It was hard to feel secure about the Golden State Warriors' two possession halftime lead against the L.A. Lakers last night.
Sure enough, the Lakers used a big third quarter to hand the Warriors their seventh consecutive loss to the Lakers at Staples Center.
Of course, Kobe Bryant was the big story of the third quarter and in a way, we should've expected something big from him in the second half.
The Warriors never really had an answer for Bryant despite the fact that he missed a couple of layups early on and headed into halftime with 13 points. Naturally, he dropped 17 in the third quarter - including a buzzer-beating three - and finished the game with 39 as the Warriors never really had an answer for him. Love him or hate him, perhaps the most amazing thing is that he still makes it look so routine.
Yet while Kobe's dominant third quarter will dominate the headlines for this game - and deservedly so - the combination of Andris Biedrins' absence and the performances of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were also significant.
Sure Kwame Brown and David Lee outscored the Lakers' duo 28-26 on the night. But the Lakers' post players dominated the boards, combining for 27 on the night compared to the Brown and Lee's 17. And the problem was at its worst in the third quarter: the Lakers held the Warriors without an offensive rebound in the third quarter while grabbing 43% of the offensive rebounds available to them.
So while Bryant was killing the Warriors in typical fashion, Bynum and Gasol were clean the boards and getting easy scoring opportunities within the offense. Meanwhile Lee finished the game with as many turnovers as Bynum and Gasol combined (seven).
The Warriors made a push in the final period - they shot a scorching 16-for-19 and finished the night shooting barely under 50% from the field - but that third quarter was just way too much to overcome.
There were positives though: Nate Robinson made his debut and brought game-changing energy, both Klay Thompson (career-high 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting) and Dorell Wright managed to find their shooting touch on the same night in Stephen Curry's absence, Kwame Brown caught the ball, and Monta Ellis had a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists.
So, what stood out most?
The Bench: Robinson, Thompson, and Ekpe Udoh (early) all stepped up at various times to help the Warriors earn that halftime lead. Reality is that without Thompson finally finding his touch and Robinson able to get into the swing of things quickly, this game would've been a lot uglier a lot sooner.
Far more on those positive things - and some not-so-positive things - in the quarter-by-quarter notes I took during the game below:
First quarter: Warriors up 22-20
- The Warriors didn't necessarily get off to a good start. In fact, they looked terrible. Andrew Bynum threw down a dunk early and came back the other way to block Kwame Brown. It looked like it was going to be another long night at Staples Center against the Lakers with Bynum owning Brown in his first trip as a Warrior.
- But after getting off to a rough start against Bynum, Brown did some positive things on both ends.
- Charles Jenkins wasn't great, but he wasn't bad either. It was nice to see the mid-range jumper from someone off the bench tonight. He committed a foul late in the shot clock that was regrettable, but it will be interesting to see what he can do with more playing time... of course...
- NATE ROBINSON!
- Robinson came in and brought a nice jolt of energy on both ends. Offensively, he was a more willing passer than some might have expected from his stats over the course of his career. And really it was refreshing to see: he got the ball up court quickly, initiated the offense, and put players in position to score. Now, that's not to say all of his passes were on the mark, but he at least came out with a distributor's mindset. Defensively, he was active and contesting shots. The early returns on Robinson had to be positive.
- Ekpe Udoh was looking surprisingly aggressive offensively despite the fact that the taller Pau Gasol was the dude sticking him. He had five points off the bench and if would obviously be nice if he can continue being a productive interior player.
- Klay Thompson found the closest thing to a rhythm that we've seen from him this season getting a couple of catch and shoot opportunities in the first quarter.
Halftime: Warriors up 39-35
- The play that was sort of a microcosm of the whole quarter - perhaps for both teams - was when Nate Robinson got a breakaway off a pass from David Lee, slowed up looking to make some kind of highlight reel play, and then bobbled the ball. Now maybe he just heard Troy Murphy's footsteps and got scared, but in any event it was a blown scoring opportunity. Kudos to Jim Barnett for keeping his composure after seeing that affront to fundamentally sound basketball.
