Big win for the Toronto Raptors, aka "the closers."
Make that "four big moments," a quartet plagued by the Lakers coming up anything but large each time.
There's a now-iconic scene in 1992 film "Glengarry Glen Ross," where hot shot exec "Blake" (Alec Baldwin) makes a surprise appearance on behalf of the Mitch and Murray firm to chew out a group of slumping real estate salesmen. After making these humps aware of the week allotted to save their jobs and updating prizes for the monthly sales contest ("As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone want to see second prize? Second prize's a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired. You get the picture?"), Blake gives an alphabetically-oriented slice of advice to go about meeting this goal.
"A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing."
I've seen the movie zillions of times and even read the original play from which the script was adapted. Thus, I know Blake drives an 80K Beemer. I know he cleared nearly a mil in salary. I know his wrist houses one very expensive watch. But at no point does author David Mamet allude to Blake having a background as a basketball coach. Or a basketball player. I have no idea if he's even watched a game of basketball in his life. However, I do know this much. "A-B-C" may be a sales slogan, but it would have also made a solid credo for the Lakers heading into this contest, because for my money, their biggest reason for coming up short was a continual failure to close out in strong fashion. To wit:
With 1:44 remaining in the first, the Lakers were up by seven points (20-13). When the frame ended, the lead sat at just three, thanks to quick scores from Chris Bosh and Marco Belinelli. To put things in "Glengarry" speak, we've definitely lost the car by now.
With a little over three minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Lakers had seven point lead (48-41). By the time intermission commenced, Jarrett Jack and Bargnani had absolutely torched the purple and gold, shrinking the gap down to just a bucket's worth. There go the ol' steak knives.
The third quarter featured an early ten point cushion cut down to a still-comfortable eight points after Kobe Bryant sank two freebies with 2:50 to go. Perhaps too comfortable, as the Lakers were content to let the advantage slip down to a deuce. At this point, you're fighting to save the metaphorical "job."
Then came the fourth quarter, where a dogfight was officially underway. With 7:33 to play, the Raptors converted a Luke Walton turnover into a Bargnani three pointer, giving them a 93-90 lead, their first of the entire contest. It took nearly four minutes, but the Lakers eventually reversed course and put themselves back up by three again, thanks to a combination of balanced scoring (Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar and Pau Gasol all contributed), rebounding (nary a Raptor grabbed a loose ball during the span) and defense (Farmar drawing a charge, Shannon Brown blocking Jose Calderon in space). Granted, one downtown bucket isn't much of a margin, but the Lakers have certainly come up big when it counts with more at stake against better teams than Toronto.
Not this afternoon.
Save a thirteen-foot jumper from Kobe, the final 3:23 was entirely dry for the Lakers. Clean looks didn't fall. The clock wasn't always milked. Brown had a turnover in transition which led to an "and one" Bargnani layup. This put a lot of pressure on Kobe to play hero in a pair of Herculean situations. First, a crowded three point attempt with just three seconds remaining on the 24 second clock (Gasol slips a screen, receives a perfect bounce pass from Kobe, but his arguably unwise feed to Farmar was deflected out of bounds.), then another trey with just 1.2 seconds remaining in the game. We've seen "impossible" whither at Kobe's feet on countless occasions, but this time, even he became human. Or at least as "human" as a dude with 27 points (11-24 shooting), a career-high 16 rebounds and nine assists can appear.
Kobe wasn't the only guy putting up good numbers. Bynum has 21 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Gasol had 23 points (although he slowed down after a 5-9/10 point opening frame). Farmar chipped in 17 off the pine. But ultimately, this game was about "the close," and Toronto was the better team during each quarter's final stretch and saved their truly best for last. The Raptors were closers and the Lakers, keeping with the flick's theme, were "fired."
On a related note, if you happen to see Bosh tooling around in a fancy American-made car, there's your back story.