Since I attended game one against the Denver Nuggets, I am going to post a live impression, along with the research I looked up once I returned home.
My girlfriend and I met up with my parents about an hour and a half before the game. We planned on getting lunch before the game, so we headed over to the Yard House, right across from Staples Center in the L.A. Live section. Lakers paraphernalia was everywhere. The buzz was tangible, everyone was excited for game one of the Mike Brown era. As many of us waited for our food, close eyes were kept upon the numerous televisions as the Spurs and Jazz battled during their matchup. However, the Spurs went on a big run, putting them ahead by fifteen or so in the third quarter, and everyone seemed to stop watching and instead focus on their friends and family. After throwing down some delicious sliders, my family and I headed over to Staples Center.
One great thing about attending a playoff game, besides the game itself, is the freebie you usually receive. This time, everyone in attendance was given a white shirt that used large purple lettering to spell, "One At A Time," across the front with a Lakers logo centered underneath. The back employed small purple lettering, "2012 Playoff Time," centered and just below the shoulders. Freebies like this are obviously accounted for in the ticket price, which always rises during the playoffs, however, these freebies are limited, precious, and serve as a cool keepsake.
However, these freebies are also expected to be worn during the game. If you saw the Thunder vs the Mavericks in game one, you saw the solidarity of crowd, as they all wore the Thunder blue shirts they were given. Well Los Angeles is not Oklahoma City. Although people may love the keepsake, Lakers fans usually don't don the adornment. The richer types come dressed to impress, and the normal fans all sport their favorite player with either a jersey or shirt of some type. Wearing a generic shirt, actually limited but generic inside Staples, is just not going to happen. I would estimate that considerably less than half of the crowd wore the shirt.
Now my impressions of the game. Andrew Bynum impressively highlighted the old cliche, you can't teach size. Bynum looked bigger, and was bigger, than everyone on the court, and it was obvious. To foreshadow his huge defensive game, Bynum opened the first quarter with blocks on Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and a nasty block on Al Harrington as Harrington tried to dunk the ball. All of these blocks came in the paint as Bynum rotated from the weak side. Even more impressive, Bynum remained engaged in the game without taking a single shot until 4:24 was left in the second quarter. His only three buckets in the first half all came in the second quarter, with a tip putback, and two dunks.
Andrew Bynum showed outstanding maturity. He did not sulk about his lack of shots. He understood that every time he touched the ball, the Nuggets doubled him hard. He knew that his role would be to draw doubles and kick out to the open man. Unable to provide a scoring impact upon the game, Bynum decided to prevent the Nuggets from being able to score. Bynum picked up his fourth block in the second quarter. Bynum switched onto Lawson due to a pick and roll. The Nuggets cleared out, hoping to take advantage of the mismatch. Lawson blew by Bynum and drove to the rim. Bynum stayed within swatting distance as he remained about a half a step behind Lawson. Lawson went up at the rim, and Bynum swatted his shot from behind. Bynum's effort was outstanding.
Other impressions during the first half involved Devin Ebanks and Kobe Bryant. Coming into the series without Metta World Peace, Ebanks knew his role was going to increase. Ebanks played solid defense on the Nuggets main weapon, Danilo Gallinari. Although Gallo shot a respectable 4-7 in the first half, Ebanks made sure that Gallo didn't go off like the Nuggets needed him to. Limiting Gallo to just seven attempts was a win all by itself. Gallinari is the biggest threat to the Lakers, and if he has a huge game and drops something like 40 points, the Lakers will be in trouble. Ebanks was up in his grill all game and made his life difficult. With Gallo only getting seven attempts, the next logical man to step up would have been Arron Afflalo. Afflalo is capable of big games, but he only went 1-4 in the first half. With Bynum controlling the paint, the wing defenders were able to play aggressive defense because they knew that their backs were covered in the paint. Limiting the top two scorers of Gallinari and Afflalo to a combined 5-11 was a huge win in the first half. Ebanks also contributed on the offensive end, securing about 16 first half minutes and making sure to avoid becoming an offensive liability. Ebanks went 5-6 for 12 points and he also pulled down 3 rebounds in the opening half. Ebanks attacked the rim aggressively, getting a trip to the line as well as two dunks. Even more surprising, Ebanks hit three jumpers, one from 18ft, 19ft, and 9ft. Overall it was a great half for Ebanks.
