Lakers 2012 November 20 Antoni with D Game 1

Of all the things to go wrong, the first night our newest Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni walks onto the court, what happens? The Lakers played tight, offensively! But defensively, The Lakers played great! They were especially spectacular as they closed out the 4th Quarter in a come-from-behind win, with a 16-6 surge for the victory!

I missed the 2nd Quarter (I worked a swing shift tonight), and I had to settle for the 4th Quarter by radio driving home, but watching the replay tonight on TWC’s Access Sportsnet has been enlightening & entertaining at the same time! Comparing the styles of Bill MacDonald & Stu Lantz on TV vs. John Irealnd & Mychal Thompson has been amusing – I’ll just leave it at that (for now).

The Brooklyn Nets have a strong starting unit (and they came ready to play a tough, defensive-minded game): Deron Williams (PG), Joe Johnson (SG), Gerald Wallace (SF), Kris Humphries (PF), and Brooke Lopez (C). I really like Gerald Wallace’s game, a lot! And they played well, in the first 43 minutes – except for Gerald Wallace, whose timing seems off since recently returning from an injury (?).

The Los Angeles Lakers started Darius Morris (PG) again with the expected starters: Kobe Bryant (SG/PG), Metta World Peace (SF), Pau Gasol (PF), and Dwight Howard (C). This wasn’t a great night for bench contributions by either team. Neither Morris nor Duhon were that great running the offense, so those duties seemed to shift to Kobe tonight – again; however, that’s a testimony to the elite, all-star level play of possible “Hall of Fame”-headed players like Deron Williams & Joe Johnson (imho). The Nets were able to easily take our non-starters out of the game – leaving the outcome of this contest in the hands of the starters (making it feel like a playoff-caliber game).

Losing a close, winnable game late to The San Antonio Spurs the other night hurt, so beating a tough team tonight like The Brooklyn Nets helps to indicate that The Lakers are actually turning things around – defensively. Turnovers at a total of 13 or less each of the last 3 games is a great indicator that their relaxed style of play is paying off with dividends! Tonight, they only had 11 turnovers, so there’s a lot to be thankful for in this close win – it wasn’t a blowout win, but they did a lot of the little things right, which added together was a difference-maker.

How strongly The Nets battled to trade Brooke Lopez after last season for Dwight Howard made the battle tonight between them very interesting: both centers scored 23 points, but Dwight Howard had a better all-around game (despite the missed free throws) when you consider rebounds, blocked shots, and a defensive posture that alters shots or causes a player to pass it out to a teammate – sometimes leading to a fastbreak opportunity off a turnover due to being startled, etc. Tonight, for instance: Dwight Howard 4 blocks, 15 rebounds; Brooke Lopez zero blocks, 7 RBs.

As the game had drawn to a close, “real-time,” The Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson started playing “Hacka-Dwight” – and it might have worked if he did it every time that The Lakers brought the ball up the court. But when Metta World Peace hit a 3-pointer to bring it close, The Lakers still trailing 84-82… It just left you scratching your head wondering why they would resort to such tactics at all if they weren’t going to continue to do it every time up the court. Weird. But here I am watching the game on replay, now in the 2nd Quarter, and the play-by-play announcers aren’t bothered – yet – by Dwight Howard missing shots at the charity stripe with the score tied, 46-46. When will they begin to consider it a problem?

