Saturday, November 27, 2010

Game 15 vs. the Bulls

In which I got my very first article ever published, on Lakers Nation!!! Should have posted this a few days ago, whoops. Here is the article:

When the Lakers face off with the Chicago Bulls, it is usually guaranteed to be a good game: the Bulls are young, athletic, and fast and always come to play. There are also a myriad of storylines surrounding any Lakers-Bulls matchup, including (but not limited to) a rematch of the 1991 Finals, Phil Jackson winning his first six rings with the Bulls and his last five (and counting) with the Lakers and the media’s quest to compare Kobe with MJ.

This time around, we are able to add to the mix: Chicago native Shannon Brown facing the team he loved growing up, a Bulls team that is currently first in their division (this deep into the season) for the first time since Phil left and of course, the Kobe Bryant-Tom Thibodeau connection. I only just learned of it and thought it was fascinating! As an assistant coach in Philadelphia, while Kobe was at Lower Merion High School, Thibodeau was there to witness scrimmages between Kobe and NBA players set up by 76ers coach John Lucas. Thibodeau says he saw something special in him at that early age. Kobe himself credits Thibodeau with helping him learn about preparedness and the fundamentals of the game, calling him crucial to his development - quite a compliment coming from the hardest working man in the NBA.

As for last night's game, I though it was a well-fought contest; the Bulls brought everything they had against the Lakers. Coming into the game, both teams were two of the top rebounding teams in the league and at the top of their respective divisions as well. Kobe started off hot, scoring seven points in the first two minutes; including a spectacular left handed scoop shot between three defenders! LO had a good start in the first quarter as well, with seven points and three boards of his own. Unfortunately Pau’s perfect game did not carry over in any respect; Joakim Noah had a lot to do with it, being the manic scrappy defender that he is. Noah is so energetic and is really the emotional heart of his team - his tremendous hustle and defense is often more important than the double doubles he routinely registers.

The Bulls definitely beat the Lakers on boards and hustle for most of the night, but they were unable to capitalize on them due to turnovers and missed free throws. Ron-Ron had another quiet night, getting into some early foul trouble followed by a cold stretch of shooting in the third. I kept expecting at least one or two of them to fall, but the ball stayed stubbornly out of the basket.

The real stars of the game were of course the "Killer B’s." With one second left in the first quarter, Shannon hit an extremely long three and the first thought that crossed my mind was “Downtown Shannon Brown”!! That’s my vote for his individual nickname; although I’m also partial to “What can Brown do for you”, but “Downtown” has a good old-fashioned ring to it. That was just the start of Shannon’s hot shooting: he racked up 15 points in the second quarter and had 18 at the half, after starting out four of four from the 3-point line. Factoring in a missed dunk that would have brought the house down, and a speed race with Derrick Rose all night, his entire arsenal of athletic ability was on display once again.

Quick digression to talk about D Rose: the man is incredible! He has to be one of the fastest point guards in the NBA, and he had some crazy circus shots last night. Two of them were back to back beautiful layups under and around the basket. Rose also utilized his floating, eight foot runner for much of the night as well. He basically did whatever he wanted in the paint.

But yes, the Killer B’s went on a run in the second half and really put the game away for us. Kobe and Lamar contributed to the run as well, with the Mamba hitting his patented fadeaway jumper as the shot clock was down to three and Lamar converting on an insane over-the-shoulder shot in major traffic. LO had a sweet spin move for an and-one that the Lakers were desperate for at the time. To cap it off, Lamar slammed home a put back dunk off of a Gasol miss to tie the game with 55 seconds left in the third. Lamar and Shannon ended the game with 21 points each to lead the Lakers. The Lakers' ball movement was excellent, and just one extra pass from Barnes allowed Shannon to hit a huge three with a hand in his face to put the Lakers up by one. Not long after, Steve Blake hit his first shot of the game (a three with six minutes left in the 4th). Next Lakers possession: a three from Matt Barnes! And immediately following that, another three from Blake! It put the Lakers up 95-83 and they never looked back. I loved when Patrick O’Neal interviewed Lamar in the locker room after the win and asked him about the play of the bench:

“What do you guys call them, Killer B’s?”- Lamar
“Yeah. Or the Renegades.” –Patrick O’Neal
“I like the Killer B’s.” –Lamar, smiling

Phil used a short rotation in this game, which I thought was a smart move. Only eight guys were utilized, besides rookie Derrick Caracter playing a couple early 4th quarter minutes to give Pau some rest. He did well, accumulating a rebound and basket to clean up a miss, and on the ensuing possession he blocked Luol Deng’s shot. Not a bad night for the rookie. It was the Lakers’ seventh consecutive victory over the Bulls, with a final score of 98-91. The real heroes were of course the bench, which outscored Chicago’s 39-10. More importantly, they came through at critical moments in the game, and during his press conference, Phil mentioned the great defense by the Lakers in the fourth quarter. Kobe only took 18 shots, but he made eight of them and kept his teammates involved. That’s how I like the Lakers to win.

Overall, the game was very entertaining and I really enjoyed watching the two clubs battle. I really think the effort of the Bulls was what kept them in the game, as opposed to the Lakers, who are prone to laziness. That wasn’t the case in this game at all. I also enjoyed seeing Kobe talk to Rose and Noah after the game, as Stu Lantz said that Kobe respects anyone who works hard and gives maximum effort at all times; which those two certainly do. I can’t wait to see what the Bulls do in the Eastern Conference this year, and especially in the playoffs. I’m hoping for another epic series like the Chicago-Boston one a couple years ago – the best non-Lakers series I’ve ever watched!

I’m also looking forward to see how the Lakers respond against Utah. We beat them handily last year in the playoffs, but they seem like a different team right now and I’d be lying if I said their penchant for double digit comebacks wasn’t a little scary. I’m confident our boys will step up to the challenge though.

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