Tonight the Lakers faced an all too familiar situation. The mandatory timeout at the six minute mark in the fourth quarter saw the Lakers head to the sidelines down 8 points. This is usually the point where Kobe Bryant re-enters the game after his rest and the Lakers put the ball in his hands for a steady diet of Kobe isolations or pick-and-rolls down the stretch. He has saved the Lakers on many occasions with his undeniable will and superb skill set. Other times he has solidified a loss with difficult contested jumpers that don't fall. The results may be unknown, but the process is almost a foregone conclusion. Tonight was different.
Tonight Kobe Bryant was not wearing purple and gold. He was wearing a black suit. The Lakers entered the crucial stretch without their closer. Who would they turn to? The long-time second fiddle and former go-to man in Memphis Pau Gasol? The newly crowned All-Star and franchise future Andrew Bynum? The newly acquired floor general Ramon Sessions? One of less heralded role players?
The answer: All of the above
The result: A comeback win
Perhaps the Lakers learned a thing or two tonight about how to close a game as a team.
The final 6 minutes were arguably one of the best stretches of the season for the Lakers. The Lakers offensive possessions during the final 6 minutes of the game were as follows:
6:04 - Matt Barnes makes two free throws
5:41 - Andrew Bynum makes a layup (Ramon Sessions assists)
5:03 - Steve Blake makes 3pt shot (Pau Gasol assists)
4:28 - Pau Gasol makes a layup (Matt Barnes assists)
3:58 - Matt Barnes misses a 3pt attempt
3:18 - Pau Gasol turnover
2:48 - Matt Barnes makes a layup (Steve Blake assists)
2:10 - Steve Blake makes an 8ft runner
1:31 - World Peace makes a 3pt shot (Pau Gasol assists)
1:05 - Ramon Sessions turnover
28.5 - Bynum attempts a 4ft shot (Chris Kaman blocked)
26.1 - Ramon Sessions makes a 3pt shot (World Peace assists)
The Lakers converted on 8 of the 11 possessions for a total of 19 points. Six different players converted a basket and five different players recorded an assist. It was one of the most offensively efficient stretches of basketball they have played all year. To do that in crunch time, when the offense usually becomes stagnant, and to do it through a complete team effort instead of riding a hot hand was a thing of beauty. The offense wasn't the only area that stepped up though, the defense was very good as well.
Here are the defensive plays during the same stretch:
5:47 - Vasquez missed a 6ft jumper (Pau Gasol blocked)
5:21 - Belinelli made a 3pt shot
4:42 - Landry missed a 4ft shot (Andrew Bynum blocked)
4:09 - Vasquez missed an 18ft jumpshot
3:35 - Aminu missed a 4ft shot (Matt Barnes blocked)
3:33 - Landry made a 10ft shot
3:00 - Belinelli missed a 3pt shot
2:34 - Landry offensive foul
1:55 - Kaman missed 4ft shot (Pau Gasol blocked)
1:20 - Vasquez missed a 3pt attempt
53.9 - Smith missed a 16ft attempt
49.9 - Smith missed a 4ft shot (World Peace blocked)
19.5 - Vasquez made a 3pt shot
That is 11 possessions and the Lakers gave up only 3 baskets (two threes and a 10-foot jumper). During that stretch the Lakers blocked five shots, with four different Lakers recording a block. Not a single basket was made in the key.
Other than World Peace's last inbounds pass (seriously, what could he have been thinking?), the Lakers' execution down the stretch was superb on both ends of the floor. It was a stark contrast to many of the other close games in which the Lakers' offense stagnated. The Lakers have done well in close games this season (10-4 in games decided by 3 points or less) so it isn't like closing games has been a big issue to date. That being said, many of those close wins were the result of superb defense that covered up the struggles of a predictive offense. If tonight provided any glimpse of what a team oriented offense down the stretch can accomplish, the Lakers may be best off using a similar approach, even when the games best go to closer isn't dressed in a suit.