The Lakers finished the game on a 9-0 run to sneak out of Charlotte with a three-point win, bringing their three-game losing streak to an end.
In a contest that saw 23 lead changes and in which no team led by double digits, the game was of course up for grabs right until the very end. But it felt like an escape act for the Lakers – perhaps because the final three-point margin of victory was actually their largest lead of the game.
The Lakers held the Bobcats scoreless over the game’s final 2:49, with their defense forcing the Bobcats to miss all eight of their field goal attempts. At the other end of the court, Nick Young hit a three pointer, Kobe Bryant converted a driving lay-up, and both Bryant and Pau Gasol went 2-2 from the free throw line.
In fact, free throw shooting was the biggest difference-maker for the Lakers tonight. The Lakers not only got to the line, but they converted when they got there, shooting 21-23 for a very Steve Nash-like 91%. Meanwhile, the Bobcats were only 5-8 (63%) from the free throw line tonight.
Coach Mike D’Antoni sent nine of his Lakers into action tonight, but most of the words written about the game – including my own – will be written about Bryant and Gasol.
Bryant, in his fourth game back from his torn Achilles injury last April, flirted with a triple-double – a quadruple-double, actually. He finished with 21 points, and recorded eight assists and seven rebounds – along with seven turnovers. Bryant looked better tonight than in any previous game, and it should also be noted that he hit his first two three-pointers of the season tonight.
Bryant looked good.
Gasol, on the other hand, had a terrible game for the most part, but even his harshest critics will admit he redeemed himself at the end.
In the first half, Gasol scored just four points (2-10 FG), and grabbed just three rebounds. Making matters worse, he opened the third quarter by committing three turnovers in the first two minutes, allowing the Bobcats to go on an 8-0 run and take a seven-point lead. He even had Bryant – who at that moment may have been Gasol’s last supporter – barking at him.
But there was Gasol in the final two minutes of the game, holding Al Jefferson to 0-4 shooting, including blocking two of his shots, and coming up with a key defensive rebound with 6.2 seconds remaining. He was then fouled and hit both of his free throws, opening up a three-point Laker lead.
Jordan Hill also deserves mention. In 31 minutes of play, he scored a very efficient 15 points (5-7 FG, 5-6 FT), and pulled down nine rebounds. When the Lakers seemed to be falling apart early in the third quarter, Hill was still engaged, and still putting in good work.
The Lakers do not play on Sunday, but then visit Atlanta on Monday and Memphis on Tuesday, when they will be playing their fourth game in five days.
Both of those games will be tough, but the Lakers will need to find a way to win at least one of them if they want to stay within striking distance of a play-off spot.
Lakers’ Player of the Game
Kobe Bryant was the player of the game tonight, scoring 21 points (8-15 FG, 2-5 3PT, 3-3 FT), and recording eight assists and seven rebounds in just his fourth game of the season. Yes, Bryant turned the ball over seven times, but the good far outweighed the bad tonight.
What is even more encouraging for Lakers fans is that Bryant seems to be moving better with each successive game.
Monday, Dec. 16 at 4:30 p.m. PST at the Atlanta Hawks
This is an article by Craig Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter: @stevenashchroni