LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers falls into the front row after making a basket in the fourth quarter while taking on the Denver Nuggets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2012 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Yesterday our stroll down Memory Lane took us through some dilapidated, hobo-ridden neighborhoods. Today, in the interest of heading into the weekend on a cheerful note, we share recollections of the more agreeable variety. Though the Lakers ended the season well short of their and our ambitions, the 2011-12 campaign had occasions of fun and triumph. There were few moments of blazing excitement, as in 2009-10 when Kobe Bryant riddled opponents with game-winners left and right. There wasn't even a sustained period of real dominance, like the post-All Star run in 2011 when the Lakers tore off 17 wins in 18 games. But we enjoyed a few especially satisfying wins, and when I sat down to pick the five best moments from this season I was surprised at how many I had to choose from. The exercise wouldn't have been as easy, say, if I were a Bobcats blogger.
The moment we should be most grateful for didn't make my list, for the technical reason that it wasn't a Laker-specific event. November 26, 2011... the day the NBA lockout came to an end. (Fine, if you nerds want to nitpick, if didn't end under December 8. November 26 was when the parties agreed in principle to the terms of a new CBA.) For all the complaining we've done about how the Lakers came up short this season, it's worth remembering how close we came to not having a season to complain about. Just think how oppressively dull our lives would've been these past six months. By now this site would be 100% cat GIFs and me recapping The Client List.
Let's celebrate not living in that fictional timeline by counting down the five most enjoyable, satisfying moments from the season that almost wasn't, but then was.
5. March 4... The Lakers Finally Take Down LeBron
Fine, so the Heat didn't have Chris Bosh in this one. As we're seeing in the playoffs, they're still a damn good team without him, and by the time they visited Staples in early March LeBron James had beaten the Lakers five straight times, including a pair of Christmas Day thrashings. Payback was overdue. Kobe played terrifically, scoring 33 points, and Andrew Bynum (16 points, 13 boards, 4 blocks) anchored a splendid defensive performance that limited the Heat to less than a point per possession. Also, and most important, LeBron nearly got into it with Troy Murphy.
4. March 15... Kupchak Deals for Ramon Sessions, Jordan Hill
I know a lot of you aren't sold on Sessions as the long-term answer at the point. Neither am I. But come on... the Lakers had to upgrade at point guard. We'd been begging for someone more consistently productive than Derek Fisher for as long as this site's been around. And lest we forget, Sessions played quite well after the trade until he hurt his shoulder and suffered a crisis of confidence. If he's the starting PG heading into next season, I'll feel okay about it. As for Hill, he shored up the frontcourt and became essentially the player we thought we were getting in Josh McRoberts. Without Sessions and Hill I'm guessing the Lakers would not have survived the first round. That Mitch Kupchak pulled off the acquisitions without touching the trade exception from the Lamar Odom deal made them all the tastier.
3. April 4... Little Brother Still Eats Last
Efforts to stir up a Lakers-Clippers rivalry will always feel a bit forced, but the last of the three regular-season matchups between the squads fulfilled the hype. In the first three quarters both teams played wonderful offensive basketball, and the fourth was a heated, back-and-forth street brawl. Andrew Bynum (38 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, zero turnovers) was magnificent, as was Kobe (31 points, 6 assists and 5 boards), who hit a dagger jumpshot with 30 seconds left to seal the victory. Blake Griffin was at his villainous best, mixing cheapshots and faux-macho taunting in equal measures. Good times all around.
2. April 29... Bynum Scarfs Down Nuggets in Playoff Opener
Believe it or not, there was a time when the Nuggets looked outclassed by the Lakers in the teams' first-round playoff series. That time was in the aftermath of Game One, which Bynum owned via one of the best defensive performances in NBA playoff history. With his 10 blocks (to go with 10 points and 13 rebounds) he almost single-handedly neutralized the dangerous Denver attack. For the game, which the Lake Show won by 15, the Nugs made 37% of their twos and scored 0.97 points per trip. Pau Gasol (13 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds) nearly had a triple-double of his own. Jordan Hill had 10 boards and 10 points in 24 minutes played. So good were the Lakers bigs that Kobe's 31 points were an afterthought.
1. April 11... Lakers Annihilate Spurs in San Antonio
I'm still not sure how this happened. Recall the circumstances: the Lakers arrived in San Antonio in a deepening funk. They'd lost two of their last three, including a 20-point drilling in Phoenix. They'd just barely beaten the lowly Hornets in New Orleans. Kobe was out with a sore ankle. Meanwhile, the Spurs were establishing themselves as the class of the Western Conference, having won 14 of their past 16. Two nights earlier in Utah, Gregg Popovich chose to sit Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, so the Spurs' Big Three came into the game well rested.
What many expected to be a blowout in the Spurs' favor was the precise opposite. The Lakers led by only six at halftime, but in the third quarter everything clicked into place. Metta World Peace exploded (in a good way) and led an offensive surge that extended the lead to 20 before the quarter was up. With 7:54 left in the game he hit a three-pointer that pushed it to 26. His scoring numbers (26 points on 10-for-15 shooting) were a throwback to his pre-Malice glory days in Indiana.
And they weren't even the most improbable numbers from that game. Andrew Bynum had 30 rebounds, becoming the first Laker to hit that total since Kareem did it in 1978. He had 22 boards on the defensive end while the Spurs as a team managed just one offensive board. One. The Lakers collected 33% of their own misses and 98% of the Spurs' in the most one-sided rebounding battle we'll ever see. The defeat was the Spurs' last before the 20-game winning streak that ended just last night.
Honorable Mentions: January 10... Kobe scores 48 in home win over the Suns; February 9... the Lakers take down the Celtics in Boston; April 22... rousing, double-OT home win over the Thunder (which would've made the list but for Metta's assault on James Harden).
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.