When the Lakers and Celtics met at STAPLES Center last Christmas, it was L.A.’s first chance to avenge a 4-2 NBA Finals victory by Boston in 2008. The purple and gold certainly had that contest circled on the schedule, and proceeded to win 92-83.
This season, after winning the 2009 Finals 4-1 over Orlando, the Lakers had already been on the other side of a “revenge game” three times, losing to first round opponent Utah, second round victim Houston and Western Conference Finals loser Denver once apiece.
On Monday night, the Magic came to Los Angeles.
“We knew they were going to come out and be ready to basically get some revenge from the series,” said Shannon Brown, who’d play a major role in the rematch.
As it turned out – at least for one night – Orlando couldn’t join the revenge trend.
Not after a 15-0 Lakers burst out of the fourth quarter gates turned a four-point deficit heading into the final period to a 79-68 lead that ultimately closed at 98-92 thanks to some too-little-too-late Orlando three-pointers.
Leading the way for the Lakers wasn’t Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol, but subs Brown and Jordan Farmar, who combined for 20 second half points and inspired a major shift in energy.
“Tremendous letdown in the third quarter, but we played an inspired fourth,” summarized Phil Jackson. “I told (the bench) they’re the reason why we got this game.”
In the first half, the Lakers opened a 13-point lead, but a fierce third quarter charge from Orlando turned a five-point halftime deficit into a nine-point lead late in the period. Enter the backcourt bench duo, who together inspired a 21-2 run from the 3:16 mark of the third quarter to the 6:38 point of the fourth.
“We told each other, ‘Now’s our time, let’s go. Let’s do it,’” said Farmar. “We just wanted to go in there and really be aggressive and play with a little more energy. Everything was a little flat and lackadaisical and they had all the momentum. We had to change that up.”
That they did. In fact, after consecutive Lamar Odom put-backs allowed L.A. to tie the game at 68 after a 68-64 deficit at the start of the fourth, Farmar reeled off nine straight points himself with a three-pointer, a jumper, a layup and two free throws.
“Jordan had a real inspired 6-8 minutes there,” said Jackson.
Brown, meanwhile, only finished with a career-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting on the same day that his presence in the 2010 NBA Sprite Slam Dunk Contest was requested (he accepted, don’t worry), leaving Jackson to praise his growth as a player since his trade from Charlotte last February.
“I think it’s maturity,” said the head coach. “I think it’s opportunity … and it’s responsibility. He’s a young man who’s very diligent about his work. He puts in the effort and it’s paying off for him.”
Brown and Farmar combined with Odom (nine points and 16 rebounds) to outscore Orlando’s bench 42-15, helping the Lakers overcome a tough shooting night for the finger-injury-saddled Kobe Bryant, who made just 4-of-19 shots from the field but led L.A. with seven assists. Bryant also noted L.A.’s improved defense of Dwight Howard in the second half, after the All-Star big made 9-of-12 first half shots for 18 of his 24 points.
“We wanted to limit those (interior touches) and make it a lot tougher for him to catch in the paint,” said his Olympic teammate. “Pau (Gasol) and Andrew (Bynum) both did a great job, and our weak side helpers were very solid wrapping him up and making him (go) to the line.”
Howard’s first half had kept the Magic in the game despite 3-of-12 shooting from three-point land, where as the Lakers managed to hit their first four from distance and 5-of-9 in the half. L.A.’s shooting vanished in the third quarter (5-of-22, 22.7 percent) but returned in a fourth quarter (12-of-25, 48 percent) that featured nine Lakers free throws and seven Magic turnovers, L.A.’s total for the game.
The Magic won’t get another attempt at revenge until March 7 in Orlando, while the Lakers must now pack for their longest road trip of the season that takes the purple and gold train through Cleveland, New York, Toronto, Washington, Indiana, Philadelphia, Boston and Memphis.
Tiring just to look at, right? Alas, until then, your numbers:
0 Games the Lakers have lost this season when leading at any point during the fourth quarter, out of 32 wins. By comparison, no other team has lost fewer than four games when leading at any point of the final period.
7 Lakers turnovers, tying the team’s season-low. The Magic, on the other hand, had seven turnovers in the game-deciding fourth quarter alone.
27 L.A.’s advantage in bench scoring (42-15) thanks to 22 from Shannon Brown, 11 from Jordan Farmar and nine from Lamar Odom, who added a game-high 16 rebounds and five assists.
44.5 Brown’s vertical jump, used here to signify his invitation to the 2010 Sprite Slam Dunk contest. Brown led the Lakers with 11 first half points and finished with a career-high 22.
24,981 Kobe Bryant’s career point total after he scored 11 against Orlando, leaving him 19 away from being the youngest player to score 25,000.