48 hours ago Derek Fisher set the tone with his toughness. Tonight, his replacement, Jordan Farmar, made one. He didn’t make it with his 12 points, seven assists, five rebounds two steals and a block either. The player the Lakers have affectionately dubbed Little Pro — D-Fish is Big Pro — made his statement with hustle.
When you outhustle Aaron Burks — the quickest little wolf in a scrappy pack — you want it. What does Farmar want? He wants to be on the floor, sure, but he wants to win a championship more. The haters can hate, but tonight he made all the difference in the world. He made a difference when his Lakers desperately needed someone to step up in the absence of Derek Fisher.
That’s what stood out to me about this game. There are no Von Wafers on the Lakers (which is ironic, because the Lakers let him go). You will not see any insubordination on Phil Jackson’s bench. You will not see anybody rocking the Purple and Gold jacking up bad shots in an effort to “get theirs.”
This Lakers team has come together as one. Very Lennonesque, I know, but it’s true. Farmar was ready when his number was called tonight. Same with Luke Walton and Shannon Brown. Andrew Bynum came in and played terrific defense even though his role has been dramatically scaled back during the playoffs. They were all willing and ready to step in and play bigger roles, and they all will be willing and ready to sit on the bench and cheer on their teammates if need be.
Championship teams need that level of unselfishness, and the Lakers have it.
That puts a smile on my face. Why? Because if the Lakers are matching the Rockets’ hustle, intensity and teamwork, then me winning the lotto and scoring a date with Eva Mendes in the same weekend is more likely than the Rockets winning this series. Especially with Yao Ming limping around, Von Wafer ballhogging/insubordinating and Ron Artest misfiring. Even if a healthy Tracy McGrady were available, the Lakers would still have the more talented roster. Houston is just the ultimate team. If the Lakers can bring that same “team first” attitude, then a K-Fed rap resurgence will happen before a Clutch City one will.
I can’t say that I was too enthused by the play of Lamar Odom early on. He was thoroughly outplayed by Luis Scola. But L.O. came on late when it mattered, and he actually finished with better numbers than Luis Scola (16-13 to 10-12). Even his three-point shooting was going for him late. Like Phil Jackson, I’m tough on L.O. Why? Because I know that if Odom is playing like an All-Star not even the Cleveland Caviliers can take this Lakers team. They are too loaded with talent and he is impossible to match up with when he’s at his best.
Another weapon that can make the Lakers unstoppable is Trevor Ariza. If he goes 3-4 from downtown, the opponent can probably forget about putting a notch in the win column. The Venezuelan Vendetta had 13 points, five rebounds and four steals. But more importantly he was a +16 while forcing Ron Artest into a 10-23 shooting night and plus-minus of -17. Sorry, Jeff Van Gundy, but considering Ariza’s age, yeah, that Michael Cooper comparison by the Zen Master wasn’t too far off. Cooper was great, but Ariza has Pippen potential. He’s starting to realize that ability, too. Which is not easy on a team where you’re the fourth option.
Pau Gasol didn’t have a monster night, but El Spaniard did a good job of making Yao’s life difficult on both ends. There’s no way Yao can really stop Kung Pau on the pick and roll. Especially on one leg.
All I can say about Shannon Brown is…SHOOT! Does this kid ever miss? And how did Charlotte, Chicago and Cleveland all sleep on him? Was he just incapable of playing at this level in a city which starts with a C?
Then there was Kobe Bryant. He came out and set the tone, hitting four of his first five shots, and then kept the Lakers out of reach with some late-game heroics. He awed me with four plays tonight: the masterful teardrop shot over Yao; the block on Yao, a player who is essentially a foot taller; the lay-up when Battier damn near ripped the ball out of his hands, but he was strong enough to hold on and throw it in; and, last but not least, the third-quarter 30-foot buzzer beater. At this rate, Kobe’s highlight reel from this playoff run is going to be as long as his upcoming documentary Kobe Doin’ Work.
Every Laker on the court — save for Josh “Air Ball” Powell and Sasha “Brick Machine” Vujacic — did his job and then some. Overall, however, it was the Lakers hustle that helped them regain homecourt advantage. Sunday, they get D-Fish back. Let’s hope they can hustle in eliminating the Rockets so they can rest up for the Mavs-Nuggets winner.