By Bryan Williams
LOS ANGELES, June 8 -- In their 99-91 victory over the Pistons in Game 2, the Lakers became passers again. Kobe Bryant called it after the team was bullied out of its offense in the first game of the series, saying the Lakers needed to trust their offense to get everyone more involved.
Rookie Luke Walton found all the passing lanes in Game 2.
Jesse Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
"We have to be able to utilize the triangle and really cut guys up," said Bryant on Sunday, "so that our teammates are not just threats as spot-ups, but they become aggressive offensive threats off of penetration and cuts."
The result? All eight Lakers who played at least 10 minutes in Game 2 recorded an assist, totaling 28 on 38 made baskets for a 73.7 percent assist-to-field goal ratio. It's a crucial trend -- effective ball movement is the crux of the L.A. offense, and executing it properly leads to victories.
Take a look at the team's assist-to-field goal ratio for the 2004 postseason, broken down by wins and losses:
L.A. LAKERS ASTS FGS PCT.
Game 2 win vs. DET 28 38 73.7
Game 1 loss vs. DET 15 29 51.7
Four wins vs. MIN 114 140 81.4
Two losses vs. MIN 38 63 63.2
Four wins vs. SAS 87 133 65.4
Two losses vs. SAS 35 74 47.3
Four wins vs. HOU 99 133 74.4
One loss vs. HOU 23 36 63.9
Maybe it's predictable, maybe it's bizarre coincidence, but for the entirety of the regular season, the Lakers assisted on 64.3 percent of their field goals, a number that serves as an uncanny dividing line between their wins and losses in the playoffs. When they've topped that mark, they've won; when they haven't, they've lost.
What wasn't so predictable on Tuesday night was the player who would be one of the biggest catalysts for L.A. offensively -- rookie forward Luke Walton. Averaging less than five minutes per game in the postseason, Walton played 27 in Game 2 -- the third-highest total of his career -- and topped the Lakers with a career-high eight assists.
Explained Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson, "I just needed somebody in there that could move the ball and had the ability to create things off the dribble."
Walton's assist numbers were by indeed impressive, but he also obliterated his playoff and season averages in nearly every category:
WALTON MINS FG% REBS ASTS BLKS PTS
Game 2 27 100.0 5 8 2 7
Playoffs 4.4 31.3 0.8 0.6 0.00 1.5
Season 10.1 42.5 1.8 1.6 0.11 2.4
, the grateful recipient of three Walton dimes, joked afterward, "It amazes me how he can give me the ball and guys that have been playing with me four, five, six years can't give me the ball."
Walton also found Kobe three times for open looks. Bryant, who had seven assists of his own, commented, "Luke, he just came in and had a monster performance. You can talk about my [game-tying] shot all night long, but without Luke in the ballgame playing as well as he did, we would not be in that position."
Walton himself was more succinct.
Said the 24-year-old after playing the biggest game of his life, "I love stuff like this."