If Byron Scott and the Los Angeles Lakers needed any kind of proof about how important Jeremy Lin is to them, they got it in a fantastic game from the point guard, leading his team to their first win this season, beating the Charlotte Hornets 107-92, overcoming another awful shooting night from Kobe Bryant.
Lin scored 21 points on 8-of-12 from the field, including 7 assists. Kobe Bryant also scored 21, but was on 7-of-20 from the field. He made one big 3-pointer to help expand the lead in the fourth quarter, but other than that was off the mark for most of the night. Carlos Boozer, with 16 points and 5 rebounds, was probably at his most helpful since joining the Lakers, vital for his confidence, which is easily shaken up.
The big swing came in the third quarter, with the Lakers scoring 14 unanswered points. Carlos Boozer scored eight of those points before Jeremy Lin and Kobe Bryant added some long range flavor to the run. From behind they came to a 67-59 lead, and things just got better from there, with Lin pushing them forward with his shooting and pace. Bryant hit one or two but was mostly off the mark, sporadically hitting a bit shot to make it feel like he had a big part in the run and the win.
The offense moving the ball and not going only through Bryant, instead putting the ball in Lin’s hands and Lin doing some good things with it, like making Carlos Boozer feel confident about himself, worked. But it was also the defense, the real Achilles heel of this team through the first five games, that stepped up. It wasn’t anything too specific. Often defense is simply about focus and effort. The rest just falls into place when the discipline to keep those two things going is there.
After losing by an average of 15 points per game through the first five losses, the Lakers kept their opponents on almost 15 points lower than the average they allowed up to this point (116.8), while forcing only 44.3% from the field compared to just under 50% on regular nights. Al Jefferson, unlike most big men facing the Lakers, didn’t have a very easy time, shooting just 10-of-23 from the field while Lance Stephenson, not for the first time this season, caused more damage to his team than the opponents on 3-of-12 from the field, scoring six points. His 10 rebounds and five assists did not make up for it.
A new beginning for the Lakers? Byron Scott spoke after the game, saying that at least now his players know they can win, which probably is an important piece of rising up from an awful start before you get completely broken mentally. The Lakers shot 51.2% from the field, kept Ronnie Price on the floor for just 18 minutes which helped a lot, got much needed production from Ed Davis on 5-of-5 from the field, scoring 12 points, and the same goes for Wayne Ellington, scoring nine points in 19 minutes.
Kobe Bryant is almost like a mythical create out there on the floor. Operating by his own rules. Sometimes it’s damaging to his own team. Sometimes it works as part of a certain system. With the defense working, the ball going through Lin a lot more and the ball generally moving to the right places instead of being held up for too much time by just one player, which hurts not only the players around him but himself as well, the Lakers have a shot of making this more than just a fluke win between many frustrating losses.
And it’s important for the head coach and his players to realize what here was a one-time rarity and what’s a given. Jeremy Lin won’t score 21 points each night, but letting him make more than just a couple of decisions each quarter will work well for the Lakers. Feeding Boozer and Jordan Hill with passes and confidence is the best thing for the Lakers and Bryant too, who continues to try and do too much on his own, which explains why he’s shooting 39.4% from the field so far this season. The 26.5 points per game might help out his quest of moving up the scoring charts, but it won’t help the Lakers win a lot of games.