This. Game. Was. HILARIOUS.
Before I dive head-first into this recap, let's go over a few things:
- The Lakers have Kobe Bryant
- The Lakers have Dwight Howard
- The Lakers have Pau Gasol
- The shot below 40% from the field
- They played a team that started Byron Mullens
- THEY HAVE KOBE BRYANT, DWIGHT HOWARD AND PAU GASOL
This game was fantastic. Any time you have a team coming off the worst season in NBA history to challenge a team with multiple Hall of Famers down to the last possession will be wonderfully entertaining. This was no exception.
The Bobcats were down just a single point with about 21 seconds remaining in regulation. Yes, facing the team that starts Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and soon, Steve Nash, the Bobcats took them to their limits. Not only that, the Bobcats had taken this assembling of basketball superstars into the dangerous world of an 18-point deficit in the third quarter. The lead swapped hands a few times, seemingly getting out of hand for both teams at different times. but in the last seconds, it had pretty much become anyone's game.
Kemba Walker walked the ball past halfcourt. Gerald Henderson and Byron Mullens set a double-screen at the three-point line, switching Kemba onto Bryant.
The scene was set.
Kemba drove left on Bryant, who couldn't stay in front of Walker -- not that he needed to try. Dwight Howard was watching from the paint, ready to close on the coming drive. Walker made a bold attempt and launched the layup, but Howard was already there and eagerly richoeted his shot against the glass. Gerald Henderson read the play beautifully, closed and grabbed the easy offensive rebound with no opposition. Henderson caught it in stride and practically had an open layup with seven seconds left.
Alas, he missed, the ball rolling out of gravity's grasp on the rim as it fell to the right side of the basket. Mayhem ensued - Byron Mullens crashed the circle and the ball flew out of his hands as he fought for it with Bryant. The ball bounced backwards, tipped my more players until it found Ben Gordon. But by that time, only a second remained. Gordon heaved the only shot he or anyone could muster from his position. The frantic three-pointer had little hope and the desperate shot fell upon deaf ears. The Lakers survived at home, 101-100.
It was a gut-wrenching end to a gut-wrenching game. The first quarter was fun, but clearly unsustainable. Byron Mullens made long contested jumpers and Gerald Henderson drained turnaround jumpers from the post. There was little ball movement or flow to the Bobcats offense, but they capitalized when they could. The Lakers kept it close early despite some turnovers on the encouragingly strong play of Pau Gasol, who created some good interior passing and rebounding early on.
The second quarter brought Bobcats fans back down to Earth quickly. The Lakers stretched their two-point lead after the first quarter to 11 points. Metta World Peace, coming off the bench, instilled some life to L.A., creating turnovers and scoring a bit. But that just served as the point of ignition for the Bobcats. Despite seeming to live solely off of an opportunist offense in the first quarter, the second quarter was much more encouraging. They pushed the ball more in transition and shot better with more ball movement. Their assists as a team in the second quarter doubled their first quarter total. Further, the Bobcats rebounded the ball better than in the first quarter. At the break, the Bobcats led 58-53 and all seemed well.
However, no lead is safe, as Bobcats fans know all too well, having seen the team give up double-digit advantages in mere minutes.
The Lakers came out swinging, too. OK, I lied. They came out swinging, but they pulled their punches, landing just a few. The Bobcats, rather, picked up where they left off and scored on each of their first six possessions of the half. The lead eventually ballooned to 18 points on the shoulders of Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions getting the ball inside while the team also held the Lakers to a shocking 25 percent FG% in the quarter. Much of the Bobcats' strengths in this quarter could be attributed to the Lakers' horrific perimeter defense. The Bobcats have poor rotations, but the Lakers simply don't defend the perimeter intelligently. They play ballhandlers way too close, giving them the space to drive, and give shooters space to shoot. It's a hilarious conundrum. Yet despite the Bobcats more than doubling the Lakers' FG% with 58 percent shooting, the Bobcats outscored Los Angeles only by two in the period. A lot of this was due to the Lakers' advantage at the free throw line, where they had 14 FGA to the Bobcats' four in the quarter. The 18-point lead shriveled to seven and hope re-emerged in the hearts of Lakers fans who had bravely stuck with their team of unsung heroes to see if they could complete the comeback against the mighty Charlotte Bobcats.
The answer was "Yes."
Los Angeles caught up with Charlotte with about 10:17 left in the fourth and climbed to a four-point lead shortly afterwards, completing a 16-0 run. The Bobcats wasted more than a handful of possessions, turning the ball over on shot clock violations, bad passes and poor ballhandling. It was just a complete mishmash of mistake-prone basketball and the Lakers took it as an open invitation to play competent offensive basketball.
Thankfully, Charlotte woke up before the Lakers completely ran away with it. Walker and Sessions played big roles in making sure the Bobcats were within striking distance, but ultimately Charlotte fell.
Odds and Ends
- Who is this new Gerald Henderson with a three-point shot and where did he come from? Henderson has shot 8-for-13 from behind the arc since returning from injury.
- Ben Gordon is just ... oof. He played more like Ben Swanson for much of tonight. Gordon is most effective as a scorer with him NOT handling the basketball. His handle is sloppy, he doesn't pass well and he gets pressured easily. Off screens and spotting up are much better situations for him.
- Byron Mullens has long been a source of frustration, elation and discussion for Bobcats fans. This game will do nothing to silence any side. Mullens' shooting was at times the only source of the Bobcats' offensive prowess, and at others, the epitome of their offensive weaknesses. His rebounding fervor also played a strong role in keeping possessions alive and stopping those of the Lakers. What I think we can all agree upon is that it was the essence of the new-era Byron Mullens: more focus on facets of the game outside of shooting, yet he still has an undying confidence in his own jump shot.
Should I repeat that? This Charlotte Bobcats team that last year was arguably the worst team of all-time took a Los Angeles Lakers that employs Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard to the final possession before falling by a single point.
This was a solid game for Bobcats fans: entertaining, encouraging and enticing towards the future. It was slightly disheartening to see another such late collapse, but to see a storied franchise like the Lakers with such a highly-praised roster rain down confetti for their sub-.500 team beating a team on an 11-game losing streak by a single point at home just made it somehow even more priceless. I can't even imagine how amazing this could have been if the Bobcats won.