This year’s version of the Los Angeles Lakers is about as unpredictable and erratic as any title contender in recent memory. It does not take an expert to see that their effort is fickle, their play unreliable, from quarter to quarter, much less from game to game.
They are consistently inconsistent. They are volatile. And yet, when they are on, they are talented beyond approach. Sometimes that is enough – Tuesday night, it was.
It has been said before of this Lakers team that they are all glamour, no heart. It seems fitting to many observers and armchair analysts that they play in Hollywood, given that they seem to be the creators of their own dramatic tensions and lack the grit and substance shown by many of their rivals.
If the Lakers are a Hollywood blockbuster though, precisely which sort of blockbuster they are changes from game to game: are they a star-studded ensemble cast that works together to elevate the entire proceeding around them (think “Ocean’s Eleven”), or a bloated, lethargic group of former stars producing an inferior product and trading on who they used to be (think “The Expendables”).
At times they play like disinterested, entitled prima donnas who don’t commit to getting back on defense, don’t make in-game adjustment to shore up a key weakness, and don’t leverage their post play, arguably their greatest competitive advantage. That was the Laker team we saw Saturday night in game four in Oklahoma City.
The team we saw last night in Los Angeles though was altogether different. Whether it was the extra day’s rest, the growing sense of doubt from experts, or the friendly confines of the Staples Center, the Lakers answered the bell Tuesday as a team more focused and committed than they have been in months.
They were not worried about the Thunder per say, but they were certainly very aware of them. They were aware that Russell Westbrook had owned Derrick Fisher so completely through four games that Fisher seemed more of punch-line than a point guard. They were aware that Pau Gasol had the biggest matchup advantage of any player in the series, yet they had failed to fully capitalize on it. They were aware that Ron Artest could not shoot from outside in large part because he wasn’t working inside early to get easy lay-ups to fall.
So aware were these Lakers in fact that they put the game to bed almost before Scott Brooks even had a chance to call for a timeout. That is how dominant Los Angeles was in getting their bigs on the move, rolling them towards the rim, and executing well-placed lobs for them to create easy buckets early in possessions.
Before the Thunder could look up, it was 14-1 and the Lakers had six assists on first eight field goals. You would forgive Oklahoma if they were caught off-guard; the Lakers hadn’t executed at this high in any game since the All-Star break. Yet there they were, the Lakers in their ideal construct: Kobe Bryant as game manager and facilitator, Pau Gasol as aggressive post scorer, Andrew Bynum as human wrecking ball down low.
This was the Lakers promise in full form.
They scored 16 of first their first 26 points from the paint. They shot 67% from the floor in the first quarter. They did not allow a single fast break point through the first 22 minutes of the game (coming into Tuesday the Thunder lead the series in fast break point 72-17). As a result, the game was over by half.
Will Los Angeles stay engaged? If you claim to know for certain, you are lying. There is no way to definitively say they will stay as aggressive and play as intelligently. They may blow the Thunder out on Friday night to end the series. Or, as they did last year against Houston, they might follow-up this inspired performance with a completely letdown. We have no way of knowing with this group.
On Tuesday night at least, these were not the Hollywood Lakers. They were the Los Angeles Lakers, and they played like defending champions.