This win simply feels better than others. As I mentioned in the game preview, a home/road back to back in an arena that the Lakers have traditionally struggled in is a tough task and the fact that the Lakers were able to leave the Rose Garden with a 106-101 victory as Laker fans chanted MVP for Kobe Bryant (without boos drowning them out) is something I’ll remember for some time. Being down 10 points with 5:48 to go and 7 with only 1:44 left made this game seem completely out of reach, but the Lakers still pulled it out. Again, this one will stick with me.
But it’s not just the circumstances that I’ll remember, I’ll also remember how big Ron Artest came up. Playing with a freedom and decisiveness that’s been lacking for too many games this year, Ron was simply fantastic. When the other Lakers couldn’t make a shot, Artest carried his mates with made jumpers and attacking moves to the rim. Every jumper seemed to be taken in rhythm and even when he sidestepped or escape dribbled to get off his jumper he was was able to set his feet and was on balance. He’d end the night with 24 points on only 13 shots (including 5-6 on three pointers) and repeatedly came up big when the Lakers needed him, with his most crucial make coming on a three pointer with under two minutes that cut the Blazers’ lead to 4 and allowed the Lakers to close with a flurry that forced overtime.
But to even get to overtime, the Lakers needed more than just an on fire Artest. They needed Kobe and Pau as well. And they sure did deliver down the stretch. After starting game poorly and shooting only 5-16 in the first half, Kobe came through in the 2nd half and especially delivered in the clutch with the game on the line. After Ron’s aforementioned shot got the Lakers to within 4 points, Kobe hit two jumpers that only he can seem to conjure when he faded along the baseline on his first make and then hit another fadeaway at the FT line from a stationary position that he makes look so much easier than it actually is. In overtime Kobe also made some key plays on and off the ball, scoring well but also forcing two turnovers that put the Blazers behind the 8 ball where they couldn’t recover. All in all, even with the lows early in the game, this was a brilliant game from Kobe as he finished with 37 points, making 9 of his last 15 shots, earning 7 trips to the FT line while also grabbing 9 boards and dishing out 6 assists.
As for Gasol, it seemed like he’d be overshadowed by his PF counterpart as LaMarcus Aldridge was playing phenomenal for most of the game and showing everyone that he too deserved to be an all-star. LMA took Pau to the left block play after play and knocked down jumpers, hit runners when driving to his right, and lost Pau on more than one occasion to get open for easy shots right at the rim. Without LaMarcus playing as well as he was, I think it’s safe to say that the Blazers wouldn’t have been in this game. But despite Aldridge’s strong play, Pau never folded and continued to fight. So even with LaMarcus putting up 29 points on 12-18 shooting, Gasol just kept plugging away and finally found his groove late in the game as he started to figure out how to attack LMA on both ends. Defensively that meant Pau pushing Aldridge further from the hoop and sitting on his right hand to force him to either shoot a contested jumper or make the pass back out to reset the offense. And when Pau got the ball on the other end, he started to use counters to the moves that he had used with some effectiveness all night. After driving hard to his right hand or shooting his jumper as his main offensive weapons for the first 3 quarters, Pau used drop steps and step throughs after those same drives in the final frame to get the Lakers the buckets they needed.
Even though the Lakers were carried by these three guys, this win is more a testament to the team’s persistence and ability to overcome dire circumstances to still pull out a win. By never folding or finding an excuse to accept a moral victory the Lakers showed that championship mettle that many have questioned they possess this season. All the calls didn’t go their way and there were several frustrating moments throughout the entire contest but in the end the Lakers used that energy to positively effect change and motivate themselves to pull through together. I’m cautiously optimistic that this win will serve as the springboard that we’ve all been waiting for this year. And while I feel like I’ve said that several times this year, this game just feels different; this was a game the Lakers would have lost earlier this year but tonight they won on grit and guts. More like this for the remaining games this year, please.