Kobe Bryant banked in a running 27-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Miami 108-107.
Let’s keep the lead short and sweet for this one.
After all, Friday night at STAPLES Center produced quite a game (and we’ll get to all that), but the image that will surely last far longer than this night will be Bryant’s body – hounded by Dwyane Wade – twisting to his left, right hand extended high in the air, the ball on its way to the basket with under a second on the clock.
“No way,” said Bryant from his locker, shaking his head in reflection. “It felt good … (but) I didn’t think I would make that shot.”
Of course, everybody else did, despite its extreme level of difficulty.
“That’s Black Mamba,” said Artest. “I knew he was gonna make it.”
L.A. had been down two with just 3.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter thanks to an almost-as-clutch three-pointer from Derek Fisher (anyone surprised?), who dropped a right-wing triple from nearly the same spot as his dagger over Jameer Nelson in the Finals to trim a four-point Miami lead with 4.3 seconds remaining to just one. Then Dwyane Wade missed the front end of two free throws (his sixth miss in 18 attempts), opening the door for Bryant.
“He was supposed to get the ball, I know that,” said Phil Jackson. “What do you want me to say about it? It’s Kobe.”
Fair point. Bryant admitted that he was actually planning on attacking the rim and going for the tie, but he stumbled upon receiving the pass, limiting his time and forcing him to rush the shot, one that wouldn’t have been available without Fisher.
“Had I hit a couple more (shots) earlier in the game (we) wouldn’t have been in that situation,” said Fisher, who was 4-for-10 on the game and 0-for-3 from three until his final shot. “But it’s L.A., and why not have it as dramatic as it was? It was just a great regular season game.”
In the process, the Lakers not only improved their league-best record to 15-3, but won their eighth straight games to get there, a number they didn’t hit once throughout their 65-win 2008-09 campaign. They’d put together three separate seven-game streaks, but never eight.
In this one, the Heat were piqued to play from the opening whistle after a tough loss in Denver last night, while L.A. seemed a bit sluggish after two game-less days. Still, the Lakers managed a 51-48 halftime edge, before turning up the tempo in the third to lead by as many as eight before a late 9-0 Miami run led to a 76-all tie at quarter’s close. It was largely uncharted territory of late for L.A., who’d won their previous seven games by an average of 17 points and never been close going into the final quarter.
But before he nailed the game winner, Bryant was nailing from everywhere else in the fourth, making 6-of-12 shots and 3-of-4 free throws for 17 of his 33 points, including a a tough and-1 jumper courtesy of a nasty ball fake, a deep triple and even a running left-handed hook shot that put L.A. up 91-82 for its biggest lead of the night.
Yet Miami scored 7-of-the-next-8 points to get within three just as Lamar Odom took exception to Jermaine O’Neal’s extra hanging on the rim after a dunk*, resulting in a quick shoving match that produced Odom’s second technical and sent him to the showers early. To make it just a bit more complicated, Odom had a minute earlier caught Gasol under the eye on a rebound attempt to send the Spaniard to the bench, but Gasol was able to return upon Odom’s ejection with 5:07 remaining.
*Phil Jackson defended Odom for both technicals after the game, suggesting he may not have deserved either.
Fast forward to the 2:06 mark, when Bryant went hard into the rim and banked in a leaner despite heavy contact from O’Neal, resulting in an and-1 free throw that put L.A. up 98-96. Assorted free throws and consecutive Wade hoops near the rim then put the Heat up four as the seesaw tilted, leading to Fisher, and then Bryant’s heroics.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” said Wade. “Fisher hit an unbelievable three. Kobe hit that shot … It’s the game of basketball.”
L.A. has a chance to run its winning streak to nine when Phoenix comes to town on Sunday. Until then, your numbers:
1 First half turnovers for the Lakers, which helped make up for Miami’s 10 offensive rebounds. L.A. finished the game with eight TO’s, to 13 for the Heat in a well-played game.
4 Offensive boards grabbed by Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Ron Artest, as L.A. notched 18 as a team.
8 Game winning streak for the Lakers, surpassing their high of seven last season (three times).
10.8 Average Lakers lead entering the fourth quarter this season heading into Friday’s game. Last season, the Lakers entered the fourth quarter with a 6.4-point lead on average.
14 L.A.’s edge in paint points, helping make up for a 47-43 rebound advantage boasted by the Heat.
17 Fourth quarter points for Kobe Bryant, composed of two three-pointers, three free throws and four field goals. He finished with a game-high 33.
39 Combined points from Bynum (19) and Gasol (22), who gave Miami trouble in the paint throughout the game. The two seven-footers also respectively grabbed eight rebounds and blocked a shot.