As for Kobe, things weren't so great for him to start the game. Kobe shot just 2-10 in the first half. Every time he missed, the crowd around me would let out some minor groans. Kobe just couldn't make a jumper. He got many good looks, but the shots weren't falling. Kobe was shooting within the flow of the offense, but his shots weren't dropping. As the fans around me groaned, I waited patiently for Kobe to get his act together. I realized that Kobe was not dropping his shots, shots that he usually makes with ease. The second half proved his vengeance, as Kobe made a huge adjustment and got into the paint, making his life easier. In the first half Kobe missed from 13ft, 14ft, 20ft, 17ft, 6ft, 28ft, 16ft, and 13ft, in that order. His two makes were from 2ft and 18ft. With his mid range game struggling, Kobe abandoned the midrange jumper and attacked the rim in the second half. Kobe finished the first half 2-10 for 8 points, with 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover.
The Lakers ended the first half up 50-40. Andrew Bynum's dominance in the paint set the tone of the game. On numerous occasions the crowd loudly chanted defense without the prompting of the house band. The spontaneity of the crowd was pretty cool. Usually the house band starts the chants with their back beats during the game, however, the fans came ready and were amped up enough to organically start their own chants to support their team.
In the third quarter the Lakers stretched the lead up to as high as 19 points. Kobe went 3-6 for 9 points, with 1 rebound and 1 turnover. Kobe's makes came from 2ft, 14ft, and 4ft. His misses came from 20ft twice and 10ft. Pau went 3-5, 1-1 from deep, for 7 points, with 1 rebound, 2 assists, and 1 block. Bynum continued his excellence in the paint, blocking 4 more shots for a total of 8 by the end of the third quarter. Bynum blocked the undersized Kenneth Faried in the paint twice, once during a putback attempt and the other as the last line of defense at the rim for a volleyball spike out of bounds. Bynum then swatted Al Harrington in the paint as a weak side helper, and he even stepped out on a pick and roll rotation to block an 11ft jumper by Andre Miller. Bynum's defensive activity was stellar and the crowd loudly cheered him every time he swatted a shot. Bynum also went 2-3 for 4 points, with 3 rebounds. The Lakers ended the quarter up 77-66.
In the fourth the Lakers continued to stretch the lead. Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill scored the opening 8 points until Kobe and Bynum checked in at the 7:47 mark. Hill went 2-2 for 4 points and 2 rebounds during this stretch. Pau went 2-5 for 4 points and 2 rebounds. Kobe proceeded to put the game away by living in the lane. Kobe went 6-8 for 15 points, along with 1 rebound until he checked out with 1:58 to play. Kobe's barrage came in the paint, as he went 5-6 from within 5ft. Kobe went 1-2 from the outside, hitting from 17ft but missing a 26ft 3 pointer. Kobe wisely abandoned his failing jumper and attacked the rim with aggressiveness. As a guard, Kobe's post moves are unparalleled in today's NBA. He had one up and under with his left hand that was just sublime. With Kobe on fire, the fans began chanting "We want tacos," around the six minute mark. If you are unaware, Jack in the Box has a promotion where they give out a coupon for two free tacos to everyone in attendance if the Lakers hold their opponent under 100 points. With the Lakers ahead comfortably, the fans stayed to the end in order to receive their free tacos.
Although Kobe finished 11-24 for 31 points with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and just 2 turnovers, the real star of the night was Andrew Bynum. Within his first minute and a half of checking back in during the fourth quarter, Bynum was switched onto Gallinari, and he swatted Gallo's layup. Two minutes later, Bynum sealed his impressive night by blocking Mozgov's lefty hook in the lane with 3:01 remaining. With that, Bynum recorded his tenth block of the night and set NBA history. Bynum finished the game 5-7 for 10 points, along with 13 rebounds, 10 blocks, 1 steal, and just 1 turnover. Bynum became just the sixth Laker to ever record a triple double in the playoffs, and the first one since Magic Johnson had one in the '91 finals. He also became just the third player to ever accumulate 10 blocks in a playoff game. Mark Eaton swatted 10 in 1985 and Hakeem Olajuwon recorded 10 in 1990. It is truly rare to see 10 blocks in a game, and it's even rarer to see a triple double performance with 10 blocks involved in a playoff game. Bynum's performance was historical.
