Hours before the game started, Kobe Bryant announced he would not play beyond this season. We’ll get to that another time, but that was the backdrop to this game. The farewell tour would begin in earnest at home, two days before the team will play in Kobe’s hometown of Philly.
The crowd was ready, but the players were not. Both teams started out poorly, missing countless shots they would normally make. By the end of the 1st period, only the Pacers would have found their stride, taking a 16 point lead to the break that they would never relinquish. As I have written several times before, a game can just as easily be lost in the first 12 minutes as it can in the last 5 and tonight was a prime example of that. The Lakers would miss their first 11 shots and that was that.
Only, it wasn’t. Kinda. Sorta.
After that horrendous start, the Lakers started to chip away. They would win the 2nd quarter by 3 to cut the halftime deficit to 13. And while they would lose the 3rd period 32-30, they had clearly found their stride and started to figure out ways to get buckets. Most of that was on the back of Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson.
Young would score all of his team high 22 points in the 2nd half, hitting 8 of his 14 field goals in the game’s final 24 minutes. It started like most Young eruptions do, with the game out of hand and with him firing an off-balance three which fell. Then came another. And other. AND ANOTHER. All told, he’d can 6 three pointers in the second half and it was his shooting exhibition which served as the ballast for the team’s comeback.
But it was Clarkson’s steady and strong play which was the balance to Young’s outburst. Clarkson scored 10 of his 20 points in the second half, but, more importantly, also dished out all of his team high 6 assists. Clarkson probed off the pick and roll, made some smart reads when turning the corner, and played a controlled and heady half. He was the 2nd best player on the floor this game (Indiana’s Paul George was a monster), and showed again why so many of us think his future is so bright.
The 4th quarter, then, brought us a game no one would have expected after the first 12 minutes. The Lakers fought hard to rally, playing some good defense, better offense, and found a way to control the game. With a couple of minutes left they gave it one last run, with a Ron three pointer cutting into the deficit which then set up one more Kobe moment to remember:
That shot would bring the Lakers within a single point. It would be as close as they got. After the Pacers hit two free throws, Kobe would take a similar shot and airball it. The drama was over. The Lakers would lose.
Beyond this, there isn’t much to say. On the day Kobe announced he would retire at season’s end, the Lakers lost. This made it very much like nearly every other night this season. I’d say Kobe deserves better, but deserve has nothing to do with it. This team is not constructed well, isn’t coached well. Their record reflects that.
It was nice to forget all of that for a moment, though. Some might tell you they can’t wait until they no longer have the distraction. I’ll tell you I wish we all could be distracted a bit more this season.