- But turnovers were the story of the half: the Warriors finished the half with a 9 to 12 edge, but so many of those turnovers - like Robinson's - were unforced making an already sloppy game hard to stomach. They had 4 turnovers in the first five minutes, which was not pretty.
- In any event, Robinson was nice in the first half, leading the team with 9 points. After getting his feet wet in the first quarter rather quickly, he was a much more aggressive scorer in the second quarter and playing with the bench for the most part he was a welcome presence for a team that can struggle to generate offense. The Lakers backcourt just look flat out overmatched in the face of Robinson's speed. Robinson's quick,
- Once again, defense was the story of the first half - the Warriors held the Lakers to 36.66% shooting while shooting 45% themselves in the first half, which was the most significant reason for them taking the lead in the first half. Although the Lakers outrebounded the Warriors in the first half to get a number of points off putbacks - they dominated the offensive boards with a 40% offensive rebounding percentage compared to the Warriors 26.92% - they actually did a reasonably good job of making entry passes tough to Gasol and Bynum as well as contesting perimeter shots.
- Kwame Brown missed four consecutive free throws in this quarter after the Lakers - perhaps feeling charitable toward their former teammate - gave him two extra attempts due to lane violations.
Third quarter: 67-58
- Kobe struck with a buzzer-beating three to put the Lakers up 9 heading into the final period. He had 17 in the third alone.
- Dorell Wright finally hits a three. Thank goodness.
- Dare I say that Klay Thompson got hot in the third quarter? His shooting kept this game close after the Lakers erased the halftime lead. A large part of it was him just looking a lot more patient offensively and getting shots in his comfort zone: spotting up and shooting off the pass. It would certainly be nice if he could be the ball handler, slasher, and distributor he was trying to be early on in his young career but tonight's game was probably more like what we should expect from Thompson in terms of generating points.
- Udoh nearly stripped Kobe while defending him out on the wing. But otherwise, it wasn't a great quarter for him.
- The story of this quarter though was more Laker rebounding: the Lakers held the Warriors without an offensive rebound and killed them 12-4 overall on the boards. Perhaps that should just be expected by now against this team.
- But the Warriors offense also sputtered once again in the third quarter, shooting only 4-for-17. It wasn't much of an inspiring quarter.
- Robinson failed to score after getting off to a great start as a Warrior.
- Monta Ellis wasn't having one of his most explosive games to this point, but he was doing a fairly good job of setting up others in picking up 6 assists and missing out on a few others due to dropped passes, failed conversions, or free throws. That he didn't have any turnovers entering the fourth is a positive compared to everyone else.
- But Ellis was having an inefficient scoring night headed into the final period, which the Warriors could ill afford. And a frustrating shooting night was compounded by a technical foul in the fourth quarter when the Warriors were still in striking distance. That said, I felt him on that - bad call as the defender was clearly moving.
- You might've figured that Bynum and Gasol would wear the Warriors' interior players down eventually - early on they were simply missing layups and dunks (over and over). In the fourth quarter, they did a much better job playing off each other and/or rolling to the basket for easy shots. And of course continuing to clean up the boards. The Warriors simply had no answer for that.
- While the Lakers bigs were dominant, David Lee went about his business of recording a double-double and closed in on a triple-double...adding turnovers. It just wasn't a positive night for him. Defensively, there was nothing he could do against Bynum and Gasol inside or Murphy when he floated outside.
- Ellis and Brown are apparently developing a rapport. Something about Ellis' passes must be more catchable than everyone else's in the league, because Brown caught a few and finished with touch around the basket in the fourth quarter when the Warriors' offense was otherwise stagnant.
- Dorell Wright hit another three to cut it to six within four minutes and then things really started to seem to swing back the Warriors' way. A hard screen on Ellis that was whistled for a foul, an Ellis three, and a Kwame Brown free throw (!!!) helped cut the lead to three. Then Gasol jumper, Ellis turnover, Barnes fastbreak layup, Brown's shot blocked, and another Gasol jumper. 9-point lead again. Hope is fleeting as a Warriors fan.
- Most of what happened from that point on, though perhaps inspiring hope in the most optimistic of us, was so frustrating to watch that we'll just leave it at that.