With 8:42 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Lakers down by 87-72, KCAL sideline reporter/710 ESPN's John Ireland busted out a surprising sideline interview: Bruce Willis! That's right. John McClane himself, in the Big Easy to film a movie. Willis was enjoying courtside seats via the generosity of Hornets owner George Shinn. And judging by the easy-breezy vibe, he also seemed to be enjoying everything N'Awlins has to offer.
I'm not saying the man definitely indulged in a few Seagram's Golden Wine Coolers. I'm just not entirely comfortable proclaiming he hadn't.
At any rate, the chat initially felt like little more than than a random oddity involving a celebrity at a Lakers game outside the confines of Staples Center. A new twist on a familiar sight. Good for a few "Hey, it's a loopy Bruce Willis!" tweets from Lakers fans and basketball scribes, but nothing of actual consequence.
Then came a reverse layup by D.J. Mbenga off a gorgeous feed from Jordan Farmar. Two possessions later, Ron Artest cans a J. A little more than a minute passes and Lamar Odom hits one of two free throws after David West fouls him upon corralling an offensive board. A few more minutes, Farmar takes a rebound coast-to-coast and gets sent to the line by West while sinking a layup. The freebie is no good, but Kobe Bryant is there for the putback.
9-0 run for the Lakers, now back in the contest with 5:42 to go, and the Internet going bonkers about the power of a festive Bruce Willis. Darius Songaila snaps the purple and gold run with a 22-foot jumper, but it's quickly met with a three-ball from Farmar. I sent a Tweet about Willis getting the game ball if the Lakers somehow prevailed. And for one brief, delusional second, it felt like Demi's ex might walk away with a Spalding.
Unfortunately, a tough, twisting fadeaway from West, two dry Laker chances, then Songaila's putback of a West miss (no box out whatsoever) brought everything back to Earth in a hurry. The seemingly inevitable wasn't about to reverse course.
Nor should anybody really have expected it to, least of all the Lakers.
Truth be told, I have no idea if the Lakers expected a "W" from a game they never led except during a brief time in the first quarter. A game they allowed New Orleans to shoot 49.3 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from behind the arc. A game they took 29 three-pointers and connected on just seven. A game where the bench was scoreless until Farmar's trey with 2:28 remaining in the third quarter. A game in which, save Gasol (26 points, 22 rebounds) and Kobe (31 points on a tidy 18 shots), nobody made a steady impact at all.
But I do know this: If a win was in fact expected, it was a tall and very unrealistic order. Five minutes of quality play isn't enough to offset the mess leading up to that rally.
The Lakers haven't played well on a consistent basis throughout the majority of this season. As 54 wins indicate, doesn't mean they haven't gotten by. Sometimes on sheer talent. Sometimes through the power of strong halves or devastating quarters. And sometimes they've played poorly, but came out on top through what almost felt like magic. Sleight of hand. Smoke and mirrors. Pulling a rabbit out of the ol' chapeau.
But there's only so many times you can go to that well before it comes up dry. Even when the opponent has already made plans to go fishing in April and the rabbit in question happens to be Kobe Bryant. Or, in this case, Bruce Willis.
Sometimes, you just need to win the old fashioned way, by earning it. This was one of those nights and the Lakers came nowhere close to meeting that challenge.