Last night at Staples Center a strange thing happened. The Los Angeles Lakers won. No, better yet, the Lakers beat the odds, pulled one out of their hat, stared defeat in the eye and didn’t blink. What should have been their eleventh defeat instead became their league leading 45th win. In a topsy-turvy game that saw both teams struggling in the first half ended with the Lakers slightly ahead of the New Orleans Hornets at 45-41. The Lakers emerged from their locker room at the start of the second half clearly as the aggressor and built up a 16 point lead, ending the third quarter comfortably ahead 79-66. But as they have been prone to in the past, the Lakers appeared to get bored with their opponent and the lead quickly evaporated. Chris Paul and his Hornets found themselves in the driver’s seat for much of the 4th quarter as they chipped away and finally took over the game at 95-93 with 3:21 to play. The Hornets maintained their edge and appeared headed for a three point victory with the ball in their possession with :20 seconds to play when mysteriously, instead of passing the ball out to kill the clock on a 3-on-1 fast break, Chris Paul decided to drive the lane, fake the pass, then attempt to score on a layup. The other thing wrong with his decision, was Derek Fisher had established position and took the offensive charge. Ball back to the Lakers down by three, time out called by Phil Jackson. The out-of-bounds play was masterfully set up in the huddle. The ball was taken by Pau Gasol in the high post, Kobe brushed his man off a Fisher screen and ran off of Gasol and headed to the perimeter for the game winner. Chris Paul, knowing first hand of the late game heroics his fellow Olympics Gold Medalist teammate Kobe Bryant was capable of, quickly darted out for the double team coverage. Unfortunately for Paul and the Hornets, this left Derek Fisher uncontested at the top of the key. Pau Gasol saw the same opening and deftly passed the ball out to his teammate for his sixth assist of the night as Fish cleanly drained the trey. After a wild, off balance 22-foot Paul attempt with .09 seconds left to play caromed off the rim, Pau Gasol grabbed the defensive rebound as time expired. 98-98 after regulation, advantage and momentum to the Lakers. The disappointment of not closing out the Lakers in regulation, was compounded as Chris Paul fouled out in overtime after tangling up with Kobe on an ill-advised double team far outside of the arc. The Lakers, with Kobe clearly in charge, methodically pulled away for a final score of 115-111. Kobe led all scorers with 39 points on another off-shooting night, followed by Pau Gasol with 20 and 12 rebounds, Lamar Odom with 12 and 17 boards, and surprise-surprise, Luke Walton with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. But no one played a larger role than Derek Fisher, who finished with 14 points, played exemplary defense and provided us with his game saving three pointer.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Kobe Bryant has provided Lakers fans with seemingly thousands of last second heroics. The degree of difficulty in which he undertakes his shot attempts combined with multiple defenders flailing in his face, turn seemingly ridiculous three point heaves or off balance prayers into game winning highlights on every sports newscast. His ability to take, and make big shots as time dwindles off the shot clock is simply put, incredible. But on those rare occasions when Kobe is triple teamed, or tripped up, or finds the ball mysteriously out of his hands at the end of the shot clock, lesser known Lakers gunslingers have come up just as big and have connected on shots that have similarly altered the course of a game or propelled them to victory. I salute them for their nerves of steel, their cold-blooded absoluteness and their forever, game altering shots that thrive forever in Lakersdom. Robert Horry and his numerous game winning trifectas, his wrist flicked down in perfect follow-through and in perfect pose for the photographers. No one will ever forget his tipped-out triple at the top of key that culminated an improbable Lakers comeback in the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the prematurely celebratory Sacramento Kings. Brian Shaw, the DH, or designated-hitter, whom casually trotted off the Lakers bench throughout the 3-peat years and quickly dispelled teams with his flurry of three point daggers that simultaneously stomped on the opposition’s windpipes and their brief momentum. Michael Cooper as he torched the Celtics in 1987 and then again dismantling the Detroit Pistons in 1988 to help secure the Los Angeles Lakers as the first repeat NBA champions in over 20 seasons. Sam Perkins calm, cool and collected triple at the end of Game One of the ’91 Finals, when we still thought we would win the series in the post-Kareem, Mike Dunleavy-led Lakers era against Michael Jordan and the Phil Jackson-led Chicago Bulls at the start of their era. And now, Derek Fisher, for his countless heavenly heaves that have rippled the nets and ripped out the hearts and hopes of opponents, none greater than his .04 second shot against Manu Ginobili to help propel the Lakers past the San Antonio Spurs in the 2004 Western Conference Finals and catapult them back into the Finals.