For a long time, the Lakers looked like they might manage to steal it. For nearly three quarters, the Lakers kept things close. Despite being out-shot, they hung in. Despite being out-rebounded, they stayed tight. They did it in ways that we didn't expect. They kept their turnovers low. They made their free throws. Hanging on by the skin of their teeth against the defending champion Miami Heat, the Lakers looked to make a real contest out of a game against a better opponent playing a better game.
Then, after 34.5 minutes of gutting things out, and holding on for dear life to a tie game, the Lakers gave up two offensive rebounds on the same possession. The result was a three point play by LeBron James. You might think that's the worst thing that could possibly happen to the team's momentum, but you'd be wrong. The next time down court, with just six seconds left in the third quarter, Metta World Peace sent LeBron to the free throw line. He made the first. He missed the second. The Lakers failed to collect the rebound off a free throw, and the ball found its way into the hands of King James, who buried a three to end the quarter. Six seconds, four points, game over.
Oh sure, there was another quarter to play, and the score remained in touch for the first half of the fourth quarter. But that end to the quarter, watching the Lakers throw away defensive stop after defensive stop, and then to follow that up with a failure of the most basic basketball fundamental of all, was clear indication that victory was never in the cards. And sure enough, in the fourth quarter, all the things the Lakers did well through three went away. They had six turnovers through 36 minutes, and turned it over 8 times in the final 12. Miami didn't have a turnover in the final period. That's your ball game, folks.
In many ways, this game doesn't mean much. Miami is the better team, playing at home against a weary Lakers squad on the end of a long road trip. That road trip has gone OK. Not great, but OK, and no smart Laker fan was expectant of a result today. Throw in that both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were magnificent, and it makes the end result all the less surprising. And yet, for whatever mystical reasons control the ebb and flow of a basketball game, this game was there for the Lakers to take. But, against a team ranked 21st and 27th in defensive and offensive rebounding respectively, the Lakers were killed on both sides of the glass. Against a team that has struggled with size all season long, the Lakers couldn't make a simple entry pass without turning the ball over in the fourth quarter.
The culprits in defeat were the normal ones. I don't think Dwight Howard looked as dis-interested in today's game as he has so many other times this season, but through three quarters he had four rebounds, and he ended up with single digit boards as the Lakers got destroyed on the glass. Steve Nash scored well, with 15 points on 9 possessions used, but he had more turnovers than assists, including one fourth quarter pass that might be the worst pass he's ever thrown. Metta World Peace had his
1000th 7th straight abysmal offensive contest (he didn't play well once the entire road trip). And the bench had zero potency, providing just 12 points.
But, more than anything, this game was another clear indication that the Lakers do not currently have a gear that even comes close to Miami's top gear. No matter how close the Lakers kept things, this result felt inevitable. Playing against teams like Miami, the Lakers simply have no margin for error. Missed opportunities in the rebounding department and a slew of final frame turnovers are those errors, and they provided Miami all the margin they needed.