Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images

If you’re the opposing team, and there are 2.3 seconds left on the shot clock and just over 10 seconds left in the game, and the lead to overcome is a single point, there is ONE player on this Laker team that you absolutely, positively ensure does not get his hands on the ball. ONE PLAYER. He’s number 24, has a reputation for scoring big in tight moments? Maybe New Jersey Nets Coach Avery Johnson thought the Lakers would bluff with a Kobe Bryant decoy that opens up a Pau Gasol for an easy two points in the paint. With 2.3 seconds left, though, they should have known. All of Staples Center knew. The whole league knew. Everyone who’s ever heard of Bryant knew that a play would be drawn for him. Well, everyone but the Nets anyway.

Pau Gasol set a screen that trapped Gerald Wallace and allowed Bryant the freedom to sprint to the top of the arc. With one swift inbounds pass from Matt Barnes, Bryant rose up from about two feet behind downtown and launched a wide open shot that bounced seemingly off every inch of the rim before it finally fell in. By the time leather hit twine, the game clock read 6.8 seconds and the Lakers had a four-point lead that stuck until the final buzzer.

It should never have been that exciting in the end. The Lakers should have, in fact, ended this game with a boring blowout, building on that 70-53 advantage midway through the third quarter. They’d shot 66% after a half, with the Nets shooting just under 41%, and up until that 17 point lead, looked as if they’d finally get a comfortable win this season. Unfortunately, Bynum or no Bynum, the Lakers would continue to make this game as uncomfortable as possible.

After a 58-point first half, they managed to score just 33 points in the entire second half, shooting just 33%. The defense disappeared, as did any recognizable offensive sets. The Nets tied the game at 86 points after Deron Williams hit a three, but thankfully, that’s as close as they got.

Kobe Bryant – That dagger three in crunch time notwithstanding, Bryant had already been playing an efficient game before that game winner. For the second game in a row, his shots weren’t dead but dead-on. He led the game with 24 points on 10-16 from the field, including 3-6 from behind the arc. He also grabbed seven rebounds and handed out a trio of assists. It was a relatively “quiet” 24 points for Bryant, that is until the Lakers needed him to make some noise. After the Nets’ Williams tied the game, Bryant scored on a turnaround fadeaway to give the Lakers a smidge of a lead, and then finished with that three-pointer that ended up being the game winning shot. Bryant was all smiles after, and deservedly so. After hitting a three late in the game on Saturday afternoon to beat former teammate, Trevor Ariza’s New Orleans Hornets, he did it again tonight against Jordan Farmar’s Nets. Note to former teammates: I haven’t changed.
Pau Gasol – With Andrew Bynum in the locker room receiving treatment for a sprained ankle, the paint was all Gasol’s for the taking and he took advantage. Finishing with yet another double-double for the evening, the resident Spaniard wasted no time milling around in this game. He scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half alone, being the beneficiary of some of Ramon Sessions’ slick passes inside. And just as he did in Sunday’s win, Gasol didn’t just settle for outside jumpers or layups. He was dunking for a great part of the night, which is how it should be. A quick and smooth spin move around Gerald Wallace on the baseline earned him an uncontested dunk, and he even got into a scuffle with Kris Humphries. Not happy with Humphries’ lack of foul calls, Gasol gave the former Mr. Kardashian a shove after the Lakers scored and received a technical for it. Mild-mannered Pau Gasol got a technical for pushing Kris Humphries – how about that? He went 11-20 from the field and probably deserved some free throws (though the officials, apparently, did not agree since Gasol attempted zero from the charity stripe), grabbed 12 rebounds, sent four assists out to teammates and even scored a steal.
Ramon Sessions – We’ll start to run out of words to describe this young man soon, but until then, we’ll start with one – WOW. After just over 19 minutes of playing time in the first half, Sessions had distributed eight assists. He finished with 11 dimes for the game, and even added 19 points on 7-15, six rebounds and a steal. At one point, he dribbled down the court like a rocket, and when he rose up just in front of the hoop, he stopped, seemingly in mid-air and turned to his left to send a pass to Steve Blake in the corner who hit a 3. Before that, he led a break and passed the ball over the head of Johan Petro to Gasol who scored on a dunk. Against one of the best floor generals in the league in Deron Williams, Sessions did more than okay. He not only out-assisted Williams 11-6, he also scored on a slightly higher percentage (47% versus Williams’ 40%). Tomorrow is yet another test for Sessions, who gets pitted again Chris Paul.
Teamwork – The Big Three of the evening may have scored the bulk of the points (65 points), but this game wouldn’t have been won without Matt Barnes’ 10 rebounds and three assists; nor Metta World Peace and Steve Blake’s timely three-point shooting. Let’s not forget Josh McRoberts filling in the starting line-up in Bynum’s absence and providing the second most entertaining shot of the evening – with 4.4 seconds left in the first quarter, McRoberts received an inbounds pass at halfcourt, which he managed to dribble across, fumble and toss up just in time for a buzzer beater that had Kobe Bryant laughing from the end of the first to the beginning of the second quarter.
Rebounds – Maybe it shouldn’t have to be mentioned because the second best rebounding team played against the 26th best, but the Lakers out rebounded the Nets 50-38. Worth mentioning…
First Half – All these high points happened, for the most part, in the second half, where the defense kept the Nets at 41% shooting, the offense thrived on the ball moving (18 assists on 25 made field goals) and the paint was the place to score (30-22 advantage for the Lakers). They even had a 13-6 advantage in fast break points, which isn’t one of their strong suits. Unfortunately, then came…

Second Half – In the final 24 minutes, the Lakers managed to score just 33 points on a putrid 33% shooting. After handing out 18 dimes in the first half, they passed out just half as much in the second. 12 points is all they managed to score in the paint in the second half because they launched outside jumper after outside jumper. It’s no surprise the Nets outscored them 42-33 in the second half, because the Lakers took what was working for them (their inside game), and did the exact opposite. The Nets didn’t defend them any differently either. New Jersey isn’t exactly the 2008 Boston Celtics when it comes to defending, but the Lakers made it much too easy for them, losing their focus (yet again) and forcing themselves to have to claw out another win.
Turnovers – The Lakers shot 75% in the first quarter to the Nets’ 38%, yet they ended the first 12 minutes with just a nine point lead. The reason? Five turnovers to New Jersey’s zero.

It was closer than it should have been, and it shouldn’t have come to that final shot, but face it, Laker fans. You wouldn’t have changed the end of that game for a blowout, not when Kobe Bryant is set up for a game winner. Hopefully, in tomorrow’s game against the Clippers, the first half version of the Lakers can play throughout the entire length of the game.

Box Score