Here is what you need to know about what Thursday night meant to the Lakers, and why Kobe Bryant has pushed his teams to two consecutive titles.
Thirty minutes after the Heat defeated the Lakers 94-88 in a game where Kobe’s shot was off after the first quarter (8-21 overall after starting 4-4) and his shot selection down the stretch was terrible, he was back on the court and started shooting. In an empty AmericanAirlines Arena after a tough game Kobe was putting himself through a workout and trying to fix his jumper. He was out there for an extended period just trying to fix what went wrong.
In the end, both the Lakers and the Heat may be better because of what happened Thursday night.
For the Heat, it was a confidence boost they needed and a reminder they can play with the big boys. This game was tied 88-88, but after a week of hearing how they couldn’t do this it was Wade and the Heat that were clutch.
First Wade stripped Kobe of the ball and was able to get it ahead to LeBron James on a run-out for a breakaway dunk. Then after a ridiculously rushed fade-away three from Kobe (with 23 seconds on the shot clock off an inbound play) Wade came down and the Heat executed a beautiful play. They used Zydrunas Ilgausksas and his threat of a 15-foot jumper to draw Bynum away from the basket. Then Wade went away from a LeBron James screen, a move that totally threw Kobe (guarding Wade). Wade blew past Kobe and was in the lane before help could arrive. Wade laid it in and the Heat were up four.
Let’s be clear — reading too much into one regular season game is a mistake, but the Heat have plenty of things to build off of from this win.
Quality end of game execution is a place to start. They went out and made better decisions and shots in crunch time than the defending NBA champions.
Then there is the play of Chris Bosh, who attacked the rim all night. He did a great job sliding to the rim when his man (Pau Gasol) came over to help. The result was passes to him, offensive rebounds and a good night. Bosh was aggressive and took control of the ball. Early on, when Wade and James struggled it was Bosh that kept the Heat in this game.
For the Lakers, the lessons are ones they know, but bad habits that they fall back on anyway. In the second half they went away from Gasol and working their offense inside-out completely. And Bynum and Gasol got utterly and totally outworked on the glass by some pretty pedestrian rebounders. Bynum had one rebound in the first half (he improved in the second half and finished with 12). Los Angeles lost focus on its strengths and at the end had Kobe launching desperation threes early in the shot clock.
We learned nothing new about the Lakers, we were simply reminded that they can still fall prey to bad habits. We learned nothing about the Heat — unless you really thought this recent slide meant they were not contenders. They are. They have flaws but they also have great talent at three spots on the floor that can make up for any deficiency. We were reminded that Wade knows how to play in the clutch.
That is something the Heat can build off of tomorrow. Kobe is trying to build off his mistakes right now.