Kobe leads Lakers to thrilling overtime win over Raptors with a series of amazing shots

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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant doesn’t know where the energy comes from, or even how he’s able to find the physical strength to do what he does late in games, and at this late stage of his career as he plays into his 17th season.

But as long as it keeps coming, so will the Lakers.

Behind a series of incredibly difficult shots from Bryant late in regulation and in the overtime session, the Lakers completed their second improbable comeback in as many games, this time downing the Raptors 118-116 in as thrilling a contest as we’ve seen this season.

“I’m glad I’m on this side instead of the other side,” Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni said after his team, which trailed by as many as 15 points, came from 11 down in the fourth quarter to come away with the overtime victory.

For most of the night, the Lakers played abysmal defense, missing rotations seemingly every trip down the floor. It had nothing to do with Dwight Howard, who seems to be more active as each game goes by, perhaps beginning to get healthier as the season wears on. Howard finished with 13 rebounds and five blocked shots, but too many times his teammates weren’t in the right positions and didn’t rotate over in help situations.

The Raptors put 37 points on the board by the end of the first quarter, and were shooting 70 percent from the field as a team well into the second. The Lakers closed the gap by halftime, only to see it quickly shoot back up to double digits midway through the third.

That’s when Bryant began to get going.

He hit two three-pointers on consecutive possessions — the kind where he brings the ball up, lines up his defender, then fires right over him and drills the long shot, no matter how closely he’s being guarded.

The next trip down, Bryant tried to make it three straight. The shot rimmed out, but Bryant didn’t give up on the play, and got the steal of the rebound before resetting and driving the lane to throw down an emphatic two-handed slam.

The play ultimately didn’t do much to put a dent in Toronto’s lead, but Bryant’s grit provided a spark that energized his teammates moving forward. As the Lakers fought to chisel away at a Raptors’ fourth quarter lead of 11 points, Bryant’s incredible heroics down the stretch were enough to carry his team to the finish line.

Bryant connected on three three-pointers in the game’s final two minutes, with each one being more difficult than the last. The first came as the shot clock expired, and after a pump fake on defender Alan Anderson didn’t really work, but Bryant raised up from a flat-footed stance and got it to go nonetheless.

The next came off an inbounds play, which was a catch-and-shoot from the corner — except Bryant was moving away from the basket to come get the pass, and he immediately elevated and twisted to hit the shot once he received it.

That cut the Toronto lead to just one with 29 seconds left, but Kyle Lowry hit two free throws on the ensuing possession to push the lead back to three.

The next trip down, the Lakers were inbounding on their end of the floor with 8.4 seconds remaining. Bryant zig-zagged through defenders to free himself up to catch the pass, then pump-faked one defender, before shooting over a second to hit the incredibly difficult shot.

“I knew he was going to be gung ho to block the shot because he blocked one of my drives,” Bryant said afterward. “So I knew he was going to leave his feet. A lot of times that happens when it’s a late clock because the defenders don’t know how much time is really left, especially a young player. I just had to pump fake him, and got a clean look at it.”

Bryant had done enough by then, but he wasn’t finished. He had one spectacular play left, and it turned out to be the difference.

With 10 seconds left in overtime and the game tied at 115, Bryant went right around two defenders and right down the middle of the lane for the game-winning two-handed slam.

Bryant finished with 41 points and 12 assists, and almost had a triple-double, but not the kind players strive for; he finished with nine turnovers, though eight of those came in the first three quarters.

The shots Bryant made were absolutely stunning, and the dunk to cap off the effort was downright silly.

“His shots at the end of the game, that’s ridiculous,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think there’s anybody on the planet that can do that. And he’s done it constantly for 17 years.”

Bryant seemed almost in as much disbelief as the rest of us when asked to describe how he has the energy to continue to perform like this, and honestly seemed to have no idea how much longer it will continue.

“Hell if I know,” he said, when asked how much longer he can keep doing this. “I know that I have a determination that I don’t think anybody that I line up against [has]. On any given night, I don’t think that they’re going to be able to out-will me. I just refuse to believe that.”

Bryant continues to make believers out of all of us.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.

Bulls Fred Hoiberg complains Isaiah Thomas gets away with palming. Thomas shrugs.

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The Boston Celtics have evened their series with Chicago Bulls, and more than that seem to have been able to take the Bulls best punch and now are responding.

At the heart of that is Boston All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points on Sunday. He was attacking and getting into the heart of the Bulls defense all night, telling Michael Carter-Williams “you can’t guard me” so many times Thomas got a technical. Thing is, Thomas was right. No Bull has been able to guard Thomas the past two games.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the reason for that is the officials let him get away with a palming the ball when dribbling. Via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com (video above).

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”

I liked the follow-up comment from the reporter (not on the video), which was essentially “the league doesn’t call that on anyone, so that’s your complaint?” Thomas doesn’t get away with palming any more than any other ball handler in the league. If you want to define the rule by a 1950s standard then yes, he does carry, but so does pretty much every Bulls’ ball handler. So does 3/4 of the league by that measure.

Fortunately, Hoiberg never had to coach against Allen Iverson or he might have completely lost it watching him dribble.

This came off as a desperation ploy by Hoiberg. Or it was the worst attempt ever at a “take that for data” rant ever.

Thomas, for his part, basically shrugged when told about it.

When told about Hoiberg’s comments, Thomas said, “That’s not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, I don’t know what to say to that.”

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.