In the final minutes, the Lakers were forced to play small ball, but they stood tall and came up huge.
The Lakers had played the entire game without Dwight Howard due to injury, and without Metta World Peace due to a one-game suspension. But when Pau Gasol left the game with four minutes remaining with an injured foot, the Lakers suddenly became very, very small.
Coach Mike D’Antoni put out the best line-up he could under the circumstances, and his little guys – to just about everyone’s surprise – came through for him in a big, big way.
How good were the Lakers down the stretch on defence? They kept the Nets from scoring any points during the final two-and-a-half minutes. No Dwight, no Metta, no Pau, and yet – no Nets points.
How good were the Lakers down the stretch on offence? They scored two points on each of their final eight possessions.
Feel free to take a moment to savour and digest that little tidbit. Perhaps pair it with a nice bottle of red on a cold winter’s night.
If a team has roughly a 1 in 2 chance of scoring on any given possession, then the chances of scoring on eight consecutive possessions are 1 in 256.
But putting it that way makes it sound like the Lakers were lucky, and those who watched the game know that all eight of those possessions resulted in high quality opportunities.
Steve Nash had a strong game overall (17 points, eight assists, and four rebounds), but it was his play during the final four minutes that was memorable tonight. In those final eight possessions, Nash’s play led directly to 12 points – he scored six himself (1-1 FG, 4-4 FT), dished out assists to both Jamison and Clark, and had another pass to Clark that led directly to two made free throws.
During this time, the man he was guarding – Deron Williams – had zero points, zero assists, zero rebounds, and three fouls.
Of those final eight possessions, the two plays in which Nash was not directly involved were Kobe isolation sets, which resulted in a nice lay-up and what may have been the most ferocious Kobe Bryant dunk we’ve seen all year. He put his head down from the three-point line, accelerated into traffic, and then BOOM!
Earl Clark is the other Laker whose play deserves special mention. Clark scored 14 points (6 of 9 shooting), grabbed 12 rebounds, had a block and a steal, and committed no turnovers in 41 minutes of play. That’s pretty spectacular for a guy who doesn’t need touches.
And one more thing about Clark – he goes waaaaaaaay up to grab rebounds. When I glance down at the box score mid-game, I am never surprised to see how many rebounds Clark has accumulated, because each one is a memorable work of art.
There was one Laker milestone tonight to pass along: By playing in his 1,210th game, Kobe Bryant moved past Dale Ellis and into 23rd place all-time.
As the Lakers look ahead, it is unclear when Howard and Gasol will be able to return. Clearly the Lakers want both back as soon as possible, but tonight they showed that – if they have to – they can also be effective playing small.
Here is one final thought: Prior to this game, the Nets had been 17-0 when playing teams with a losing record. While the Lakers do indeed have a losing record, they are quite unlike the Nets’ 17 victims in that they also have championship aspirations.
And those aspirations got another small boost tonight.
Lakers’ Player of the Game
The Player of the Game tonight was Steve Nash. His final line was perhaps not quite as impressive as Earl Clark’s, but his performance in the final four minutes of the game was inspiring, and generated a win that looked highly unlikely when Gasol went down with his injury.
That final four-minute stretch was the best basketball Steve Nash has played as a Laker.
Tonight’s Top Two Tweets in my Twitter Feed
“Absurd 2.0. BK” – @KamBrothers, late-game tweet amid unlikely late-game rally
“How many times have you re-played that Kobe dunk on your DVR?” – @SerenaWinters, post-game tweet
Thursday, February 7 at the Boston Celtics, 5:00 p.m. PST