Tonight, Kobe scored 28 points on 19 shots with nine assists and six rebounds — and he was only the third best basketball player on the court tonight. When your best player has a fantastic game, and two guys from the other team have better nights, it just isn’t in the cards for you to win that basketball game. Dwyane Wade scored 15 of his 30 points in the all-telling fourth quarter. His 30 points came on 12-for-18 shooting with five assists and two rebounds. And then there was LeBron James, who, according to Alias Sports Bureau, James has joined Moses Malone and Adrian Dantley as the only three guys to have five straight games with at least 30 points and shoot at least 60 percent from the field. During Bron’s current five-game stretch, he’s shooting over 70% from the field.
There were lots of good things we saw in today’s game outside of Kobe’s brilliance. We can begin with Earl Clark, who was great scoring the ball, passing the ball, and hitting the glass. His box score numbers were outstanding (18 points, nine rebounds, one assist), but his propensity to do things that benefit the team that are outside of the box score are what continue to impress. What he’s been doing on the offensive end throughout this past month and a half haven’t gone without notice, but his range as a defender is what has really stood out to me on this trip. Tonight he saw time guarding Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony. He’s been asked to defend multiple positions with all of the injury issues — and while the results haven’t always been great (both Bron and Wade made light work of him), his willingness to be versatile on that end has been an asset for this team, and was for them again tonight for much of the first three quarters.
Both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard had good shooting performances (3-5 for Nash, 6-9 for Howard) and both recorded 15 points. When he got the ball, Howard was really good a moving fronting defenders up the line and creating space for entry passes. He was a little off to start the game, but got in a groove in the middle quarters finishing around the rim and hitting his free throws. The team collectively shot well from the field. 50 percent overall, 58 percent from three. They were clean with their ball security, at least through three quarters. Heading into the fourth, the Heat only had seven takeaways. However, the Lakers ended with 14 turnovers on the night — and the last seven took scoring opportunities away from a team that desperately needed them. I’ve detailed the Lakers turnovers in the fourth and took a look at what resulted from them below.
10:18 – Steve Blake and Dwight Howard run a 1-5 P&R. After slipping the screen, Howard receives a pass from Blake and is immediately double teamed. Instead of kicking out and reposting, Howard drives baseline, and spins back toward to middle. As Howard completes his spin, LeBron James reaches in and rips the ball out of Howards hands, begins to fly down the court and is fouled by Steve Blake. Dwyane Wade would hit a jump shot on the ensuing possession. 82-78, Heat.
9:52 – On the Lakers next possession, the set gets disrupted at the top of the key with Norris Cole harassing Steve Blake. Blake eventually gets the ball into Howard on the right block who tries to throw a pass along the baseline. It goes out of bounds. Heat ball. They don’t score, but it’s the 2nd Howard turnover in back-to-back possessions. 82-78, Heat.
7:58 – The Lakers go to their Horns set with Earl Clark and Dwight Howard at the elbows. Steve Blake brings the ball up and receives a screen from Howard. After setting the screen, Howard rolls while Blake swings the ball to Clark who has popped to the top of the perimeter. Howard initially has great position on Chris Bosh, who had been fronting Howard all game. Recognizing where the ball was going, Dwyane Wade comes over from the back side and disrupts the entry pass and recovers the loose ball. Wade misses a jump shot on the other end, but more importantly, the Lakers miss another opportunity to score.
6:15 – Kobe gets the ball on the left wing, isolated against Ray Allen. Kobe faces up, swings through and drives baseline. Chris Bosh helps off of Howard and keeps Kobe from getting a shot up. Kobe tries to feed Howard, but Dwyane Wade steps in, knocks the ball away and saves it before going out of bounds to Norris Cole. Cole pushes the ball up the floor with LeBron James trailing and only Steve Nash back (which has been a trend on this Grammy trip). Cole lobs the ball up for Bron who catches it and obliterates the rim. 91-84, Heat. Their largest lead of the game up until that point.
5:49 – Kobe is in a similar situation in which he’s isolated on the left wing with Ray Allen defending him. He spins and drives baseline and has to pass the ball when Norris Cole slides over to help. Kobe gets in the air to make the pass, which is knocked down by LeBron James. Ray Allen would miss a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, but it’s two turnovers by Kobe on consecutive possessions instead of shot attempts — which is devastating when you’re down by seven against a better team.
3:36 – Steve Nash misguided entry pass is picked off by LeBron James who takes it the length of the court and obliterates the rim. 97-88, Heat.
2:34 – Steve Nash brings the ball up, and hits Kobe on the left wing after Howard sets a pin down screen for him. Howard rolls immediately after the screen and is wide open. However, Kobe isn’t able to make the pass over the top with a hard double from both Wade (defending Kobe) and Bosh (defending Howard). Instead, Kobe tries to get the ball to him with a behind-the-back pass which was picked off by a lurking Shane Battier. Both Kobe and Nash had been forced into making behind-the-back passes out of double teams early in the 1st quarter. I tweeted that it would be something that could potentially come back to haunt them, it did. Battier would go on to miss a 3-point attempt on the other end, but again, it was more about the lost possession rather than the result of it.
Overall, it was one of the Lakers better played basketball games of the season. Heading into that fourth quarter, the Lakers had been going blow-for-blow with the defending champions. Unfortunately, to beat a team like the Miami Heat, you can’t just engage in a slugfest, you need a more calculated approach. The better team usually prevails in closely contested battles, and that’s what ended up happening today. The Lakers could have been better on the boards, they could have gotten to a few more loose balls, they could have rotated a bit better on the defensive end — but there was no underling flaw that the Lakers had last night outside not being as good as the Heat. The Grammy trip is over and will head back to Los Angeles for some home cooking and a home game against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.