The Lakers were finally back on their home floor after their season-long six-game road trip came to a close on Sunday. The team found themselves up against the Atlanta Hawks, who have played well so far this season, and entered the game with an 18-10 record.
Following the Lakers’ embarrassing loss to the New York Knicks last Friday, the Lakers defeated the Raptors on Sunday before Tuesday night’s game against Atlanta. This was the first meeting between the two teams this season, and will be the only meeting between Atlanta and the Lakers at Staples Center this year.
The Lakers started the game looking to their big men. This has been a pattern we have seen from the team before. Very often the Lakers have gone to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the paint early in the game before settling for jumpers and long shots later on. Still, early in Tuesday’s game the Lakers made it a point of emphasis to get Gasol and Bynum the ball, and they weren’t disappointing.
Los Angeles also got some unexpected support from Troy Murphy and Matt Barnes. The struggles of the Los Angeles reserves has been obvious this season, but both Murphy and Barnes provided some offensive support for the Lakers in the first quarter.
One player the team didn’t get much support from was Kobe Bryant. After hitting the game-winning shot on Sunday, Bryant struggled mightily in the first half against Atlanta on Tuesday. In fact, Bryant was held to just two points in the first quarter, and shot just 1-10 in the first half.
While the Lakers played well, Atlanta hit a series of three-point baskets late in the quarter to keep them close after the first 12 minutes. With three quarters left to play the Lakers led the Hawks, 27-24.
For the Lakers, the biggest story of the first half was Andrew Bynum. After struggling in the last two games, Bynum came up big against Zaza Pachulia and the undersized Atlanta frontline. Bynum connected on his first six shots from the field, and finished the first half 6-7 shooting with 13 points, which led the Lakers.
Los Angeles also saw a more aggressive Pau Gasol in the second quarter. Unfortunately for Gasol the additional aggression wasn’t resulting in the numbers he would like. Gasol missed an array of easy shots in the first half, but continued to use his aggression around the basket. Gasol only shot 4-14 in the first half, but was second on the team with nine points after the first 24 minutes.
Atlanta was led by forward Josh Smith, who also had 13 points in the first half. Smith used his athleticism and quickness to lead the Hawks, and took advantage of a larger, slower Pau Gasol. Smith shot a very efficient 6-11 from the floor in the first half, and helped Atlanta take the lead late in the half. However, a last-second three-pointer from Metta World Peace put the Lakers back on top at halftime, 42-41.
After the Hawks erased the Lakers lead in the second quarter the Lakers were looking to re-establish it in the third. The quarter started sloppy for both teams, as the Lakers turned the ball over four times in the first four minutes of the third. Atlanta has having just as much trouble, as they missed nearly every shot they took. This allowed the Lakers to regain the lead and ultimately finish the quarter on top.
The key player for L.A. in the third was once again Pau Gasol. While he struggled with his shot in the first half he was able to get some easy put-backs off of offensive rebounds in the third quarter. By the end of the third he had already established a double-double, and was leading the Lakers in both points and rebounds.
Another reason the Lakers were able to once again take the lead was the emergence of Kobe Bryant’s offensive game. After a terrible first half of shooting, Bryant was able to connect on a couple jumpers that helped fuel an 8-0 run for Los Angeles that allowed them to take the lead, 59-51.
With the starters on the bench to start the fourth the L.A. reserves were looking to maintain their lead until they came back in. That job got easier thanks to rookie Andrew Goudelock. The young Goudelock hit several big buckets for the Lakers, including a three-pointer that pushed the Lakers lead to 13 early in the quarter.
As has been customary so far this season, coach Mike Brown left Bynum in with the reserve unit. Bynum continued his strong play from the first half early in the fourth, and was able to out-muscle Zaza Pachulia and the rest of the Atlanta bigs. Still, Bynum alone wasn’t enough for the Lakers to overcome a tough Atlanta squad. Despite the fact that the team has struggled with bench scoring all season, L.A. got some big shots from Goudelock and point guard Steve Blake in the fourth. Both hit shots that allowed the Lakers to keep their double-digit lead until Bryant and the rest of the starters came back into the game.
In the end the biggest reason for the Lakers victory was their big men. The Hawks had no answer for Gasol and Bynum, who controlled the paint from the opening tip through the final buzzer. To cap off the night and win for the Lakers, Gasol hit a three-pointer in the closing minutes of the game to seal the deal.
Led by Gasol and Bynum, the Lakers defeated the Atlanta Hawks 86-78.