How many times have Lakers fans watched the fourth quarter clock tick down as Kobe Bryant stared into the eyes of his defender, calmly … almost too calmly … before commencing his attack?
Friday night at STAPLES, with the Lakers and Indiana Pacers tied at 119 after Mike Dunleavy canned a three, the game clock ticked down from six, five, four as Bryant turned his back to Jarrett Jack … Bryant the bird of prey, Jack the (jack) rabbit.
Bryant noticed that the Pacers weren’t bringing a double-team (generally a fatal error), and Mamba knew he’d be able to get a clean look at a jumper over the shorter defender.
Backing into Jack, Bryant waited until the clock hit close to five seconds before twisting his body quickly to face the rim as he cocked his arm and released a smooth jumper well over Jack’s outstretched arms. As the ball arched up, then down through the air, Lakers fans began to celebrate even before the ball swished through the net.
It was pretty simple, really.
“If they don’t come early enough and I’m already backing him down, it’s too late,” Bryant explained. “If the double comes and my back is turned, I can still turn and shoot.”
That he did.
But slow down a second … The game wasn’t over. With 3.0 seconds left on the clock, Phil Jackson told his squad not to give up a three, which seemed the obvious goal of a Pacers’ team that would have been without its best player, Danny Granger, should the game have gone to overtime.
As such, Sasha Vujacic stayed glued to Dunleavy, face-guarding the inbounder, after the pass went to Jeff Foster. The rest of the Lakers rotated out to contest Indy’s other potential shooters, and by the time Foster looked around the court once, the clock had already expired.
“Well, I told (Vujacic) at the end of the game that Dunleavy is either going to make a cut over the top and if he can’t get there, he’s going to reverse you,” said Jackson. “And he played both of them pretty well.”
Bryant finished with 36 points, a season-high 13 assists, and seven rebounds to lead the pack, while Pau Gasol added a 21-and-11 double-double. Andrew Bynum contributed a season-high 20 points, and Josh Powell played an effective 19 minutes in which he scored 10 points on 5-of-7 off the pine.
Season-high point total in a half for the Lakers (first half).
Combined shooting percentage for both teams in the first half.
Wins for the Lakers, to six losses, matching a Cleveland team that beat Boston this same night.
Respective assist totals for Indy and L.A. at the half. Indiana would finish with 30, and the Lakers 28.
Free throws made by Bryant in 17 attempts, including 5-of-6 in the fourth.
Second-chance points for the Lakers, even though the Pacers grabbed 11 offensive rebounds to their eight.
Three-pointers made by Troy Murphy on nine attempts.