Sports Out West

Lakers squander 21-point lead, squeeze by Hawks in 105-103 win

Photo Credit: Lakers.com

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers squeezed out a 105-103 against the Atlanta Hawks on a pair of free throws by Pau Gasol on Sunday night. Gasol drew a blocking foul on Paul Millsap, and on the following play his block of Kyle Korver’s last second attempt to tie the game with six seconds left in the fourth quarter sealed the victory.

“I thought it definitely was a block (on Millsap),” Gasol said, who had his third double-double of the season with 16 points and 13 rebounds in 27 minutes on the floor. “I thought he didn’t have to come out of that circle and he slid right underneath me while I was in the air, so I though it was pretty good call. I mean obviously it was a critical moment, so they had to go and recheck it, but I was pretty comfortable and confident (about the block call).”

As for his defense on Korver, who up to that point was 8-of-9 from the field including going 6-for-6 on 3-pointers with a game-high 22 points, Gasol knew he had to defend the Hawks’ 3-point specialist very well to secure a win for his team.

“I didn’t know if they were going to go for a two or three,” Gasol said. “I knew that Korver was a hot hand and I had to make sure I covered him, but they used to run a play where Korver comes off and (Al) Horford dives to the basket to get a quick easy two. I was aware of both options, but once I saw Korver coming and the ball coming to him I just went for the block.”

Steve Nash was satisfied with Gasol’s play in the final seconds of game that helped earn the team’s second win of the season and pull to a .500 record at 2-2.

“It was a great little reaction by Pau [Gasol] to get out there and pressure him,” Nash said, who had 13 points, six assists and one steal in 29 minutes on the floor. “At that point in the game, everyone’s got to be on their toes, and he did a great job reacting.”

 It was a confounding situation that the Lakers placed themselves in as they built a double-digit lead in their season-high 33 points in the first quarter, where the team shot 58 percent from the field and 62 percent from long range (5-of-8) and in the third quarter maintained that lead by pushing to as much as a 21-point margin.

It seemed like it the Lakers had control of the game, but in the fourth quarter the Hawks took advantage of a porous 19 percent shooting for Los Angeles and responded by shooting 50 percent from the field that helped them eventually tie the game at 103 on Millsap’s layup with 35 seconds left in the game.

What head coach Mike D’Antoni saw in that poor fourth quarter performance was a team that has plenty of areas that need improvement.

“It’s a win and we got to move on, but we’ve got a lot of stuff we’ve got to cure, and tomorrow we’ll look at the stuff we need to talk about, and get better,” D’Antoni said. “For whatever reason, we go up fifteen, and we have great energy, then all of a sudden we start to get soft on defense, without a lot of energy. Then we start to get a little selfish, and we stopped thinking about moving the ball. Those two things we have to cure.”

Los Angeles had five players in double figures led by Xavier Henry’s 18 points, Gasol’s 16, Nash and Nick Young’s chipped in with 13 apiece, and Chris Kaman had 10.

The Lakers also received solid play from Wesley Johnson, who had 9 points and seven rebounds, and Jordan Hill, who had six points and five rebounds including a four offensive rebounds with a crucial one coming in the final seconds of the game.

In Sunday’s game, the Lakers had eight different players hit a 3-pointer, which also occurred in the team’s season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers. Prior to this season, it was a feat that had only been accomplished one time in the organization’s history, which was a in a Feb. 1, 2013 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Lakers will hit the road for their next three games against the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans, and return back to Staples Center on Sunday for a matchup against the Timberwolves.

 Henry Starts

In his pregame meeting with the media, D’Antoni stated that his decision to put Henry in the starting lineup was to provide the starting lineup with “a little jolt,” and the 22-year-0ld did so in his first start of the season and 19th of his career by scoring 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting including going 2-f0r-4 from 3-point range and 6-of-8 from the free throw line in 25 minutes played.

D’Antoni has been impressed by what Henry has shown in his short time with the Lakers.

“He’s a player,” D’Antoni said. “He was the 12th pick (in the 2010 NBA Draft). He had played great at Kansas. There were just a couple little things (tonight) like the one he got a charge and put his head down. But the good thing about him you’ll tell him that and next time he will get it or he’ll be aware of it. He wants to play well and if he wants to, and he is a smart kid, there is no reason why he can’t be good.”

Henry in three of the four games this season he has scored in double-digits. His effectiveness and ability to generate points when he is on the court has been an important piece to the team’s success early in the season.

With the Lakers’ next game on Tuesday on the road against the Mavericks, it will be interesting to see how Henry plays in his second start of the season.

Photo Credit: Lakers.com

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Bob Garcia IV

Bob Garcia is a sports journalist from Southern California. He was a reporter for the award-winning newspaper, The Daily Sundial, at California State University, Northridge. You can follow him on Twitter, @BGarcia90.