Where do we even begin to talk about tonight’s strange game? The broken losing streak? The depleted roster? The unprecedented ruling late in the fourth that allowed a player with six fouls to continue playing?
In the wise words of Fraulein Maria from The Sound of Music, let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start. Let’s start with the Lakers’ active roster; emphasis on active. With Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill out after injuries from yesterday’s game, the team dressed just eight players, with Steve Nash activated, but not planning to play. It appeared, when the game started, this arrangement would work.
As we’ve seen all season, the Lakers don’t have problems starting well. They have issues finishing. Tonight’s start, was darn near perfect. At the end of one quarter, the Lakers were shooting 71% from the field to Cleveland’s 29%, and held a commanding 36-17 lead. In the second quarter, the advantage ballooned to 29 points with the Lakers shooting almost lights out from behind the arc. Despite the Cavaliers keeping pace before the break and challenging the Lakers’ 34 points with 32 of their own in the same quarter, the halftime score was still a lopsided 70-49. Before the break, however, Nick Young twisted a knee after getting fouled on his way to the basket and would not return to the game. The Lakers, then, were down to seven active players.
As per usual, they lost the third quarter to the Cavs, by a mere three points, but when the fourth quarter began, Cleveland suddenly got their second wind and that once 29-point Laker lead was down to just 10 after Jordan Farmar missed a layup on one end, and C.J. Miles hit a three on the other. After that missed layup, Farmar grabbed his left calf, the same leg with the injured hamstring that kept him out for over a month, and despite trying to give it a go later in the quarter, sat out the final five minutes of the game. About a minute and 15 seconds after that, Chris Kaman got his sixth foul. For anyone counting, the Lakers at that point had only five players left to finish the game.
With under four minutes left in the fourth, Robert Sacre got his sixth foul, which would leave the Lakers with four players. Nash was seen on the bench, suddenly, dressed in his uniform for the possibility of checking in if needed. After much discussion between the officials and coaches, the ruling was as follows: Sacre would be able to stay in the game with his sixth foul, but every foul he committed from that point would also include a technical.
In those last three and a half minutes of the strangest game the Lakers have played all season, Steve Blake and Ryan Kelly outscored the Cavs 8-4 and the Lakers took the win, 119-108.
Ryan Kelly – In the best game of his entire professional career, the Duke-bred Kelly led his team like a vet from beginning to end. With the only two big men on the team in foul trouble all evening, Kelly had to bear the brunt of the frontline and did so without missing a step. With a slight frame measuring 6’11”, 230 lbs., he doesn’t have the size and presence to make up for Pau Gasol, Kaman and/or Sacre, but darned if he didn’t try. He finished with a team and career high 26 points on 8-16 from the field, hit 3-7 from downtown, 7-9 from the free throw line, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked two shots. Not bad for the 48th pick in the draft when, across the way, the number one pick from the same draft class, Anthony Bennett, chipped in “just” 14 points and eight rebounds.
Point Guard Play – The Lakers had three point guards available tonight, and they needed every bit of their efforts. Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Kendall Marshall combined for 44 points (37% of the team’s total) and 30 of the Lakers’ 35 assists. How important is a floor general to Mike D’Antoni’s offense? It’s essential, and it was more than evident tonight. Blake led the way with his triple double of 11 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. With his right arm still in a sleeve and his shooting touch still warming up, he still managed to hit the Lakers’ two biggest shots of the night – back-to-back triples late in the fourth quarter to maintain a relatively sizeable lead. Jordan Farmar, in his first game back since late December, came out firing, literally. He led the game after the first half with 19 points on 7-9 from the field, and he hit 8-15 from behind the arc to end the night.
Triple Threat – 10-17 from behind the arc after the first half, and 18-37 for the night, setting a new franchise record for made threes in regulation. The Cavs may have had 40 points in the paint, but the Lakers’ 54 points from downtown trumped that.
All Hands On Deck – With such a depleted team, there was no way the Lakers could have won this game without teamwork. As cheesy as it sounds, that’s the only way a team this lacking in healthy players could have taken this game the way they did, no matter who the opponent. With the exception of Nick Young, who played just 17:32 minutes and scored six points, every Laker scored in double figures. Wesley Johnson, in perhaps his best game of the season, finished with 20 points on 8-15 from the field, and 4-7 from three, adding in nine rebounds.
Victory – The seven-game losing streak, the team’s longest of the season, finally ended.
Lead Retrieval/Maintenance – No lead is ever safe with this team, not even a 29-point lead. Tonight, the Cavs took advantage of the Lakers’ weakness and almost defeated them with it. Cleveland took down 27 offensive rebounds(!) that helped with the 32 second chance points. 27! The Lakers are fortunate that their threes were falling and Cleveland’s weren’t (just 5-33 from downtown for the Cavs). Otherwise, this could have been a completely different game.
Another injury – In the post-game locker room interviews, Farmar said that his calf just cramped up, more than anything, and that he left the game for good as a precaution. Young, on the other hand, will have an MRI in the morning to check the extent of the damage on the twisted knee.
What a game. Despite the disappointment that is this current season, and no matter how unwatchable most games are, it’s nights like tonight that show this team is not just mailing it in. Unless the teams above the Lakers in the standings experience some sort of unforeseen self-destruction, the purple and gold will most likely miss the playoffs. Until then, however, they’re just going to keep fighting.