Photo courtesy of Ezra Shaw of Getty Images

The Laker lead was 45-29. Alas, it was too early in the game for it to be of any significance to the team. The 16-point advantage was attained just seven minutes into the second quarter, and if there’s anything we’ve learned from the Lakers this season, it’s that no lead is secure unless it comes at the end of the final buzzer.

As they’ve done often this season, the Lakers started the game focused. Their shots weren’t falling with regularity at the onset, but their saving grace came on the heels of their defense. They allowed the Warriors just 16 points in the first quarter on 31% shooting and then went off on a run that created that 16-point lead midway through the second quarter. As easily as they built that lead, however, they also just as easily lost it and, going into the halftime, led by just seven points.

The ensuing 24 minutes after the break will surely be a hot topic in post-game news stories and sports talk radio, because after Kobe Bryant’s “benching” in Sunday’s loss, came Andrew Bynum’s benching in the midst of today’s win. Two minutes into the third quarter, Andrew Bynum attempted a three-pointer in transition and was immediately sent to the bench 30 seconds later. He didn’t play again until the fourth quarter, but after missing a jump shot, a layup, one of two free throws and failing to show any sort of effort on defense, he was sent back to the bench where he remained for the rest of the game.

The Lakers could have used him in those final minutes, on defense or to get some easy scores, but as fate would have it, they still had Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol on the floor, who combined to score 15 of the Lakers’ 25 points in the fourth quarter. It was a team win, with even the Laker bench contributing to the effort. Unfortunately, Bynum bowed out of this one and never looked back up, which is a real shame considering the efforts his teammates put in.

Bench Contribution – The Laker reserves were still outscored 33-26, but that they even put in 26 points is a big deal. They were led by the exceptional activity of Matt Barnes. This victory would not have been possible without Barnes’ efforts. He scored (18 points on 7-10, 3-5 from downtown), he rebounded the ball (10 boards), handed out three assists and even blocked two shots. If there were an award for best player on the floor that opposing teams never account for, Barnes would win hands down. Twice he rebounded the ball after a teammate missed, and twice he made the Warriors pay for not keeping their eyes on him. Frankly, his alertness on this team seems to be the most keen. After Metta World Peace went up for a shot and fumbled the ball, Barnes recovered to save it and immediately hit an open jumper that extended what little was left of the Lakers’ lead.
Another reserve that got much playing time today was Josh McRoberts. His stat line is scant, six points from the only shot he attempted and made, in addition to 4-4 from the free throw line, three rebounds and a pair of assists. Like Barnes, however, McRoberts is big on activity and his presence on the floor, whether the Lakers had possession or stood on defense, was more obvious and impactful than Bynum ever was tonight. He finished with a +6 for the game, but at one point in the second half, he led the team with a +14.
Metta World Peace – That he scored 11 points on 5-13 from the field is icing. Other than his five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block, World Peace took a page out of Barnes and McRoberts’ book and kept himself moving on the floor and doing what he does best – play defense. With just over a minute left and the game tied, Clay Thompson went up for what appeared to be a clear shot, and World Peace blocked the attempt and sent the ball off Thompson, giving the Lakers the possession that eventually gave them the lead.
Pau Gasol – Making up for his terrible shooting against his former team on Sunday, Gasol made up for it tonight. He scored 19 points on 8-16, hit all three of his free throw attempts and continued on his rebounding tear. After the first half, he had gathered 13 boards already and finished the evening with 17 huge rebounds. If Bynum’s benching did anything tonight, it served as a reminder that while Gasol’s conscientious efforts to roam on the outside to leave their young center room to work inside is sensible and well-intended, the Spaniard’s dominance is clearly missed because of it. Gasol, though his mid-range jumper, and even his three-point shot, is relatively efficient, his game comes in the paint.
Kobe Bryant – It wasn’t his best shooting night, by a long shot, but he did surpass Michael Jordan to become the highest scorer in NBA history for a single franchise. 30 points on 9-24 from the field and 11-12 from the free throw line is huge, especially when the game is on the line. With the Warriors having taken the lead, and with just over a minute left until game’s end, Bryant put on his closer hat and went to work. First a running jump shot to tie the game, and then a fadeaway to take the lead for good. He hit both of his free throws in the closing seconds to secure the win.

Other than the squandered 16-point lead?…
Andrew Bynum – Bynum had scored 10 points in the first half, possibly seeking another double-double for the game, but after attempting a three-pointer in transition to start the third quarter, Mike Brown sent in Josh McRoberts and benched Bynum for the remainder of the third. He started the fourth quarter, but didn’t appear the least bit interested in putting in the right kind of effort, so he was sent back to the bench…again. While his teammates fought to stay alive in the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter, Bynum pouted on the bench, refused to join huddles, and did not greet a single teammate coming into the huddle during timeouts. He just sat there and watched. He finished with just 10 points for the night, and if rebounds are a sign of effort, Bynum’s five measly boards are a great reflection of his “efforts” tonight.

The game was a lot closer in the end than it should have been, and the Lakers, again, made this victory harder to come by than was necessary. Without the services of Stephen Curry, Andreis Biedrins and newcomer Andrew Bogut, and with prolific scorer Monta Ellis traded away, this was a game the Lakers could have dominated throughout. At least they sustained Golden State’s runs and, despite losing the large lead, came together in the end to win. It was a great team effort all around.

Box Score