Irving and the Cavaliers Expose Lakers' Poor Defense

J.M. PoulardContributor IIDecember 13, 2012

Kobe Bryant defends Kyrie Irving
Kobe Bryant defends Kyrie IrvingUSA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers lost at the Quicken Loans Arena as the Cleveland Cavaliers essentially outlasted them in a fourth quarter filled with entertaining plays that eventually led to the Lakers faltering down the stretch. The loss in Cleveland seemed to paint a perfect picture of the problems the Lakers have faced for most of the season.

Kobe Bryant did his best to try and carry his teammates as he produced 42 points, with 16 of them coming in the fourth quarter. Bryant’s detractors will be quick to point out that the purple and gold has lost 10 of their 11 games when the Mamba scores 30 points or more, but it misses the larger point.

It’s not that Kobe is hijacking the offense, but rather that some of his teammates have just been abysmal at times, especially in the fourth quarter of games. Indeed, versus the Cavs, Bryant was efficient from the field as he poured in 16 points in the final period on 5-for-10 field goal shooting.

Out of the 10 shots the superstar attempted in the final frame, perhaps two of them were questionable while the remainder were a bevy of good shots that he manufactured after creating some separation either off screens or by using his jab steps and stutter fakes.

As spectacular as Bryant’s offensive onslaught was in the fourth, it also put a bright spotlight on his teammates' lack of involvement in the offense.

Eight Lakers that do not carry the name Bryant got an opportunity to play in the fourth quarter at Cleveland, and they produced a mere 16 points on five-for-13 field goal shooting. Out of those players, only Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison shot the ball more than twice. Yes, Dwight Howard had one field goal attempt.

But again, although the shot distribution favored Kobe, the former league MVP was efficient and took some good shots despite playing the majority of his fourth quarter minutes with Jamison, Duhon, Howard and World Peace.

Jamison has been a train wreck offensively so far this season, MWP has been streaky at best while Howard has been sent to the line every time he’s touched the ball. As it pertains to Chris Duhon, well he’s been himself; which is not a starting quality point guard in the NBA.

The biggest reason the Lakers failed to defeat the Cavs was their defense, as they allowed Cleveland to produce 32 points in the fourth quarter on 11-for-18 field goal shooting.

The Los Angeles Lakers seemed completely confused in their defensive coverage and failed to properly defend some plays despite having Dwight Howard camped out in the middle of the lane.

Kyrie Irving is a spectacular player that is unquestionably going to be an NBA All-Star at some point, but that does not excuse the inability to execute a sound defensive game plan against the former Blue Devil.

Late in the fourth quarter, Mike D’Antoni made the decision to double-team Irving with Jamison once he crossed half court with the ball. The intended strategy was to get the Duke product to give up the rock and then prevent him from getting it back.

This sounded well in theory, but the execution left much to be desired.

The Cavs’ second-year guard put pressure on the Lakers by attacking their soft double-team off the dribble towards the baseline for a jumper and also ran a few pick-and-rolls after giving the ball up and getting it back to throw the purple and gold off course.

On one possession, Irving acted as if he was going to go away from the screen and then crossed over right back to Varejao (his screener) for an uncontested three-pointer that he hit with no problem.

Cleveland’s leading scorer mixed things up by also attacking Dwight Howard off the bounce and accepting the trap and waiting for a teammate to dive towards the hoop where he hit him with a pinpoint pass that resulted in a shooting foul.

The oddity of it all though was that the Lakers made a mistake on a side pick-and-roll down the stretch and forgot to trap Irving and it left him confused; which consequently led to him picking up his dribble and looking for an open teammate.

Considering that the young star in the making is only in his second season in the league, giving him different defensive looks down the stretch might have been the best path available to slow down the Cavaliers’ offense.

And yet the Lakers repeatedly gave Byron Scott’s group the same defensive look and they got burned.

Kyrie Irving was electric on the night with his 28 points and 11 assists, but more importantly he righted a seemingly rocky ship in the fourth quarter and directed traffic for a team that almost lost its poise and took a few questionable shots. He finished the final period with nine points and three assists, all of which were essential ingredients in deciding the outcome.

With Steve Nash and Pau Gasol both sidelined, the Lakers are just a big mess on both sides of the ball—there’s no telling when it’s going to get cleaned.