For 12 minutes on Sunday night, the Lakers played perfectly to their blueprint of success for the 2011-12 season. The bigs got going early, with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol each scoring the first pair of Lakers baskets; the Lakers overall played suffocating team defense, finishing the first quarter with three blocked shots, causing five turnovers and holding the Pacers to 28% shooting; and Kobe Bryant powered the Laker Machine, scoring 11 points on close baskets to put the Lakers ahead 27-14 after a quarter of play.
Then, it slowly fell apart.
The Lakers would lose every subsequent quarter, and with those, the game. The Pacers’ greatest strength, their deep roster, only amplified the problems of the Lakers. Roy Hibbert, who would leave in the first quarter with a broken nose, would return to score 18 points and pull down eight rebounds, helping the Pacers outrebound Bynum, Gasol and the Lakers 50-43. Five other Pacers would finish with double-digit scoring, as their team holds the NBA’s sole distinction of having seven players average double-digits throughout the season. The Lakers, despite inspired performances from Matt Barnes and Metta World Peace, only had four players in double-digits, with Bryant continuing his “time-capsule” season with 33 points.
A 13-point first-quarter lead evaporated over the course of 1 1/2 quarters, as the Pacers fought back to take the lead midway through the third quarter. The rest of the way, the Lakers and Pacers would fight through nine ties and 13 lead changes, with the Lakers trailing by one with less than a minute to play. After a disjointed offensive push by Derek Fisher that would lead to a turnover, the Lakers would still have a shot at a tie with nine seconds remaining, but Kobe Bryant’s game-tying three-pointer from 30 feet out with 3.5 seconds left would go long off the back iron.
Six years ago today, Bryant scored 81 points to push the Lakers past the Toronto Raptors. Today, despite a stronger roster than that day in 2006, a lot of the same problems remain. Until Bryant can get a reliable scorer to take some of the burden off of him night after night, Bryant and the Lakers are going to have to get used to losses like tonight.
Points of Note
Brian Shaw returned to Staples Center in his new assistant coaching gig with the Indiana Pacers. Shaw played four seasons with the Lakers and won five titles with the Lakers (three as a player and two as an assistant coach under Phil Jackson).
Both David West and Kobe Bryant finished quarters with buzzer-beating shots. West’s buzzer beater came right before halftime, as his three-point shot over an outstretched Josh McRoberts sent the Lakers into the lockerroom leading 52-49. Bryant’s buzzer beater came at the end of the third quarter with a turnaround jumper to give the Lakers the 78-77 lead.
The Lakers failed to reach 100 points for their 11th straight game. The Lakers next opponent, the across-the-hall Clippers, are 8-0 when holding their opponent to less than 100 points.
Kobe Bryant – Despite missing a potentially game-tying three-pointer near the end of regulation, Bryant’s 33 points on the night was a game high for both teams.
Metta World Peace -With his new role on the bench this season, World Peace came into the game and contributed two quick drives to the basket that led to and-1 situations (though World Peace would miss both free throw attempts). World Peace’s 11 points was good enough for fourth on the team, and having shot 23% and averaging 2.6 points per game, the efficiency of World Peace’s 5-for-9 night did not go unnoticed. World Peace also sank his sole three-point attempt against the Pacers, making that his fifth make of the year in a abysmal 34 attempts.
Derek Fisher – Sometimes, the old man has his moments of glory. Other times, Laker fans realize that the 37-year-old veteran is in the twilight stages of his career, getting heavy minutes due to injury from Steve Blake and inexperience from Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock. Fisher’s moment came with less than a minute to play, as his hurried lob pass to Andrew Bynum (or was it a shot?) led to a turnover, requiring the Lakers to foul the Pacers and stretch their lead from one to three points over the final nine seconds. The Lakers have lived by Fisher’s heroics throughout his career in LA, but at 37, it’s easy to forget that the Lakers can die by his heroics just as easily.
Lakers Bench (other than World Peace) – Whether their limited use is a product of their inefficiency, or whether their inefficiency is a product of their limited use, a combined 2-for-11 from your bench isn’t going to win very many basketball games. Rookie guard Darius Morris led the bench in scoring with five points, most of those coming from the free throw line.