This was a Lakers victory that ended with relief, not joy.
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And it wasn’t just that the Lakers allowed their 18-point second-half lead to evaporate entirely – though that was the main reason for the anxiety.
With the Lakers up one in the dying seconds, Will Bynum’s shot when in and out, and Steve Nash leapt for the loose ball and secured the rebound. He was immediately fouled, but somehow managed to miss both his foul shots with 2.7 seconds remaining – perhaps he had watched too intently as Earl Clark had done the same thing just 14 seconds earlier….
The odds of Steve Nash missing two free throws in a row in his career, when he has shot 90%, are roughly 1 in 100. The odds of him missing two in a row this year, when he had been shooting 95% as he stepped to the line, were roughly 1 in 400.
On the inbounds play with 1.2 seconds remaining, Greg Monroe almost made a dunk, but did not, and the Lakers escaped with a win. Lakers fans did not smile – they just exhaled, and shook their heads.
Looking back on the game, Coach Mike D’Antoni deserves credit for manufacturing two points out of thin air. At the end of the first half, he appeared to waste a time-out with just 0.4 seconds remaining, but Kobe Bryant found Earl Clark on the inbounds play for a buzzer-beating alley-oop.
Who knew the Lakers would need those points to win the game? And you never know – that may end up being a key play in the Lakers’ season, if they manage to just squeeze into the post-season.
It was once again a tale of two halves. The Lakers were able to score 62 points in the first half, but only 36 in the second. To my eye, they appeared to be outworked in the second half, which is not a good sign. The Pistons’ hustle led to easier looks than the Lakers were able to create for themselves.
The Lakers received another solid game from Pau Gasol, who scored 23 points (10 of 18 shooting) and grabbed 10 rebounds as Dwight Howard missed his second consecutive game with his shoulder injury. Earl Clark also played well, with 17 points (6 of 11) and 10 rebounds.
After five games in which Kobe Bryant played the role of chief facilitator, that role seemed to revert to Nash today, and his ten assists led the team. He also scored 11 points (5 of 10 shooting) for a double-double, and grabbed five boards to help out in Dwight’s absence.
There was one milestone reached tonight. By making eight shots, Kobe Bryant passed Hakeem Olajuwon to move into 7th place all-time with 10,757.
The Lakers now travel to Brooklyn for the fourth game of this seven-game road trip. They will need two strong halves of basketball to beat the Nets – hopefully Dwight Howard is able to play and contribute in that effort.
If Lakers fans are looking for something positive – other than the win – to take away from this game, here it is:
Early in the season, the Lakers would fall way behind in games, and then make a furious comeback only to fall just short. Now they are the other team – the one that’s just barely surviving that furious comeback – and that’s an important distinction.
Lakers’ Player of the Game
The player of the game today – for the second game in a row – was Pau Gasol. Not only did Pau score a team-high 23 points (10 of 18) and grab 10 rebounds, but he had three assists, two steals, and was a team-high +10 on the game.
And, although he did not have any blocked shots, he played good defense and caused several Pistons to miss in close, particularly late in the game.
Tonight’s Top Two Tweets in my Twitter Feed
“Close win against the Pistons today. We have to keep working on keeping leads during games. This one almost got away.” – @PauGasol, post-game tweet
“Nash said he missed two FTs late in gm 12-14 years ago when playing for DAL that set up Glenn Rice gm-winning 3 for LAC. Still bothers him.” – @mcten, post-game tweet
Tuesday, February 5 at the Brooklyn Nets, 4:30 p.m. PST