Just over four months ago, the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Boston Celtics in Game Seven of the NBA Finals. On Tuesday night they got their rings and dropped their hard-earned banner in front of a raucous home crowd.
After reveling in their achievements the Lakers were then snapped back to reality by a hungry, athletic Houston Rockets team. With 52 seconds left in the first half, the defending champs trailed 62-47. Kobe Bryant looked rusty, Pau Gasol was clearly having trouble getting shots off over Yao Ming and the second unit looked as if it hadn’t played together before.
About midway through the third quarter, the Lakers seemed to wake up. Buoyed by that second unit, the Lake-show went on a run. Pushed by clutch threes from Steve Blake and Shannon Brown and relentless hustle from Matt Barnes, the Lakers took the lead with 9:07 left in the game.
Houston hung around and then actually took the lead with 29 seconds left on a layup by Luis Scola. On the ensuing possession, Bryant drove hard to the left side of the court, then kicked the ball back out to Blake, who nailed a 3-pointer to give LA a 112-110 lead and win after the Rockets failed to score on their last possession.
Bryant – who finished with 27 points, five rebounds and seven assists – chose to kick out to Blake instead of take his patented pull-up jumper in the closing seconds.
Blake (10 points), Brown (16 points) and Gasol (29 points, 11 rebounds) won this game for the Lakers. Bryant had several key plays and he did score 27 points but he’s Kobe Bryant, he can do that on one leg. For the next few weeks while Bryant recovers the Lakers will need to get solid production out of virtually everyone on the roster.
This is clearly a deeper, more well-rounded Lakers team than we’ve seen the past few years. In fact, once Andrew Bynum is back healthy and Bryant is hitting on all cylinders, this team could be better than the 2009 or 2010 championship teams.