Tagged with lacking a killer instinct, the Los Angeles Lakers manhandled the Chicago Bulls at the United Center, 117-109. Behind the balanced Lakers attack was none other than the recently maligned Bench Mob, who outscored the young Bulls 21-6 at the start of the 4th quarter. Trailing by 14 points at halftime 62-48 behind the stellar play of Chicago rookie sensation, Derrick Rose (25 points) and recently acquired John Salmons (30 points), the Lakers looked like a continuation of the poor defense that has plagued them the past month. But the Lakers came out firing in the 3rd quarter led by starters Kobe Bryant (28 points, 7 assists, 5 steals), Trevor Ariza (18 points, 8 rebounds), and Pau Gasol (23 points, 10 rebounds). Cutting the lead to 78-81 with just under two minutes left in the period, the Lakers appeared to hit the wall and entered the 4th quarter trailing by six points.
Enter the Bench Mob, who went on a tear as the starters got their much needed rest. Luke Walton started the assault with a hard drive to the basket, followed by a Sasha Vujacic trey. Then another three-bomb from Lamar Odom, followed by a spinning layup and one by Walton to finally give the Lakers the lead, 92-91. Vujacic connected on an off-balance 21-footer, followed by another Farmer triple. A turnover by the Bulls was capitalized with a Josh Powell jumper from 16-feet and then another Farmer three pointer forced Chicago to take a time out down 102-93 with 6:23 left in the game and quickly sinking. Kobe and Pau entered the game at this time and immediately made their impact felt, with Pau connecting on a 14-footer off a Kobe dish. A pair of Chicago misfires and the Lakers ended any hope for a comeback when Farmer drove baseline and threw down a two-handed thunderous dunk over Tyrus Thomas. A bad pass from Thomas was intercepted by Bryant, who saved the ball from going out of bounds to teammate Vujacic, who then flipped the ball back to Kobe, and calmly splashed a 25-foot three pointer.
Farmer led the resurgent bench with 13 points, 3 assists and 3 steals followed by 5 points each for Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic. Lamar Odom’s play with the bench seemed to reignite the ball movement that had been missing since his move back into the starting line-up. Odom provided a steadying hand by covering on defense, swinging the ball and attacking the rim. He finished the night with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. For once in recent memory, it was the Lakers who didn’t relinquish the lead, but instead were able to come back and silence the crowd. That is, until the sold out United Center crowd started chanting,”MVP! MVP! MVP!” for none other than Kobe Bryant.
dedge Post Scriptum
Is it me or has Phil Jackson mellowed? When did he transform into a laid-back Los Angeleno? Has he been sapped of the energy required to effectively lead his team into the playoffs and beyond? Has Phil’s Zen-ness zoned him out? Or is this just an elaborate ruse striking us all as dumbfounded? Phil, in his earlier coaching days with the Chicago Bulls, prowled the sidelines endlessly, with his jacket tossed off to the sidelines and sweat soaking through his shirts. He wasn’t a crazed Doug Collins or a wide-eyed Jim Valvano, wearing every single emotion on his sleeve. But he did rise out of his seat and often coached his team roaming about, either crouching to get a better angle on the action or whistling out instructions to MJ and his Bulls cohorts. One glimpse at him now, and Phil Jackson exudes confidence and calmness, barely registering a raised eyebrow.
Phil’s coaching staff of Kurt Rambis, Frank Hamblen, Brian Shaw and Jim Cleamons all sit attentively, as if not to upset the master seated atop his special, elevated throne. Special Assistants Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Craig Hodges, Trainer Gary Vitti and Athletic Performance/Player Development Director Chip Shaefer all hover silently on the periphery, refraining from any displays of emotion or bouts of agitation. Our GM, Mitch Kupchap, resonates confidence with the demeanor of a scorned librarian. The play-by-play duo of Joel Meyers and Stu Lantz even set the stage for a polite and dignified broadcast, never stumbling into a priceless Chickism. The Lakers Girls are almost collegiate in their performance, never crossing the line into bust-jiggling Miami burlesque. Our Staples Center announcer, Lawrence Tanter, is the epitome of L.A. coolness with his dry, baritone delivery, never hinting at or teetering on an outburst like his Detroit counterpart. And there’s no one more laid back than our owner, Jerry Buss. But isn’t all of this coolness and indifference taking it a bit too far?
Excitement is for the easily excitable. Celebration is for the under-achiever. Division pennants are for the likes of Sacramento and New Orleans. Phil Jackson changed into the Zen master after he won his first NBA championship. It was at that precise point when he realized that the title was the only prize worth celebrating. Anything less was considered a disappointment and a failure. And he has transcended that aura of ultra-confidence onto the city of Los Angeles. We don’t relish on the fact that we are neck-to-neck for the best record in the league, we won’t celebrate making the Finals, and we surely will never chant, “Beat Boston! Beat Boston!” We’ll never introduce and parade our starters as, “Kobe Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Bryant!” and “Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa Pau Gasol!” But instead, we’ll simply bide our time and celebrate each victory and accomplishment quietly, until that final game is carefully placed into the fridge. And we’ll leave all of the premature celebrations and other nonsense to the remaining 29 runners-up in the league.