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.