The ordinary path of least resistance was the norm on Friday night when the Lakers played the Atlanta Hawks. For much of the game, the Lakers suffered from a self inflicted wound. It was predictable. A twelve win team often turns the knife on themselves by what they do not do and that held true of the Lakers performance. They came out, almost bored, as if they wanted to be anywhere else but downtown L.A. to kick off the weekend. And the Hawks came out as if they wanted the game over so they could chill at Pearl’s Liquor Bar on Sunset.
The less inspired Lakers did everything wrong against the Hawks. A team without much margin for error cheated the game. No effort. No interest. No grit. It was an easy Hawks win and one more long paragraph on why Bryon Scott needs to be fired. The ball didn’t move. Players didn’t care. Defense optional. With the Warriors coming in on Sunday, Byron faced a challenge. How to get it fixed before Sunday?
Two days later, he sat on the sidelines, stone faced as usual, but stunned. After the shocking win against the best team in the league he said, “Sometimes you have to challenge their manhood.” It’s the Byron Hail Mary way when all else fails, the last resort of the slowly drowning. Go Pat Riley old school.
A primary issue for Scott these past five months has been how to inspire his team. They have had great efforts and they have had flat efforts. An inability to figure out who is going to show up, and when, has plagued Byron Scott all season long and is one of his failings as the leader of this group.
If Scott knew the Lakers were going to come out with collective fire on Sunday, he would have found a way to bottle it up and use it before March. But he didn’t know, which is one more black mark on his record. He doesn’t have the pulse of his team, at least not on a regular basis.
But he does take credit for challenging them as men. And so it was the ying and yang of it. The Warriors on a historical pace for greatness, and the Lakers on a historical pace for misery. Both teams going in different directions. The Warriors had something to prove and something to defend. Many once thought the Lakers had their reputations to defend, but a 12 win team in March is trying to keep their head above water and they couldn’t care less about the lottery. That’s a fan thing and a front office prayer.
For all the grief he has taken this season, all was forgotten as D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson outplayed Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The energy in the building began with what started on the floor. The Lakers intensity was suffocatingly thick. And then there was this thing the Lakers did that they hadn’t done in the previous 60. They defended like they were the champions. They trapped Curry and Thompson. They played physical. They got in the passing lanes. They created turnovers. They got their hands on loose balls, disrupting the Warriors timing. Coaches around the league are going to look at how the Lakers doubles on Curry and Thompson had them shooting 1-18 from three.
|Back Court Believers?||Points||Field Goal%||3-Point %||Assists||+/-|
|Steph Curry, Klay Thompson||33||32%||.05%||6||-21|
|D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson||46||45%||53%||5||+23|
For once, Byron Scott looked like a genius. Even in the third quarter, when you expected the Lakers to fold and the Warriors to rise, the defense kept pace. Marcelo Huertas is the playmaker that Russell can’t be, at least not as a 20 year old. He organized the offense, he made sure everyone was in their right spots, he made plays when everything broke down. Even the basketball gods took it all in stride, ignoring an obvious double dribble on Clarkson.
There were some Lakers cover your eyes moments. A lot of bad defensive sequences with Clarkson as the usual culprit, losing his man or not blocking out. But unlike Friday night, the Lakers recovered. The end result was that Byron may just get another year to bring this young team along.
There was no escaping Steph Curry’s horrible shooting night. It only meant he is human.
“We turned the ball over too much in the first half. It’s one of those nights you want to avoid at all costs. But it happened and we’ll be alright. We just missed shots that we normally make that would have changed momentum. Defensively we played alright, well enough to get back in it. The shots missed, it just happens. We were pretty confident going into the game.”
Sunday, March 6th was the biggest upset in NBA history. It is the first time a team with a winning percentage of 90% lost to a team with a winning percentage of 20%. It’s the sort of performance Byron can build on when making his case that the team is improving.
But should one game exclude the 60 before it. Even against the Warriors, the ball stuck, there was too much dribbling, no one was moving without the ball, there wasn’t much offensive cohesion. The Lakers had 23 assists and won. The Warriors had 32 assists and lost. The Warriors pass the ball whether they win or they lose. There is a case to be made that a new Lakers coach would integrate ball and player movement into the scheme in a way Scott has failed to do.
D’Angelo Russell had a great 17 point first half to put in the rear view mirror his game against the Hawks.
“We had a tremendous effort. Our bigs did well playing high on down screens. Give the credit to the bigs. We got lucky a little bit. They were missing wide open shots. We had a few defensive lapses. It’s fun when we’re all on the same page. We don’t care who shines. If someone is hot we feed them.”
Is Bryon Scott hot? Are the Lakers going to reward him with one more year? Is everyone on the same page about Scott’s future?
photo via llananba