Lakers 106, Wolves 101: The vanishing middle class
Pau Gasol is tall. Not the gangly, awkward gaited ‘tall’ that defines so many of the league’s big men, but an unreachably high, arching fluidity that confounds even the best defenders. Kevin Love isn’t tall. So our friend Kevin was in for a long night.
Gasol began by pump faking from the perimeter and driving across the lane with a hook shot. Then he caught at the elbow, immediately fading back and firing. When Love pressured him the following possession, Pau spun him through a series of pivots before simply rising and sinking a seven footer. It was a torturous display that continued throughout the quarter. You see, Love’s been labeled a bad defender, but he’s not bad at everything. Though not the quickest of cats, he moves his feet well and shows good instincts. Kevin just isn’t tall, which puts him at a disadvantage in the post and especially when closing out on seven foot Spaniards with stunning accuracy.
Which of course, makes the fact that Love’s also the league’s fourth leading scorer all the more stunning. We’ve long contended that Kevin can’t create his own shot. He’s not an effective player with his back to the basket and he simply doesn’t posses the overpowering athleticism that doubles as sheer will. But while we were agonizing over the aesthetics, he’s been rebuilding the model. Whether by floaters, tip ins or expertly playing the pick n’ roll, Love is always moving. Add in his range and there isn’t a spot on the court he can’t score from. 33 points against another lengthy, stingy defense continues to cement him as a legitimate scorer.
But he’ll never be a dangerous scorer. Deny him the ball and he can’t force the action. Double him and he has to give it up. The proper strategy or personnel will still fluster him. Basically, he’s not Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant, to his attending legion of sycophants great joy, is still Kobe Bryant. A relentless attacker and master of angles, Bryant’s boundless imagination remains his biggest foe. On this evening however, his shots found their mark.
Threes which have recently fallen short, the abrupt pull ups and those fate tempting fadeaways all made him look his masterful self in the final minutes. None of which made us cringe harder than his final strike. Chased thirty feet from the basket, crossing over and driving into the lane, there was just enough room sixteen feet away, between three defenders, for Bryant to take two steps, flex his forearm and loft in a runner to seal the victory.
We came close though, thanks to our own savant. Bryant has mastered the angles of attack against five men for his personal blitzkriegs. Ricky Rubio, however, manipulates the movement of nine. His shining brilliance with a basketball renders it a sun around which no other plays are worth orbiting. There are no passes that lead to assists, only his assists, a effortless habit of creating shots only he can see until their due time. After a slow start, Rubio fueled an exemplary fast break this evening, which outscored the Lakers 16-0. Problem is, we had too many players seeing shots of their own.
Michael Beasley and Martell Webster are two scorers trying to find their footing. They’re both large slashers and streak shooters prone to stopping the ball. Ideally, we’d want to see them play nice together; Webster’s threes and Beasley’s pull ups working in concert, but how likely is that? On multiple occasions, both of their jab stepping sessions ground the offense to a halt. It’s not that they’re incapable, both are simply dealing with the tunnel vision of prior mistakes. Determined to correct them, they sacrificed even more.
The two combined 11-30 with 3 assists, the bulk of which belonged to Beasley. Webster hit the go ahead three with 3 minutes remaining, but missed three more shots in those final three minutes. Kevin Love took three shots in the entire 4th quarter; a tip in with 10 min, a missed jumper with 8 min remaining, and a made hook shot with 23 seconds remaining and the team trailing by 9. Ricky’s last assist was with 6 minutes left on the clock.
That’s not the way we want to end games.