Kobe Bryant is unofficially known as the most clutch player on the planet. Last night, it was Deron Williams hitting the go-ahead bucket with 2.2 seconds to play setting up a last second shot by Bryant.
He had a good look at a 30 footer, but the ball was wide right. That just about summed up Bryant's night. For one of the best players in NBA history, he was peculiarly bad in this 88-86 loss to the Utah Jazz.
Bryant for his part shot a woeful 5-24. He took difficult shot after shot, failing to recognize that his jumper was off. Bryant was determined to find the bottom of the net by shooting the ball and he failed time after time after time.
Bryant's inability to recognize his own limitations game to game hurt his ballclub last night, but while the blame must lay at the feet of the superstar, he is far from the only reason the Lakers were bullied by a team they should have swept.
Derek Fisher has been a disaster. At least twice a game, Fisher decides that his teammates haven't been looking for him and instead of running the ball, he'll drive to the lane to shoot or jack up an ill-advised three. These selfish displays by Fisher rarely cost the team, but last night, they wasted crucial possessions for the Lakers.
Additionally, Fisher's desire to run a break on its own is just about as good as a turnover as he seldom converts in traffic. As bad as his decisions were on offense, Fisher's main liability was on defense. Williams got to the rim at will against Fisher.
On the pick and roll, Fisher was exploited and was always a step slow on his rotations. The Lakers could start Shannon Brown, who fights through screens and stays in front of Williams, but Williams toys with Brown's inexperience.
Brown anxious to prove himself jumps at even the slightest pump fake. Additionally, Fisher's leadership ability is underrated. Nonetheless, Fisher has got to recognize playoff basketball and find an extra gear to go to in order to limit William's penetration.
Pau Gasol might as well have been a pillow. He was bullied, pushed and prodded in his time on the floor. Milsap and Boozer took turns of making Gasol look like the weakest power forward in the league.
At some point, Gasol has got to abandon his finesse and show some strength. Perhaps Gasol should listen to Utah Coach Jerry Sloan when he implores his team to "get nasty" and take the advice as his own.
If he's going to be thrown around by undersized Milsap or Boozer, how is he going to fare against Greg Oden or Yao Ming should the Lakers advance? Finally, Gasol needs to develop some mental toughness and convert free throws on the road. His free throw shooting was absolutely inexcusable last night and he knows it.
He's got to step up in the playoffs especially on the road if they expect to win the Finals without homecourt advantage in Cleveland. These games are preparation for the tougher games to come.
Lamar Odom was a bright spot. With hustle, off the ball movement, offensive rebounds and assists, Odom was able to will his team to a competitive first half and help his team to a solid run in the third quarter.
With Bynum, understandably, having problems coming back into game shape in such high intensity games, it would probably be a better idea to start Lamar Odom. Let Bynum anchor the second unit where his passing and footwork will help the continuity of the bench.
Additionally, playing as a bench player will limit the fouls Bynum will pick up and will allow him to play in the final minutes when rebounding and defense is crucial.
As bad as this game was for the Lakers, they have to feel good that with such a dismal performance on the road they only lost by two. And give Utah credit, they are a much scrappier team at home.
They have heart and they believe they can win this series. If the Lakers don't make some adjustments for game four, they just might be right.