Kobe’s Improbable Shot Cools the Heat
No matter how hard the Los Angeles Lakers tried to give the game away, Kobe Bryant would not let them do so. He banked in a fall-away, one-legged, three-pointer from the top of the key over the outstretched arms of Dwayne Wade to beat the buzzer and the Miami Heat, 108-107 at Staples Center. [picappgallerysingle id="7325178"]Kobe’s shot will be the talk to the town this weekend as the Lakers extended their winning streak to 8 games. On a night when the Lakers seemed a little star struck by D-Wade (26 points on 7-21 and only 12-18 from the line, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 blocked shots), they nonetheless maintained a slim lead throughout the contest. Both teams came out tight in the first period as both superstars had difficulty finding the range. Kobe picked up two fouls and had to sit while the Lakers managed to stay close, trailing only 23-21.
But the size of the Lakers began to bother the Heat in the 2nd period as Pau Gasol (22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) and Andrew Bynum (19 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists) attacked inside. Each time the Lakers pushed the lead and looked on the verge of breaking the game open, the Heat methodically came back each time. The duel everyone was hoping for failed to materialize as Wade managed only 2 field goals in the first half, although both were highlight material slam dunks. Kobe (33 points on 12-25, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) had a highlight of his own to close out the first half as he eluded multiple defenders and banked in an off-balance jumper as he sprawled to the floor as the horn sounded. The Lakers held a slim 51-48 lead at halftime.
The third heated up as Jermaine O’Neal (16 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) and Michael Beasley (12 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists) finally gave Miami some offensive support. And with Udonis Haslem (14 points, 6 rebounds) providing a punch off the bench, the Heat found themselves actually taking the lead back at 73-72 with 1:15 left in the period. The Heat used a high screen on Kobe to free D-Wade of his defender and allowed him to get a full head of steam as he attacked the basket. The Laker bigs allowed him to get to the rim and draw the foul. It was as if they were afraid to touch him and Wade clearly capitalized on the opportunity. The score was knotted at 76-76 to end the third quarter.
The Lakers marched back in front as Kobe converted a conventional three point play, then followed it up with one from behind the arc in Beasley’s face to give the Lakers a 6-point cushion. The Heat fought back with a trey by Mario Chalmers (12 points, 3 assists) and a layup by Wade, but Jordan Farmar (8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot) splashed a triple of his own from the top of the key. The Lakers went on a 9-1 run to extend their lead to 91-82 with 6:24 left in the game. But the Heat got an unexpected boost from the slimmed down, former Clipper, Suns, Knick, Grizzlies, and Timberwolves, Quentin Richardson (13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists). When O’Neal slammed home a dunk over Lamar Odom (4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist), he momentarily hung on the rim and appeared to inadvertently straddle and kick Odom. An irate Odom pushed O’Neal off of his back and the two got into a brief shoving match. Unfortunately for Odom, it was his second technical of the night and an automatic ejection.
As the Lakers appeared to play not to lose, the Heat chipped away at the lead and finally caught them at 93-93 after a Haslem layup. Bynum’s finger-roll made it 95-93, but Richardson’s three-pointer gave the Heat the lead at 96-95. The teams traded baskets, but the Heat played the stronger defense down the stretch, forcing the Lakers into low percentage shots and they soon commanded a 106-102 lead with just :09 seconds left in the contest. Fans began collecting their things to start for the exits, only to see Derek Fisher (11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) calmly drain a long triple from the elbow extended to cut the lead to 106-105. The Lakers were forced to foul and Wade was the recipient of a pair of free throws. He managed to make 1-2, but Miami’s poor shooting from the charity stripe tonight (27-42 for 64.3%) came back to bite them as Kobe nailed the incredible game winner.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Ron Artest struggled from the field tonight (9 points on 4-17 from the field, 7 rebounds, 5 assists), and seemed a step slow whenever he attempted to guard D-Wade. Wade grew stronger and stronger as each minute passed, willing himself to become better and better with each ensuing play. This road win was in Miami’s grasp only to see it slip through their fingertips. For the first time this season, the Lakers seemed unsure of themselves. Perhaps being at home for so long has made them complacent. Perhaps playing teams that are far inferior to them has caused them to get over-confident. Perhaps being challenged on their home floor had them second guessing themselves. Players were seen bickering amongst themselves on each blown assignment. Kobe got very little help on the high screen as he was left out to dry, blindsided each time by the heavy set pick. The off-ball defender and weak-side help were no where to be found as Wade took flight to the basket. Odom, Bynum and Gasol were guilty of allowing the Heat players to attack at will while the rest of the Lakers were incapable of switching off fast enough to help out Kobe. If it weren’t for his heroics, this would have gone down as a very distasteful loss.
Kobe’s improbable, impossible heave was in as soon as it left his hands. In fact, it was in as soon as Dwayne Wade missed his first free throw, giving the Lakers the light at the end of the tunnel that they desperately needed. We have all grown accustomed to Kobe saving the day and are only surprised when his shot does not find the bottom of the net. It is almost routine, yet we are hypnotized by his incredible ability to finish in dramatic fashion. Wade was already halfway down the tunnel leading back to the visitor’s locker room while Kobe’s shot was in midair. He too knew it was in as soon as it sailed over his outstretched hands. And while Kobe was being mobbed by his teammates at midcourt, soaking in the adulation and the moment with the raucous Staples Center crowd, a thought crept into my mind. I’ve witnessed several of Kobe’s phenomenal performances first hand and they all rank right at the top of all time. I marveled at the grace and effortless performances of Michael Jordan. I swooned at the soaring athleticism of Julius Erving. I was left in awe of the precision, passion and will of Magic Johnson. And I was left speechless with the uncanny skill and smarts of Larry Bird. But I have never seen all of these traits rolled into one as I have with Kobe Bryant. He’s definitely one-of-a-kind, one for the ages, and one to cherish while we have him. Simply said, MVP.