Steve Blake, who hit several three-point baskets in the first half. This well-rounded offensive approach allowed the Lakers to build a bigger lead over New Jersey, and enter halftime with a double-digit advantage.
The third quarter has not been kind to the Lakers so far this season, and they were looking to avoid another meltdown on Thursday. The Nets made several attempts to get back into the game, but on this particular night the Lakers always seemed to have an answer. One of the main reasons was Kobe Bryant. However, Bryant’s contributions weren’t what you would normally expect from him. Bryant played very well off the ball in the third, working almost better as a distraction than an offensive weapon. When he did get the ball he took advantage by shooting a high percentage.
When Deron Williams took a seat with the Nets trailing by 16, it seemed that the Lakers had a chance to pull further ahead and finish them off. However, a quick 7-0 run from New Jersey quickly had the game back within single-digits. Just when everybody started to expect another monumental Lakers collapse, however, consecutive three-pointers from Metta World Peace helped the team reestablish their advantage and momentum.
The Lakers got a lot of minutes from their bench at the end of the quarter. Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Troy Murphy spent significant time on the floor and actually performed quite admirably. They helped the Lakers maintain their lead, and Los Angeles headed to the fourth quarter with a 78-66 advantage.
After answering every New Jersey run in the third quarter the Lakers quickly had to do the same in the fourth. New Jersey cut into the lead early in the quarter, and were back within eight with 8:23 left in the fourth. Mike Brown had Ramon Sessions back on the floor to start the fourth, but he was playing with many of the reserves in the process. Brown was hoping to get a little extra rest for Bryant and his other starters (not named Sessions) to begin the quarter, but the Nets’ run quickly ended that dream.
When the Lakers have struggled this season on offense it’s been because their ball movement has been nonexistent. That’s what began to happen as the fourth quarter progressed, and the Nets were able to take advantage. There were multiple possessions where the Lakers ended up forcing difficult shots late in the shot-clock because of a lack of ball and player movement.
Led by Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace, New Jersey was able to finally erase the entire Lakers lead. The Nets came all the way back and tied the game thanks to a Williams three-pointer with just under two minutes left in the fourth. Bryant answered for the Lakers with a difficult shot of his own to put the Lakers back on top. After Gerald Wallace hit 1-2 free throws the Lakers had a chance to build their lead and finish off the Nets. Their offensive struggles continued, however, and missed two shots before losing the ball out of bounds. A quick review showed that it went off New Jersey, but due to a depleted shot clock the Lakers were forced into a quick shot.
However, for the second straight game it was Kobe Bryant that put the final nail in the Nets’ coffin. His three-point shot with just 6.8 seconds remaining was the final straw. It wasn’t pretty, but the Lakers managed to hold on and defeat the Nets, albeit without Andrew Bynum, 91-87.