9.9 seconds left in the game and the score is tied. Derek Fisher inbounds the ball to Kobe Bryant, who dribbles at the top of the key and is immediately doubled by Shawn Marion and Jason Terry. With one swift motion, Bryant swings a pass to Fisher and starts walking backwards slowly, so familiar with the results of the next few seconds that he knows there is nothing more that he needs to do. And Fisher, as easily as he received the pass, so too released the ball, leaving an invisible, not to mention invincible arc that more often than not has ended in the other team’s heartbreak. Swish.
Fisher walked to mid-court and pumped his hand towards the ground, his left hand holding up three fingers as he did. As teammates came to congratulate him on his way to the bench, Bryant looked over to his long-time confidante and couldn’t help but smile, with a look that clearly said, “just like old times.” In the Mavericks timeout huddle, the camera closed in on the face of former Laker Lamar Odom, who looked like he was trying to hold in a smirk, glancing across the court at the other bench where he had so often embraced Fisher after plays like that. Teams and circumstances had changed for Odom, but one thing clearly did not, and that is his love for his former teammates.
After Vince Carter missed a three-point attempt to become the Mavericks’ hero, the Lakers won 73-70 and reveled in their resident conqueror; their old faithful; their Fisher of the big-time pressure moments. After a terrible shooting night for both teams, it was a welcome end to an unexpectedly ugly game between the last two NBA Champions.
Pau Gasol’s Defense – There’s a high point we don’t always make. Known more for his smooth offensive touch, Gasol is not typically commended for his efforts on the other end of the court. Guarding last season’s Finals MVP tonight, however, was on top of his to-do list and he did a respectable job. Dirk Nowitzki started the game 0-5 from the field, thanks in part to Gasol’s sticky defense. It was Spain vs. Germany all night, and Spain did not disappoint. After going scoreless for a greater part of the first half, Nowitzki eventually figured things out and went 8-12 the rest of the way. He may have gotten 21 points on 8-17, but make no mistake about it – Gasol made him work for every single attempt he made.
Josh McRoberts – The box score may never reflect the important role that McRoberts, aka McRambis aka McLob City, plays on this Laker team, but his compilation of pure energy and pure effort are worth more than the seemingly meager stat line that he produces. After a sleeper start to the game, McRoberts woke up all of Staples Center when he caught the jump ball pass from Andrew Bynum and scored on a layup. Later he sent an alley oop to Bynum for a dunk, and then converted on one of his own off a pass from Metta World Peace. Add in five rebounds to his seven points on 3-5 in 25 minutes and you’ve got a solid game from one of the Lakers’ hardest working teammates.
Andrew Bynum – 17 points on 8-13, 15 rebounds, two assists and a block – Brendan Haywood might as well have stayed home. Bynum showed he was too skilled, too big and too determined to be challenged, even just a little, by the likes of Haywood. Bynum was efficient tonight, scoring on a smorgasbord of shots – hook shots, alley oops, dunks. Playing in, through or out of a crowd still appears to be a challenge, but he is finding his way. Flanked by a sea of blue uniforms early in the second quarter, Bynum passed to an open Jason Kapono, who scored on a corner long two. In time, this will become more manageable, and eventually, second nature.
Derek Fisher – With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers struggling to get their offense going, it was Fisher to the rescue, of course. As he had done in Game 3 of the 2010 NBA Finals in Boston, Fisher took it upon himself to DO SOMETHING. First he converted both free throws after being fouled by Jason Terry. Then he intercepted a pass and sprinted to score on a fastbreak layup. He followed that with a jumper that pushed the Laker lead to seven points. And then, of course the first made 3 of the game would come from Fisher…and would be the winning shot…from the same spot he shot the three that won Game 4 in Orlando in the 2009 Finals. And was there any doubt as to whom Kobe Bryant would pass the ball with the clock running down from just under 10 seconds? Bynum and Gasol could have each scored 30 and that ball would still go to Fisher for the last shot. “Why would you leave Fisher open?!” Charles Barkley shouted as the TNT crew reviewed the last few minutes of the game. Standing two feet from Fisher was Dirk Nowtizki, who suddenly perked up to try to block the attempt when he realized who was taking the shot.
The whole game until the final minute – would that be a valid low point this evening? Because up until Andrew Bynum hit that hookshot after receiving a pass from Kobe Bryant, the whole game was just a raging hot mess of “offense.” The Lakers shot just 38% from the field (only 7 points in the third quarter!) and Dallas shot even worse, converting on just 35% of their shot attempts.
Pau Gasol offense in this game may have suffered due to the effort he exerted trying to guard Dirk Nowitzki. It’s not exactly the simplest of challenges and it showed. Gasol scored only eight points on an abysmal 3-11 from the field and grabbed only six rebounds.
Kobe Bryant, whose 40+ tear per game has finally come to a complete halt as his 14 points game on a 7-22 clip. He did, however, hand out seven assists, including the last one to Derek Fisher for the three that won them the game. Bryant saw double and triple teams tonight and though some of his shots were questionable, he did distribute the ball.
Bench Production – It’s partly unfair and partly inexcusable for the Laker reserves to be doing so little in these games. Yes, Steve Blake is out and will be for the next 3-4 weeks, and he did run the offense a lot more smoothly than rookie Darius Morris, but a 32-10 disparity in bench contribution will not cut it. Jason Kapono, Metta World Peace, Darius Morris, etc – they must figure out a way to get some scoring going. Otherwise, the starters will be forced to play longer minutes. It’s good thing, however, that the player who logged in the most minutes for the Laker, is 25-year old Bynum. All the starters played in the 30’s, which is acceptable, but the reserves can’t just be on the floor to bide the time until the starters can come in.
Lamar Odom – I wasn’t sure which category to place Lamar Odom. On the one hand, it’s so bittersweet to see him playing at Staples in a different color jersey, but at the same time, as his supporters for so long, we also want him to succeed. Tonight he only shot 4-12 for his 10 points, but he also hit two three-pointers and received a standing ovation when he checked into the game.
So, it’s not always pretty, these victories, but you find a way to grind it out any way to get that win. The Lakers grinded for almost 48 minutes until Derek Fisher came in to put the game away. The Lakers appear to still be working around their new system, but lucky for them there’s always one guy who has mastered one play when he gets the ball and the clock running down. Sometimes, that’s the only play you need to get the win.