At the start of Friday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns, Bernie Bickerstaff was introduced as “interim-head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers” one last time.
Bernie may have been sitting on the bench, but this was Mike D’Antoni’s team. The Lakers played like D’Antoni's Phoenix Suns from the opening tip, and that was both good and bad.
The good was that the Lakers shot over 60 percent from the field and scored 35 points in the first quarter. Also, Metta World Peace was 3-4 from distance and had 11 points to start the game. The scoring was more balanced, and Pau Gasol looked the most comfortable of any Laker in the opening 12 minutes.
The Spaniard was 5-6 from the field with 12 points in the opening period, spacing the floor and hitting a consistent 20 footer from the top of the key.
The bad was that the Lakers, apart from Metta World Peace on the perimeter, didn’t play any defense. World Peace had two steals in the quarter and continued to deflect balls for the remainder of the game. However, the Lakers went on to give up 30 points in the quarter and 57 in the first half.
With just under two minutes to go in the third quarter, the Lakers had given up 84 points, and the game was tied.
From that point on, D’Antoni basketball went out the window, and the Lakers focused on the defensive end of the game. The Lakers had little-to-no defensive energy for three quarters, and offense, alone, was not going to win Friday’s game.
“We cannot fall into the trap of not playing defense just because we’re doing well offensively,” Pau Gasol said after the game. “We have to rely on our defense to win ball games.”
For the last thirteen and a half minutes, the Lakers did just that.
They held a running Suns team to only two fast-break points and 18 total points in the final thirteen and a half minutes. Ultimately, the Lakers defense won Friday night’s game, and the Lakers players were well aware of that fact after the game.
When Metta World Peace was asked about his teammates not matching his individual defensive intensity, he responded, “I think we got caught up with the offense, and we forgot we have to play defense also. Once we started to do that in the fourth quarter, you saw our intensity pick up.”
At the end of the night, the Lakers won comfortably against the Phoenix Suns 114-102, but this game taught a valuable lesson to a team that has talked more about offensive systems than anything else this season: offense helps, but games are won on the defensive end of the floor.