There are certain things you don't expect to see in the final seconds of an NBA game with the result still in question. A play drawn up for Darko Milicic, for example. Defense from a Don Nelson squad. The Nets.
That last one is what won it for the Lakers Friday night at Staples, as again Kobe came through with a monster, clutch-as-all, dagger of a jumper, giving the Lakers an improbable 109-108 win over the Sacramento Kings. After Sacto's Ime Udoka bricked two free throws that would have iced the game with 4.8 seconds to play, the Lakers took the ball in along the left sidelines with 4.1 still on the clock, Sasha Vujacic inbounding. The ball came to Pau Gasol on the wing as Kobe popped up from the left baseline, where he collided with Sergio Rodriguez. Was it a push off? A bit of a moving body check? Only the tape (and a lot of Kings fans, I presume) can judge. But Spanish Chocolate hit the ground, and Gasol found a now-wide open Kobe with the pass. A casual step behind the arc (I thought initially his heel was out of bounds- really this play stroked nerves on nearly every level), and a smooth rise for the J, the ball leaving his hand with barely a tenth of a second on the clock.
Cord. It was obviously the moment of this game, adding to other seminal, Kobe-created gems from this season against Miami and Milwaukee. Another remarkable shot from a remarkable player.
Still, I'm actually a little appalled the Lakers won this game. No question, after a first half in which they allowed the Kings to score 64 points on 63% shooting, defending the pick and roll like it was some newfangled thing Paul Westphal invented only moments before the game, the Lakers tightened up defensively over the final 24 minutes, holding the Kings to 44 points. They rallied from down 20 to win the game. As they've done all season, when the opposition left the door open (the Kings certainly did, with the Udoka missed freebies and a string of second half TOs) the Lakers kicked it in. I get all that. (Kudos, by the way, to Phil Jackson for drawing up a play where Kobe wasn't the primary target off the inbound, and was tougher to deny the ball.)
But there was a moment in the fourth, a trip after the Lakers had taken a 99-97 lead on a pair of Bryant free throws, where I thought the Lakers not only would get the loss they had coming despite the second half run, and perhaps would be better off taking the medicine. With 3:06 to play, Spencer Hawes hit a three from the top of the arc, completely wide open, off the same type of screen action from Beno Udrih (19 points, 14 assists) that victimized the Lakers all night. Confusion off the pick, no rotation to contest the shot. When Hawes hit another three from the corner (he finished with 30 points)- more penetration, more poor rotating- I really thought the Lakers were dead, finally destined to actually lose a game they deserved to lose.
Of course, at that point if you'd have asked me if the Kings would give Kobe an uncontested look from distance at the buzzer, I would have been wrong about that, too.
More postgame analysis and video coming soon...