Metta World Peace played well, from beginning to end, as, of course, Kobe Bryant did. But the dunks & blocks by Dwight Howard that delighted the crowd at Staples Center were overshadowed by the fact that The Lakers almost lost tonight, simply because everybody shot very poorly from the free throw line – especially Dwight Howard! I can understand playing a little tight, with your new coach finally sitting on the sideline, still recovering from knee replacement surgery (I was glad to see Bernie Bickerstaff sitting right beside him). Pau Gasol played one of his more consistent games, but still made costly mental mistakes on defense to give Lopez & Humphries easy baskets. His prettiest shot, of anything he has recently done, has to be the jumper from the free throw line that tied the score at 61-61, after he dribbled to the left to get an open look. But The Brooklyn Nets are a very good team, and without a defensive presence in the second half by The Lakers, this game was a victory for the away team. The Nets had shot 6/10 from 3-point range in the 1st Half but only sunk 1/13 in the 2nd Half! It’s tough to win on the road, and they seemed to fold – especially late. Did they wilt before an exhausting Lakers defense? Perhaps. Or did they just run out of gas? Not sure. But The Nets didn’t seem to stay with a steady does of inside play, late, instead electing to leave the outcome in the hands of Williams & Johnson & CJ Watson off-the-bench.

It wasn’t an up-tempo game at all for The Los Angeles Lakers like their last win, Sunday night, when they put 114 points on the board aganst The Phoenix Suns. This game was a defensive struggle, after The Lakers began the game up 10-0. And the battle got ratcheted up significantly to start the 4th Quarter.

Fortunately, from a 68-68 tie late in the third quarter, The Lakers went on a 8-5 run to close out the quarter because they played flat offensively for the first 7 minutes or so of the fourth quarter. I am watching the replay of the game – primarily – to see how they pulled it off, because it sounded on the radio like The Nets had control of the game late – but what is it I heard Coach Dave Miller say lately? “Good teams can closeout quarters and games” (I’ll have to check Twitter, or wait for the TWC SportsNet commercial for the exact words) – but that’s exactly what The Lakers did tonight. There wasn’t the normal presence of Coach Miller on SportsNet tonight, but instead we were treated to “Big Shot” Robert Horry joining “Big Game” James Worthy! That was pretty cool.

The Lakers did manage to close out each quarter. That was huge change from every other game they’ve played so far this season.

After 3 Quarters: Lakers lead with 76, Nets 73.

In the end, The Lakers snatched victory from defeat – and, honestly, it felt like their defense was the most significant reason for the victory. So, here it is, on the 11pm replay: it’s now 77-73 with 10:25 left to play and Dwight Howard makes only the 2nd of 2 free throws. At 9:44, he committed his 4th personal foul – I seem to remember he picked up his 5th foul soon afterward (as I was listening on the radio, driving home), but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Timeout. Gerald Wallace brought it down to a 2-point margin, Lakers currently up 77-75 but their offense just stagnated at this point in the contest. I guess I was hoping for a high-octane offense, so I’m surprised they won a low scoring game; they hadn’t played very sharp so far this season, in terms of defensive pressure or turnovers. At 8:12, game tied 77-77 by a Brooke Lopez spinning shot in the lane, that was followed by a Gerald Wallace steal and off he went for a breakaway layup. Nets up: 79-77. Kobe & Pau come back in, but it took a while for Kobe’s shots to start falling – if I remember correctly. Yeah, here’s “Hacka-Dwight” – John Ireland & Mychal Thompson on the radio a bit more perturbed about his misses than Bill MacDonald and Stu Lantz on the TV coverage. Only now is Billy Mac stating it as significant: Dwight Howard FTs, 5-15. Nets up 81-77. Timeout. Time left – 5:37. So, the score after the 3rd Quarter was 76-73, which means The Lakers have only scored 1 point in this final quarter in over 6 minutes of play! The Lakers have been coming out of Halftime flat, but this is ridiculous! I forgot: Kobe Bryant missed his 1st free throw attempt of the game – now 84-78 Nets with 5:22 left, as Dwight Howard picks up his 5th foul. And, again, “Hacka-Dwight” called by Avery Johnson.

