Blow out loss in Boston might be sign of things to come for Pau-less Lakers

February 8, 2013

Prior to tipoff of the Lakers-Celtics game, much of the talk around New England was of a snowstorm that was heading towards Boston on Thursday night. Unfortunately for the Lakers, it hit the TD Garden Center as well.

In what felt strikingly similar to the Celtics’ infamous 39-point blowout of the Lakers in the closeout game of the 2008 Finals, an unusually high-octane Boston team absolutely annihilated the Lakers, 116-95. The game was never close after the first quarter, as Boston’s lead ballooned to 26 by the end of the third.

Without point guard Rajon Rondo in the lineup the last six games, the Celtics have played an inspired brand of offense to compensate for the absence of Rondo's playmaking abilities. Thursday night was no exception, as Boston ran up and down on the notoriously old-and-slow Lakers squad.

The story of the game was pretty much summed up in one sequence at the close of the third quarter.

Paul Pierce caught an ugly airball from Antawn Jamison, and fired it down court to a streaking Jeff Green for a thunderous dunk. Immediately following the dunk, the Lakers quickly came back on offense, but Green raced all the way back down court and blocked a layup. The Celtics then ran out in transition once again, finding Paul Pierce for a dagger three-pointer which promptly brought the house down and may as well have ended the game.

The Lakers did have some prior success on this Grammy road trip without Dwight Howard, punctuated by a gritty road win in Brooklyn on Tuesday against a hot Nets team.

Without Howard down low over the last few games, Pau Gasol was finally given some space to operate on the block and excel at his most comfortable spot on the floor. Perhaps also fueled by the urge to show Coach D'Antoni just how valuable he is to the team, Pau had finally looked like his old self, scoring more than 20 points and grabbing over 10 rebounds per game in three of the last four games.

It is often forgotten by fickle Lakers fans that at his best, Pau is one of the top post players in the league. With his dynamic passing ability and high basketball IQ, he’s always a difficult matchup for any team and provides a crucial component for this Lakers offense. In Howard’s absence, Pau’s dynamic offensive presence was an ample trade-off for Dwight’s defensive presence.

But with Dwight back and Pau out, simply put, the Lakers looked horrible. Pau’s absence was painfully obvious, as Dwight was only able to muster 9 points to go along with 4 turnovers.

Without Pau’s much needed offensive post-presence, the Lakers were relegated to unproductive perimeter shooting and Kobe Bryant isolation plays. Kobe was efficient, scoring 27 points on just 15 attempts, but the rest of the team shot a meager 34 percent, including a lowly 5 of 23 on three-point attempts.

What was perhaps the most glaring lesson learned Thursday night was that the Lakers have great difficulty playing their brand of slow-it-down, half court offense without Pau in the post.

Howard is far from 100 percent, and as an offensive option he is a liability more than anything else right now. When he doesn’t turn the ball over, he gets fouled -- which might as well be a turnover given his poor free throw shooting.

So aside from Kobe’s often-reliable production, what the Lakers are left with is the kind of perimeter shooting display that they put on Thursday in Boston. When players such as Jodie Meeks and Metta World Peace -- who shot a combined 7 for 25 -- aren’t hitting their jump shots, the long rebounds produce easy transition points the other way for opposing teams.

The adversity that comes with injuries is nothing new for the purple and gold. First it was Nash who went down for the first quarter of the season. Then it was Howard for a few games. Then Pau for a few games, and then Howard again leading up to the game in Boston.

But this time Pau’s injury will mean more than just missing a few games. The official word is that he will miss between six and eight weeks.

The Lakers have managed to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff race over the past month at times without Dwight.

But without Pau?

If Thursday night was any indication, the Lakers are in for a long season.

And a long off-season as well.

By Max Rucker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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