Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol

Anatomy of a meltdown — it wasn’t Steve Blake, Lakers blew game before that

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The Lakers were up 7 points with 2 minutes to go. And lost.

And by lost, I mean lost any real chance at the series. Do you really think the Lakers can win four of the next five games? The Thunder are the better team, the Lakers could not afford to give away a game, they could not afford any mental lapses.

But “mental lapse” pretty much defines the Lakers final two minutes. However, one of those mistakes was not Metta World Peace’s pass to Steve Blake for an open three with the game on the line. That was smart basketball. The mistakes were a whole host of decisions in the minutes before that — including a number of poor choices by Kobe Bryant. That final play itself was a desperation play design with 5.9 seconds left which would not have led to a better shot than the one Blake took.

It was a lot of bad choices. Andrew Bynum summed it up best, via Lakers reporter Mike Trudell.

“Man that was crazy. We’re better than Santa Claus, we like giving out gifts. We give out games, contracts and rings.”

This used to be how the Lakers would win games — staging improbable comebacks with a combination of luck, brains and good shot making. Now that’s the Thunder.

Lakers fans and media seem to be focusing on the final play, when down 1 with 5.7 seconds left Blake took an open corner three rather than the team forcing the ball to Kobe with a pass over the top of an athletic defense.

But that’s not where they lost it. That’s just where they didn’t hang on.

The Lakers lost it when they shot 25 percent in the fourth quarter overall and scored just 12 points. They lost it by straying from going to Bynum in the last couple minutes. The Lakers lost it with turnovers. They lost it with bad shots. The Lakers lost it in the minutes leading up to Blake’s shot, not on the shot itself.

Fans saying Kobe didn’t get the chance to make the heroic final shot miss the point that the Lakers would not have needed to if Kobe had played better in the couple minutes prior to that. Kobe made one terrible pass for a turnover to Durant that led to a dunk. He had another pass — a poorly timed one by Blake — go off his hands. Kobe rushed and airballed a three pointer with six seconds left on the shot clock after a play became scrambled, when he had time to get a better look.

Then there was the Lakers and Kobe’s biggest strategic mistake. Kevin Durant hit what would be the game winner with 18.6 seconds left on the clock. The Lakers called a timeout and what should have been discussed in that huddle was that the Thunder had a foul to give.

Instead, the Lakers came out and (after another timeout) threw the ball to Kobe who dribbled it out and made his isolation move with 7 seconds left and then got fouled by Thabo Sefolosha, stopping the clock with 5.7.

Kobe had to go earlier. Draw that foul earlier. Or, get a better shot earlier with the ball in his hands. It is a simple truth — you would rather have the lead and defend a last second shot than have to make one against pressure defense. The Lakers had Kobe dribbling the ball out for nearly 11 seconds rather than using that time for a play that could have gotten them a better look. So what if they had to defend a Durant hero ball shot after that? It’s always better to have the lead. It’s always better to have to defend a last shot.

So let’s talk about that final play — the Lakers have run it before and it’s not pretty. (Follow that link to see it fail against New Orleans.) The play has Kobe coming off a flare screen and going to the corner of the court opposite where Metta World Peace was inbounding to catch a risky pass over the top of the defense. Mike Brown said after the game Kobe was open, but he was not yet. That pass would have been dangerous at best.

Even when it goes well this play calls for a 30-foot pass over the top of an athletic defense so that Kobe can take a 20+ foot shot fading away from the basket. That’s the play that’s going to win you a game?

The look that Blake got was a good one — an open shot with his feet set that is better than some 25-foot off-balance Kobe leaner. Yes, Blake was cold, but Kobe wasn’t exactly hot in the final minutes. Blake has to take that, and we can’t blame World Peace for making that pass, he made the right basketball play. The shot just didn’t fall.

We can discuss how there seemed to be no thought to getting either of the Lakers good passing 7-footers the ball in that spot. But the final shot was a good look.

The Lakers came in to Thursday night with a better defensive plan, they ground down the pace, they hedged on Durant’s curls and forced the issue with both him and Russell Westbrook. The Thunders stars and scoring machines were passing a lot. Mike Brown made some good moves.

But he can’t escape some blame for those final minutes. Neither can Kobe. Neither can any of the Lakers players. This was a team loss in the final two minutes.

Those minutes cost them any real shot at the series.

Knicks allow John Wall to grab clutch rebound, score on break to ice game (VIDEO)

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The New York Knicks couldn’t get out of their own way on Thursday night, even with a historic performance from Carmelo Anthony. With the Washington Wizards in town, it was John Wall‘s finishing ability that pushed the Wiz over New York, 113-110.

The final 45 seconds were hectic, as Wall took the lead for Washington with just 32 seconds left after drawing a foul on Carmelo.

Down by 1, Anthony then missed a jumper with 18 seconds left and the Knicks allowed Wall to do this:

Wall would go on to steal the final possession from the Knicks, and the Wizards left MSG with a win.

Gregg Popovich gets ejected, standing O after screaming “You’re a terrible referee” (VIDEO)

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Gregg Popovich can be a fiesty dude, and sometimes he just wants to get his team pumped up. After news that Pau Gasol was going to be absent from the San Antonio Spurs’ lineup against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, perhaps this was his way of doing that?

Late in the second quarter in Denver, Popovich was seen arguing with a baseline official as play continued on. Pop was hit with an initial tech, and as the officiating crew walked away he blasted ’em with the best dad insult I’ve heard in a long time.

“You’re a terrible referee!”

GOT ‘EM:

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Mudiay was more than happy to assist with the second technical and ejection portion of Popovich’s tirade.

Long Live Pop.

Watch Kristaps Porzingis come out of nowhere on this putback dunk (VIDEO)

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Kristaps Porzingis is “The Unicorn” perhaps in part because of his high basketball awareness on the offensive end of the floor. On Thursday night against the Washington Wizards, the New York Knicks big man had an incredible putback dunk that surprised even his teammates.

Thanks to a missed Courtney Lee 3-pointer, Porzingis was able to fly in from beyond the arc to slam home two points.

Via Twitter:

Yeah, that’s crazy.

There’s putback dunks and then there’s flying in from beyond the 3-point line like this one. Wild.

Spurs big man Pau Gasol fractures finger during warmups, out indefinitely

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The San Antonio Spurs will have to make do without PF/C for a while Pau Gasol thanks to a recent fracture in his left ring finger.

That’s according to a press release from the team, who said Gasol fractured his fourth metacarpal — the bone that connects the ring finger down to the carpal bones in the wrist area — during warmups before a game against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.

No word yet from the team on recovery time, but estimates given similar recent NBA player injuries suggest anywhere from 4-8 weeks.

Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward missed the first month of the season after fracturing his finger in early October. Cleveland Cavaliers PG Kyrie Irving missed around a month in 2012 with a similar injury.

Here’s hoping Gasol can make it back to the court quickly for the Spurs.