No one thought the Texas two-step through Houston and San Antonio was going to be easy, particularly with L.A.’s collection of injuries and the back-to-back situation.
How ’bout the opposite?
After the Lakers pulled out a final-seconds victory on Kobe Bryant’s three-point bomb against the Rockets on Tuesday, a worn-down Lakers team battled the Spurs to another final-second contest that was played so well it could have served as game seven of the Western Conference Finals.
Now, if I told you that Bryant turned Mamba again and dropped another contested triple with 12.0 seconds left to put L.A. up by two, would you be surprised?
Nope. Not at all.
But after that hammer, which capped a gutty run from 11-points down with 8:05 to play, the opponents struck back viciously. Not only did former Wizards castoff Roger Mason Jr. nail a deep jumper to tie the game with 10.5 seconds left, but he drew a foul and converted the free throw as Derek Fisher* went for the steal. In essence, Mason Jr. backed into Fisher, who was already behind him, drew the contact and went up with his 17-footer. Bucket.
*Fisher had left the game in the fourth quarter with a minor groin injury, and will be re-evaluated in L.A. … As if the Lakers can afford to lose another guard.
Suffice it to say that nobody in the AT&T Center was ready to celebrate (well, OK, maybe a few [all] of the screaming rubes couldn’t contain themselves), not with 10 seconds left and a Mamba lurking…
But after getting the ball on the wing, the Spurs quickly and aggressively brought a double-team towards Bryant, who consented to pass to a wide-open Trevor Ariza at the top of the key. Seeing a lane to the hoop, Ariza took one dribble and appeared to either slip or be tripped with less then a second on the clock. Free throws?
Nope. Traveling. Game over.
Alas, after eeking out final-minutes wins against Indiana, Miami and Houston in succession, the Lakers finally wound up on the wrong end of the final score in, again, an absolutely fantastic regular season game.
Both teams shot nearly 60 percent throughout the game (finishing at near the 57 percent mark, respectively) and got huge performances from several players: L.A. was led by 29 points and 10 assists from Bryant, 39 combined points from Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on 14-of-25 from the field, and a great fourth quarter from subs Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom and Josh Powell. The Spurs countered with a near triple-double from Duncan (20, 10 and eight), 27 points off the pine from Manu Ginobili and 38 combined points from guards Tony Parker and Mason Jr.
The game was chalk full of game-changing shots, such as Ginobili’s triple that buzzer-beat the third quarter, three straight jumpers from Powell during L.A.’s 11-2 fourth quarter run to claim the lead, and the back-to-back cold-blooded J’s from Kobe and Mason Jr.
And that was only the second half. Needless to say, these two teams will see one another again.
Shooting percentage for both teams in an extremely well-executed game.
Points in the paint for L.A., behind a terrific offensive effort from Bynum (9-of-15, 18 points) and Gasol (10-of-14, 21 points), despite San Antonio’s sound low-post defense.
Points off the bench from Manu Ginobili in easily his best game of the season. Ginobili hit four threes and had 19 of his points in the first half, plus three steals and three boards.
Three-pointers hit in the game as both teams shot at least 50 percent from three.
Free throw attempts by the Lakers, who had a really tough time getting calls throughout the evening. Most concerning to Phil Jackson was what may have been a trip on Ariza that wasn’t called in the final seconds, though road teams rarely get the benefit of the doubt in those types of situations.
Key points during L.A.’s 11-2 run to take the lead in the fourth quarter from reserve Josh Powell, all jumpers of the pick-and-pop variety.
Straight jumpers canned by Gasol in his 14-point first quarter to get the Lakers off on the right foot offensively.
Assists away from a triple-double for Tim Duncan, who put up 20 points and 10 rebounds with his eight dimes.
Sun Yue’s stat line for the second-straight night, putting him soundly in club trillion. To get into that exclusive club, one must play at least one minute, and not appear anywhere else on the stat sheet (points, field goal attempts, fouls, etc.), thus producing a 1-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0 on the box score. Or, 2-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0, as was the case in Houston.
*Editor’s Note: Oh no!!! Sun came up with a steal that I missed at the time (a great play, which led to an Ariza layup), eliminating him from Club Trillion contention in San Antonio. Sorry, Sun, but at least you made it in Houston.