I remember hearing Mike D’Antoni after the game covering for his players, saying “it happens some nights,” in reference to struggles from the free throw line. 4:30 left, 84-82 after a Metta World Peace 3!!! 84-83, after a Dwight Howard make from the charity stripe, which he did before & after Metta’s 3-pointer. And, Kobe misses another free throw? He makes the 2nd shot to tie it at 84-84, then Joe Johnson shoots an open jumper for the lead, The Lakers counter with a nice assist by Pau to Dwight under the basket. 2:37 left, tie game! 86-86. D’Antoni seemed to make hand motions from time to time, suggesting he wanted the team to increase the tempo of the game. “The Lakers get it done, defensively” – says Billy Mac, as Joe Johnson shoots an air ball from behind the 3-point arc. Kobe hits a running layup, arcing it over 2 players – including Brooke Lopez trying for a block – for an 89-86 advantage, with less than 2 minutes to play. Nets miss a shot, Kobe misses an open shot. Sixty seconds to play, Deron Williams throws up an off-balance 3-pointer, followed up by a circus shot that Kobe forces up, follows up with what appeared to be a foul (not called) that left The Lakers out of position leading to an easy Joe Johnson layup, tightening up the score at 89-88, Lakers. Next, Kobe gets fouled on another wild shot, back to the free throw line but hitting both shots for a Lakers lead, 91-88 and only 17 seconds to play!

I remember John Ireland calling the shot by Deron Williams dangerously close to going in, as Kobe Bryant fouled him, sending him to the free throw line for a 1-point game, 91-90. What made it dangerous was that the shot might’ve gone in, if Dwight Howard hadn’t blocked it! The Nets then trapped Kobe Bryant on the inbounds play, who then passed it to Pau Gasol who was also harassed into making a bad decision that ended up being a pass back to Kobe Bryant that he miraculously recovered – fouled in the effort, making both free throws to increase the lead to 93-90. 4.8 seconds left, Deron Williams gets a 3-pointer off but misses, Kobe fouled on the rebound unnecessarily. “Anti-climactic” finish, says Bill MacDonald. Kobe gets 2 more free throws, and there is only 0.2 seconds left – so, game over. But, Kobe Bryant continues to improve the overall stats of the team’s free throw shooting woes.

The game really did seem to come down to defense and free throws being the difference in the ballgame: The Lakers defense was just more effective at key moments to closeout the 4th quarter, and whatever the Nets tried to do was a good idea but ended up being ineffective. Some might say that The Lakers got “lucky,” but it just felt like they were more hungry for the victory at the end. What didn’t make sense to me was how The Nets, losing early as The Lakers took off to a 10-0 lead , then took great focus on denying Kobe Bryant the ball to get back into the game. So, how does that effort get throttled down the stretch? Maybe I’m not giving Kobe Bryant enough credit: Maybe Kobe’s greatness was tested tonight, and he overcame The Nets when it counted most. Dwight Howard ended up with 23 points & 15 rebounds, 7/19 FTs – so, he had a chance to lead The Lakers in scoring.

4th Quarter: Lakers 19, Nets 17 – a come from behind victory! In the first 6:38, The Lakers scored 2 points; then they scored 17 in the final 5:22. Wow! After the game, it was explained like this: Mike D’Antoni seemed to think Avery Johnson stopped the “Hacka-Dwight” after he made 1 of each pair of free throws, twice – saying 1-point per possession is pretty good. Coach D’Antoni was very impressed by the fact that The Nets were held to 33 points in the second half, 17 in the 4th quarter: I couldn’t agree more! The emotional lift had to be MWP’s 3-pointer to draw them close, 84-82. The funny thing is: The Lakers made free throws, after that, which appeared to be the difference in the ballgame! And, somehow, it was Kobe Bryant who found himself at the chairty stripe, after not being foulde at all in the first three quarters. Crazy. Only Kobe. Lakers now above the .500 mark, 6-5. Way to go, Lakers!

Final: Lakers 95, Nets 90. (Recap)

You’re on a roll, Lakers! Keep it going!

Next stop: Sacramento, Wednesday Night. They might be there already: goodnight!

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