On Friday night, the Lakers played their first game with Kobe Bryant again out. But rather than appearing timid or off lacking without their star, the Lakers actually appeared to have some fun. It didn’t hurt that they collectively shot 53 percent from the field, and Pau Gasol looked like the All-Star of old in a 104-91 win against the visiting ‘Wolves.
Before we get to Pau, it should be noted the Lakers — who came into the game ranked 19th in the league in defensive efficiency — held the ‘Wolves to just 34.7 percent shooting at Staples. But it was Pau’s overall dominance that facilitated the win.
In just a little over 32 minutes of action on Friday, the elder Gasol dropped 21 points on 10-of-21 shooting, including a three-pointer that brought out the Swaggy in the normally reserved Spaniard. Gasol also grabbed 13 rebounds and was just two assists shy of a triple-double.
But his three-pointer was a watershed of sorts, coming with under four minutes to play, and the Lakers only ahead by three. After Ricky Rubio poked the ball away from a driving Nick Young, it — as Clyde would say — serendipitously trickled over to Pau in the short corner. Gasol didn’t hesitate to let it fly against the outstreched arms of Nikola Pekovic, and his high-arcing attempt ripped the twine. That’s when Pau got his swag on with Young — to the delight of all Swaggy P fans (and at this point, who wouldn’t want to hang with Swagg?).
The Lakers would go on to win going away. Young had a game-high 25 points on 4-of-6 from downtown. Kevin Love also dropped 25, and grabbed 13 boards in the loss. With Kobe, Steve Nash, Jordan Farmer and Steve Blake all out with injuries, Xavier Henry started at point guard and played admirably in the win. He scored 21 points (8-of-19 shooting), dished four dimes and swiped three steals.
The strangest thing to watch at Staples last night wasn’t Gasol morphing into “Swaggy Pau,” or LA’s uncharacteristic stalwart defense, it was the unbridled joy the Lakers showed. Mamba might be down through the holidays, but the Lakers trundle on, and Nick Young’s effervescent demeanor is bizarrely starting to take root in the Lakers’ locker-room:
“He has that quality, that gift, of getting people going, in a good mood and I was happy that he rubbed off on me a bit,” said Gasol after the game.
“He rubs off on me and makes me happy, I know that,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni — most assuredly the first time a coach has ever uttered those particular words in that particular order since Young entered the Association. But D’Antoni and the rest of the Lakers need Young’s goofy zaniness with all the portentous Kobe talk and the injuries that keep piling up in their backcourt. D’Antoni summed Swaggy up nicely:
“There’s no doubt and he’s done it a few times. When we have a shootaround and the energy’s down, he’s ‘swaggy’ out there and he feels it and he starts ‘swaggin’ or something and he starts going and he gets everybody’s energy up. And it’s not a silly energy — and sometimes you have that — it’s a good, positive fun.”
We couldn’t agree more.
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