The devastating combination of length, agility, and passing ability among the Lakers’ bigs makes it difficult to be too frustrated by their dominance over the Clippers up front. The Lakers score 70 points in the paint tonight, the majority of which belong to Andrew Bynum, who finishes with 42. It’s not as if Bynum pushes his Clipper defenders around on the block. Instead, he works himself easy shots through motion, mismatches, second chances, and active work around the rim.
Bynum gets his first bucket of the night exploiting a mismatch down low against Thornton courtesy of a high S/R with Luke Walton; the second basket comes on a putback; the third on a pass from Kobe Bryant out of a triple-team when DeAndre Jordan leaves Bynum to help; the fourth on a back door cut from the left wing. The fifth when Pau Gasol hits the diving Bynum between two defenders [Brian Skinner leaves Bynum to help] ; the sixth on another back door cut.
The Clippers leave Bynum unattended far too frequently — and should be faulted for doing so. But the spaces on the floor change so fluidly in the Lakers’ offense — to say nothing of the ball movement — that it’s unreasonable to believe the likes of Skinner, Jordan, and Thornton can execute a defensive scheme that could contain Bynum. If it weren’t Bynum, it would’ve been Gasol.
On the other end, DeAndre Jordan has a breakout game: 23 points, 12 rebounds [six offensive], four blocks, and only one turnover on 89% TS. Jordan is on the receiving end of a bunch of alley-oops. He also collects a fair amount of garbage. But he shows some skills:
- [2nd, 6:34] Freddie Jones and Jordan execute a pretty drag screen. Jones dribbles left, and Bynum tracks him. But this leaves a clear path for Jordan to dive to the hoop. Jones deftly threads the needle to Jordan at about 10 feet. Jordan is in high gear as he catches the ball, but is met by two Laker defenders [Lamar Odom & Trevor Ariza]. What does Jordan do? Dance his way between both defenders with a pretty stutter step, then lays it up and in.
Jordan displays a freakish level of athleticism, soft hands, a good handle, and a nose for the ball. Can you imagine if he cultivates a face-up game from 12 feet?
Steve Novak continues his torrid January. This month, he’s now 21-40 from beyond the arc after tonight’s 4-5 3PA performance. Unfortunately, his liabilities are apparent tonight. Despite his 14 points in 24 minutes, Novak finishes a -11. He simply can’t match up defensively against the Lakers’ long 4s — specifically, Lamar Odom.
Kobe Bryant was in a deferential mood all night, but Eric Gordon doesn’t get off easy, but does solid work defensively. Two sets to examine in the second half:
- [3rd, 2:42] On the left wing, Bynum comes high to set a screen for Bryant that doesn’t bother Gordon much. EJ manages to stay close to Bryant along the left sideline, walling off the lane. At the baseline, Bryant turns the corner, but he’s far underneath the basket. For 99% of the league, this would be an impossible angle. But Kobe switches hands and flings a carnival reverse layup off the window. What to do?
- [4th, 2:20] Same set. Bynum’s screen is marginally more effective this time. Again, Bryant dribbles along the sideline, with Eric managing to stay in front of him. Rather than turn the corner at the baseline, Bryant backs Gordon in at the low post, then launches a quick turnaround jumper over EJ. It’s no good.
Bryant finishes 5-15 from the field, with three pairs of FTAs. Tonight he’s a facilitator, not a scorer [12 assists, one shy of his season high], and it serves his bigs well.
Ultimately, the Clippers lose the game on the glass. There are 35 rebounding opportunities beneath their basket. The Clippers grab 18 of them…but the Lakers take 17. That’s a 54% defensive rebound rate. Anything in the low 70% range is pretty awful. Below 70% demonstrates a Golden State-level of rebounding incompetence.
There’s something a little unseemly about rationalizing the team’s sorry state, but it’s indisputable that if the Clippers’ principal frontcourt were healthy, DeAndre Jordan might be playing down in Anaheim. Instead, we’re seeing a raw talent gradually refine his skills against the league’s best players, and the upward trajectory of his confidence offers real promise.