On the face of it, the Pacers 95-92 upset over the Lakers in Los Angeles was a gutty, poised victory in which they held it together late and executed on both sides of the ball. And indeed it was. That’s what happened in the final few minutes.
But this was more than that. This wasn’t just pulling one out on the road against a great team.
This was an ass-kicking.
Indiana outplayed the champs for basically the entire game in a way that you can’t read in the boxscore or even the scoreboard. Weird, I know, but completely true from what I saw. The Lakers fought and clawed to stay in this thing and it took a season-high, Herculean 41 points from a top 10 player of all time just to give them the chance to attempt a 28-foot heave to try to tie the game in the waning, desperate seconds.
No, the Pacers were the much better team tonight. Percentage-wise, both teams shot poorly with LA’s putrid 38.6% making Indiana’s 43.2% look rosy. But there’s a big difference in how those numbers were achieved. Or, “achieved,” if we’re being honest.
The Lakers offense was ugly, sputtering and, again, buoyed greatly by greatness. Even many of Kobe’s makes were not particularly good shots. The ones that the rest of the Lakers were taking? More often than not, they were low-percentage looks.
Indy, on the other hand, simply shot very badly.
There were some turnovers, yes, and there was also a contagious case of fumblitis going around that caused a lot of sloppy ball-handling. But by and large, the Pacers were just missing a lot of good, open shots.
The 4/23 shooting from behind-the-arc was particularly illustrative. Mike Dunleavy missed at least two shots (and I think all three of his bricks) on very good looks. James Posey missed several that anyone would normally drain. Brandon Rush had one that bounced around the rim late and another wide-open look hit heavy iron after Darren Collison caught a great pass from Roy underneath the hoop and decided to kick it out instead of going up. Hell, Danny Granger missed an open corner three when he had enough time to square up, set his feet and sing “Stairway to Heaven” twice before he let it fly. His GM, Larry Bird, used to call corner threes “layups.” And with Danny’s normal accuracy, I was honestly more surprised to see him miss from there than I was to see TJ Ford miss an actual open layup. Twice.
Make no mistake, the Lakers were lucky to hang tonight.
Just by simply making makeable shots in the first half, Indy could have been up by 14 — or more — at the half. Then if the Pacers start out the second half like they did (on an 8-0 run), LA might have been buried. Maybe Mamba still goes Mamba after that and makes a game of it. Maybe he doesn’t.
But that’s the takeaway here: the Pacers didn’t just edge out a win; they smacked the champs in the mouth. Shot-making and execution are different things. They didn’t do a lot of the former this evening. But they did a lot of the latter. And while shot-making is fairly erratic and any given night can play out oddly on that front, execution breeds consistency. Once it becomes habitual, so does winning.
Looks like Indiana might be forming a habit.
A few other thoughts.
- Roy Hibbert was superb. It would be hard to overly praise him here. He slipped and fell flat on his face on one play and it was pretty funny. That’s the only negative I can really recall. Other than that, he did nearly no wrong. He passed like Arvydas Sabonis out of the post, baiting hesitant double-teamers to hedge his way and then whizzing the ball by their ear to a wide-open cutter for a lay-up. Collison and Rush both did excellent work finding space when their defenders turned their head. This needs to be a constant go-to. Roy is good enough now in one-on-one coverage that getting him the ball deep in the post is always a good look. He might miss, but he’ll make a decent move to create a makeable shot. And if they double? Well, when he is feeling it like he was in Staples Center, the opposition would be wise to just hope he misses a hook shot. He was Detective Alonzo Harris-in-Training Day-surgical-with-this-b**** tonight. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol was 5/15 on the other end with 13 points. Yeah … nice little night for the good Dr. Hibbert.
- Brandon Rush made Jim O’Brien look really smart at times for opting to go with him on Kobe to start the game. By the time the final buzzer sounded, we were all in awe of Bryant, naturally. But let’s be sure to remember how well Rush guarded him at times, particularly in the first half, forcing him to take frustrated fall-away jumpers with a hand in his face. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kobe. Those still are the shots that Indiana wants its opponents to take. Make some threes next time and I’ll even bring you some orange wedges for after the game.
- Did anyone else find it odd that not only was the marque point guard acquisition from this summer not on the court in the final minutes — yet again — but the guy that Larry Bird was forced to take on in the same deal, due his terrible contract, was on the floor? (For those scoring at home, that’s Collison on the bench and James Posey on the hardwood.) It worked out great since TJ Ford both scored on a drive to the hoop to put the Pacers up 5 with 90 seconds and later found Hibbert wide open under the hoop for a dunk with 16 seconds left. But it is certainly curious.
- I liked it better when Mike Dunleavy, Jr. was making everything from behind the arc. Let’s bring that guy back next game. Also, Shannon Brown borderline crippled you with an ankle-breaking move to the hoop in the 4th. I hope you can both physically and emotionally recover from that. (OK. I’ll note that he also swatted Kobe earlier in the game. That was pretty cool.)
- Lamar Odom is a terrible match-up for Josh McRoberts. Let’s pretty much just forget this game for him. Nice pass late to someone who got fouled though. Forget who he dished to, but he showed poise on the wing while being crowded with the shot clock waning, pivoted a few times and calmly found the cutter (Rush?) who would have scored if he didn’t get hammered and sent to the line. He also had that nice tip-in when Lamar got caught in no-man’s land while half-committing to double Roy on a post move. Two nice plays. A lot of nothing for the most part otherwise. Like I said, forgettable — but nice that he still found some ways to be helpful late on a tough night.
- Another thing that made this game a little less close on the floor than the scoreboard indicated was the fact that LA also needed what Chris Denari called “a step-back three by Ron” to keep their run going. This, other than a couple of Pau free throws (which were really a Kobe creation as well since they came on an offensive rebound Gasol grabbed only cause Roy sold out to contest Mamba’s drive) were the only points any Laker not named Kobe scored in the final 4:58 of the game. Hurricane Mamba is going to happen. It’s an uncontrollable, unpredictable force of nature. Like a dog sitting down before a tsunami, you might have a few minutes of warning when you see his Trap Jaw start to show. But basically you just need to brace for the impact and be ready to respond. The Pacers did just that and never got overly frustrated. Kobe Bean Bryant is incredible and will make bad shots. But keep forcing him to take bad shots and then get good shots on the other end and the percentages are all in your favor. It will work out more often than not. But let’s not mistake good shot-making for good foundations of winning basketball. Tonight, one guy made a ton of shots. But one team executed well on both ends consistently.