Every Bynum block was greeted with loud cheers from the fans. Bynum may have previously felt that his only chance for stardom was producing buckets, but with every block he recorded, Bynum was treated like a star. The fans went nuts every time and showed Bynum a lot of love. Mike Brown commented after the game, "He can control the game without shooting a single shot [...] and if he continues to play like he did, being the type of monster he was tonight controlling the paint, we'll be playing a long time." Wins always lead to love. Andrew's performance led to a win, and if he keeps this up, his amassed wins will lead to Lakers lore. Ten blocks is absolutely ridiculous. It will probably take a long time for Bynum to ever put together another game like that, but his defensive effort can remain the same. Bynum altered numerous shots on the night. Shots he didn't block, he altered, which led to many misses in the paint and extra possessions for the Lakers. As a whole, the Lakers blocked 15 shots, and Andrew Bynum swatted 11% of the Nuggets shot attempts. The Lakers blocked a Nuggets shot one out of every six attempts. That is extraordinary. Defense like that wins championships.
The Lakers marketing team understands the goal of this postseason. Promoting, "One At A Time," the marketing department looks like it wanted to disassociate itself from the Phil Jackson era. Phil famously used to mark down "16" on the whiteboard in the Lakers locker room. With every win, Phil would knock down the number. Phil focused on the big picture, and thus he promoted that goal with the number sixteen as the Lakers sought to work it down all the way to zero, thus representing a championship. Last postseason, the Lakers played like they believed they would three-peat no matter what. They did not play effective basketball, or treat every possession as if it was the most important possession of the game. "One At A Time" is a fitting slogan for this team. One play, one bucket, one block, one pass, one steal, one rotation, one swing pass; they all add up to one win. If the Lakers play with the same mindset as they did against the Nuggets in game one, they will be poised for another deep postseason run. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, it's all about "One At A Time."
Andrew Bynum bought into the Mike Brown philosophy like Kobe used to do with Phil Jackson. In the early 2000's, once the playoffs started, Kobe always made a concerted effort to feed Shaq the ball. Kobe abandoned his propensity for playing one on one, or usually one on two basketball, and he fed Shaq the ball. The Lakers employed that philosophy for three straight championships. On Sunday, Andrew Bynum seemed to flip a switch just like Kobe used to do. Bynum played Mike Brown basketball. He controlled the paint, and in doing so, the Lakers controlled the tempo of the game. The Nuggets are the highest scoring team in the NBA, yet the Lakers held them to just 88 points. The Nuggets averaged 104.1 points per game in the regular season by employing a faster tempo, getting up numerous shots, and pushing in transition on every opportunity. The Lakers counteracted this by correctly spacing the floor on offense in order to prevent easy transition buckets, and by playing stifling defense. The rotations were solid, and Andrew Bynum protected the paint as if he would be docked ten million dollars every time someone scored from the inside. The Nuggets finished the game shooting just 35.6% and just 28.6% from downtown. Only three of their players managed to shoot 50%, as Gallinari shot 7-14 for 19 points, Faried shot 4-8 for 10 points, and Brewer shot 3-6 for 11 points. Afflalo, Lawson, and Harrington, all key cogs to the Nuggets, shot a combined 10-36 for just 27 points.
As the confetti poured down to end the game, I felt special. I witnessed history. I saw Andrew Bynum do something a Lakers player hasn't done in over 20 years. I saw Andrew Bynum record 10 blocks in a playoff game, another feat that hasn't happened in over 20 years. I also got to see Kobe Bryant provide a wonderful 31 point offensive performance, with 23 of those points in the second half to close out the game. I also saw the awesome versatility of Pau Gasol, who flirted with a triple double himself, dropping this line, 6-14, 1-2 from deep, for 13 points, along with 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, and only 1 turnover. The big three of the Lakers each provided a memorable performance for the attending fans. As I made my way to exit Staples Center, fans began chanting "Denver sucks!" This went on for a good minute or so, and it boomed throughout. Denver is definitely an explosive team that is on the rise, but the way the Lakers manhandled them, it almost did seem like Denver sucked.
This chant was then followed up by "Boston sucks!" Now that is an interesting chant. With Derrick Rose out due to a torn ACL, Boston should be able to beat Atlanta, beat Chicago, and then match up with Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. I know the mantra of "One At A Time," is the slogan for the time being, but I can't help but imagine "The Trilogy." Los Angeles vs Boston could very well happen this year and it would provide the most historically significant NBA finals possible, as LA would look to tie Boston at 17 championships apiece. However, that is a long ways away. Let's just stick with "Let's go Lakers," for the time being. Game 2 is Tuesday, let's see what adjustments George Karl makes for his team and how Mike Brown counteracts those adjustments.
Get more great Lakers analysis over at Blog Is My Medium, Sport is My Message.