That game was fun, right!? The Lakers looked like a completely different team last night, beginning with the starting unit that no longer featured Metta World Peace, Dwight Howard or, for the moment, Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol looked like the Pau we all know and love, finishing the game with 15 points and 13 rebounds in only 24 minutes (projected per 36 minutes numbers: 22.5 points and 19.5 rebounds. Awesome.) Steve Nash did Steve Nash things, finishing with 5 assists in 21 minutes. Steve Blake played good defense, and hit both of his 3 pointers. Nick Young and Shawne Williams looked bad offensively, but chipped in with solid enough defense.
The Lakers and Clippers were neck and neck going into the fourth quarter with the score 79-75, with the Clippers up...and then the bench checked in. It was so astounding to see Gasol and Nash not check in for the whole 4th quarter; it was even more incredible to see Blake Griffin get dominated defensively by the 6'7'' Wesley Johnson (Griffin finished the quarter with 0 points, as did J.J. Reddick). Chris Paul didn't record a single assist in the quarter.
The Lakers' reserves outscored the Clippers' starting unit 41-24. It's not what should have happened. The Lakers' bench is largely made up of cast-offs, and players who never really have had their chance. Jodie Meeks scored 9 of his 13 points in the 4th quarter, Jordan Farmar added 16, Xavier Henry was the star of the show, scoring a career high 22 points and adding 6 rebounds, for good measure. Jordan Hill added 12 points and 8 rebounds and absolutely dominated the glass in his 18 minutes of game time. Despite Chris Kaman not playing in the 4th quarter, he still came off the bench last night and chipped in 10 points and 8 rebounds. The bench scored the 3rd highest total for a bench unit in Lakers' history (78 points, the highest in the past 25 years). The Lakers bench mob was projected to put up 154.6 points per 100 possessions, which is absolutely insane. For reference, the best offensive teams will put up something like 115-120 points per 100 possessions.
Thanks to Hill being a monster on the glass, the Lakers bench grabbed 75% of offensive rebounds while they were on the court. The bench didn't shoot the lights out either, or play spectacular defense (the Clippers ended with 103 points); but they cleaned the glass, limited the Clippers second chance opportunities, and converted a ton of their own second chances. Obviously, this kind of run isn't at all sustainable; you can't rely on Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson and hope to be successful over the course of an 82 game season, but for today at least, they are the unlikely heroes.
It will definitely be interesting to see how the team adjusts once Kobe Bryant comes back. For the moment, the Lakers look like one of the most versatile teams in the league without Howard clogging up the lane, as they can go with a small ball lineup, like they did last night with Farmar, Meeks, Henry, Johnson and Hill; or they can go with an extremely big lineup, with Nash or Blake, Henry, Johnson, Gasol and Kaman. There are a lot of options for this team; at the very least, they look like they will be an exciting, athletic squad this year. For now, the main focus is tonight's game in Oakland vs. the Golden State Warriors, which will be a test; thankfully, nobody played over 27 minutes last night.