This is why the Lakers are two-time defending NBA Champions.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combined to score 19 points on 5-of-20 shooting, but the Lakers still won. It wasn’t pretty, but the 87-78 win still counts the same and evens the first round NBA playoff series at 1-1.
Think about it: If LeBron James and Dwyane Wade shot like that, could the Miami Heat still win? What about Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City? Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer in Chicago? Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in San Antonio?
But the Lakers can still win when their two All-Stars struggle to score. In part because Andrew Bynum put up 17 points and had 11 boards, plus now official Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom added 16. Those two made up for one thing the Lakers did not do well in Game 1 — establish their big men inside.
Pau Gasol’s second consecutive off game, where once again he didn’t seem aggressive, is a little cause for concern. But only a little. What the Lakers showed is they can beat the Hornets without him. Now, Dallas in the second round would be another story, but let’s not jump ahead yet.
What the Lakers really did much better was defend the pick and roll, cutting off the Hornets all-world point guard Chris Paul. Derek Fisher was little more than an orange traffic cone for Paul to dribble around in Game 1, but in Game 2 the Lakers had Kobe Bryant on him for long stretches and Ron Artest at other times. Paul said after the game the Lakers shrunk the floor on him, or at least that’s how it felt. With the Hornets leading scorer out (David West, due to a knee injury suffered late in the season) Paul does not have a reliable second option.
What we really learned from this Lakers win is just how much better a team they are than the Hornets when they show up and play good, fundamental basketball. When they stick to the plan. When they defend.
The series now shifts to New Orleans starting Friday night and the wins will not come easily. They may not come pretty. But they can come.
The NBA does not award style points — you win or you lose. How you get there does not matter. The Lakers may not have impressed the judges or their fans on Wednesday night, but they won. And they showed that in this series they can win any time they really focus on the fundamentals. This is their series to take. How many more games it lasts is purely up to the Lakers.