After enjoying my first ever Celtics game about two weeks ago, I guess it only made sense for me to catch a Lakers game as well. So when I checked out the NBA calendar last week and saw that the Lakers were playing in Toronto on Sunday, December the 19th, it was obvious that a road trip had to happen. So me and my friend Karim left Montreal Saturday night and arrived in Toronto Sunday morning at 6:00 am. We looked more exhausted than Michael Jordan after the flu game but hey, we made it.
Before I break down the game, I feel obliged to share this piece of information with you all. When me and Karim last came to Toronto in July, we were less than impressed with the amount of good looking people there at the time (I know it’s harsh but bear with me). So when we traveled to Boston about two weeks ago, we made sure to keep our eyes open just so we could count the amount of great looking people there. Our overall count? Zero. The problem we have (if you could call it that) is that we are quite rich in Montreal with good looking people (men and women) which means we go to other cities with fairly high expectations. And before we left this time around, I told Supreme (Karim’s gangster alias) that we would probably see more good looking people in Toronto this time around. I went so far as to say we would see at least four over the top hot people. Did we? Read along and find out….
So we got to the Air Canada Centre on Sunday at noon on the dot and waited for the doors to open so we could catch the players during shoot around. As we waited patiently at the gate, we were amazed by the amount of people that were there in line with us with Lakers jerseys. It was seriously brutal. The only guy we saw who had a Raptors jersey on, was rocking a Bosh jersey. In other words, this had No Bueno (not good) written all over for the Raps. When we finally got inside the ACC, I spotted a hot girl rocking a Lakers jersey. Karim said she should be disqualified because she was probably an out of towner. We laughed, and she counted.
When we got to our seats, I knew the Raptors were in trouble for two obvious reasons:
I. I could have sworn it was Kobe Bryant jersey (Lakers and Lower Merion high school ones) day. Basically there was a huge conglomerate of Lakers fans; so for some stretches it would feel like a home game for Phil Jackson’s team.
II. With just less than one hour left before tip off the only player shooting on the court for the Raptors was…..Linas Kleiza. When the defending champions are in your building, you take all the shooting reps you can. Conversely, all the Lakers and I mean all of them were out there shooting during this stretch. Just mind boggling. The team with arguably the most talent in the league is actually putting in more prep work than a team that will probably not make the playoffs. Go figure. On to the game…
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn
As the game started, Raptors fans now filled the arena and it no longer was a home court advantage for the purple and gold. By my unofficial count, I’d say there were about 7,000 Lakers fans in attendance in a stadium that packed about 20,000 people. Once Kobe Bryant got his first touch of the game, the crowd booed him as if they had confused him with Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh. Kobe then went on and put up a quite entertaining nine points in the first quarter and just like that people stopped booing. He shook DeRozan out of his shoes on one possession and scored and also posted the very same player and spun past him baseline for a dunk. Long story short, call Kobe The Silencer.
The most obvious advantage the Lakers had was their size. I could have sworn that the Raptors were Burger King as they just kept allowing the Lakers to have it their way, right away on the interior. By games end, the Lakers had scored 56 points in the paint thanks in part to 14 offensive rebounds.
The Raptors knew they could not match up one on one with the Lakers so they went to the zone for a few stretches which was relatively successful as it forced the champs to shoot from deep, where they converted seven of 19 shots (36.8% three point field goal percentage). But the size differential cost them as the Staples Center tenants just kept going to the free throw line on the strength of their slashing and rebounding. Have a look below:
These attempts might not seem like much, but these three players alone matched the Raptors entire output as far as free throw attempts go.
For the Raptors, DeMar DeRozan eventually got it going during the third quarter as he attacked the Lakers and willed himself to the free throw line but most people in attendance felt he waited too long to assert himself on offense. The Lakers were daring him to shoot from 10 feet and he refused to make them pay early on. Once he realized this in the third quarter (two other fine women spotted around this time), he became aggressive and eventually started taking the ball to the basket where he kept getting fouled. By the fourth quarter though, they put Matt Barnes on him and that was the last we heard of the second year player.
But the fourth quarter told me everything I needed to know about the Los Angeles Lakers as a championship team. Phil Jackson (more on him later) went most of the fourth quarter with Andrew Bynum (when you see him live, you realize he is a really big dude), Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Shannon Brown. With the L.A. leading 106-97 at the 4:37 mark, Phil Jackson called timeout and brought out the big guns: Barnes, Bryant, Gasol, Fisher and Odom (Odom had come in a few possessions earlier). The end result? The Lakers went:
|Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images|
-Kobe Bryant miss
-Lamar Odom score on a floater
-Barnes made three point shot
-Gasol converted two free throws
-then Fisher and Kobe hit free throws to ice the game.
Game blouses. By my unofficial count, the Lakers missed one shot during that stretch and didn’t even really need Kobe’s points to put the game away. Although they did not need to have the Eye of the Tiger for this one, the Lakers still paced themselves to play well enough to win against the Raptors.
A few observations
· Forget winning a third straight NBA title, just getting back to the Finals four times in a row should be a really tough feat if history is any indicator. But this Los Angeles team has the capability to do it because of their bench. I hate to speculate but it seems rather apparent that Kobe Bryant is either injured or needs to rest a bit after the mileage he has put on his legs in the past three seasons (he looked as if he was pacing himself during this game). The emergence of Shannon Brown allows for the Black Mamba (he played 28 minutes against the Raptors) to spend more time on the bench resting than I can ever recall.
Brown has been deadly from deep this season and even seems to have improved his handle. At one point in the fourth quarter, he crossed over Barbosa and went to the basket for an easy lay in. If Brown is kind enough, he will have mailed Leandro his ankles back by FEDEX before the next Raptors game.
· Not to piggyback on Bill Simmons’ point, but he mentioned this last week and was totally right: Andrew Bynum’s demeanor is reminiscent of Greg Oden’s. Every time he runs, you’re afraid he might just stumble to floor and hurt himself.
· The dude that was sitting in front of me had a sign that read “KOBE PLZ DROP 82 POINTS” that Bryant actually saw midway through the third quarter while Lamar Odom was shooting free throws. Bryant made a slight grin as he saw it and the fan in question probably wet himself (and boom, two more hot chicks, Supreme lost this one).
· Phil Jackson is the most decorated NBA head coach in the history of the league and it makes total sense why after seeing him live. Jay Triano nearly lost his mind on nearly every call and never sat on the bench for more than three minutes during the game as he kept yelling instructions to his players. Jackson on the other hand was almost invisible. He sat on the bench looking like a slightly amused fan that had no rooting interest whatsoever.
And that’s when it hit me: every road game this guy has ever coached during his career has been like a playoff game. The ACC was rocking and the atmosphere was truly electric. And given the fact that Phil has coached Michael Jordan’s Bulls, Shaquille O’Neal’s Lakers and Kobe’s Lakers; this is the atmosphere he has grown accustomed to. Consequently, you can understand why he never gets into a panic mode. Every road game for these guys has the feel of being the biggest game of the year for the opponents.
· After the game, Karim and I went to Taco Bell and this dude walked by and gave us a really mean mug. Before leaving the place, I wanted to go take a leak because we were going to hit the road to get back home (six hour drive roughly). So I opened the door, and mister mean mug is taking a dump and the mean mug is gone. The lesson? Never look at people badly on your way to the can. By the way, if the dude that took the #2 is reading this, although we all laughed at you, just be happy that I didn’t take a picture of this incident.
In a nutshell, that was my first ever Lakers experience. Got your own story you want to share? Feel free to message me and let me know about it.