The Lakers played far from their best game of the season on Saturday. But it may end up being one of their most important.
L.A. showed true grit in this one, and playing at full strength for the first time since Oct. 31 with Steve Nash back in the starting lineup, came from 14 down in the fourth quarter to beat a more-than-solid Warriors team in overtime 118-115.
Nash appeared to be all the way back from a non-displaced leg fracture that kept him sidelined for the last 24 games. He played 41 minutes, and finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, to go along with 9 assists, three rebounds, and two steals.
While Nash looked more than competent in his return, the play of Kobe Bryant didn’t leave him with a lot of opportunity to run the offense and create the easy looks for his teammates that Lakers fans hoped would be a consistent benefit of the new-look offense.
That may come with time and trust, but on this night, Bryant trusted only himself, and with very mixed results.
Bryant took an incredible 41 shot attempts in under 44 minutes of action. He made just 16, good for a mark of 39 percent. We’ve become numb to these types of performances from Bryant, where he continues to shoot no matter the consequences. On a team with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, however, and even Nash, who is one of the game’s premier shooters and always does so while making a high percentage, it’s really unconscionable.
It appeared for the first three quarters as if this one would end up as so many have for the Lakers this season — a disappointing loss to a better team, while playing nowhere near the level of the collective talent the team has assembled. Bryant seemed hell-bent on shooting his team out of the game, Howard and Gasol were slow to rotate defensively, and there was no offensive rhythm to be found with Bryant forcing so many tough shots.
The Lakers’ fortunes changed in the fourth quarter, and the fact that Bryant was on the bench during the stretch that it happened was in no way a coincidence.
The Warriors led 90-76 with 10:35 remaining in the fourth, and that’s when a 10-0 run featuring key plays from Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks sparked the Lakers comeback. When Bryant returned, he immediately scored inside to further cut the lead to two, and it was back and forth the rest of the way in one of the most entertaining contests we’ve seen all season.
The Lakers had a chance to win in regulation, and with the game tied, Nash flipped the ball to Bryant and let him go at it alone in isolation. He forced a tough jumper on the wing that fell short, and we headed to the extra session.
Once in overtime, Bryant continued to gun away, but the shots he made came once he received the ball following the defense choosing to collapse on a Nash-Howard pick-and-roll. A variation of that play should be run virtually every single time down the floor when that trio is in the game, and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t be a staple in the future once the coaching staff gets more time to work things out with Nash back in action.
The Warriors are for real, but you knew that already. Jarrett Jack was a monster off the bench for them with 29 points and 11 assists, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson did their thing with 20 and 18 points respectively, but each shot a lower percentage than Bryant in the process.
The way this game began for the lakers wasn’t pretty, and was reminiscent of the poor play we’ve seen from this team too often this season. But the way it ended may prove to be something the team can build upon, and with Nash back in the lineup, you have to like their chances.