LOS ANGELES — In the two teams’ second meeting of the season, it was the Los Angeles Lakers edging out the Indiana Pacers 88-87 on a late jumper by Kobe Bryant with 12.4 seconds left.
The Lakers had entered the fourth quarter with a six-point deficit, but rallied back to tie the game at 74 with 7:19 left in the game on a two-handed reverse layup by Nick Young.
The teams continued to battle back and forth through the final stretch of the fourth quarter. Los Angeles grabbed a 84-82 lead after a step-back 3-pointer by Bryant with two minutes left. Solomon Hill answered back with one of his own. Bryant responded with a pair of free throws that gave his team a 87-86 lead.
Indiana once again had an answer with a buzzer-beating jumper by Donald Sloan that gave his team a one-point lead with 1:01 left. The teams then traded empty possessions. Bryant responded with a four-foot floater in the lane over Roy Hibbert with 12.4 seconds left to give the Lakers a 88-87 advantage that proved to be the game winner.
“We drew up two plays,” Scott said. “I told Kobe to make a decision based on how they play you, and he was able to get to the basket. One guy was really playing him, and we set the screen. The big fella (Hibbert) was backing up and he was in no-man’s land. It was kind of easy to take to him one way or another. “
On the ensuing possession, Hibbert missed a long jumper with time expiring to seal his team’s fate.
The Lakers jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead in the first quarter, and Bryant had nine of the team’s first 15 points. However, the Pacers responded with a 26-6 run that included closing the quarter on 14 unanswered points with C.J. Miles scoring 11 of them on 4-of-6 shooting with three 3-pointers.
Los Angeles trimmed the deficit in the second quarter due largely to Young’s 12 points in the period, which included a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in transition after a steal to make the score 48-41 at halftime.
The teams traded baskets in the third quarter with the Pacers’ lead growing to as much as 13 points. Los Angeles closed the quarter on a 7-1 run.
Carlos Boozer and Hibbert got into a tussle in the fourth quarter after Boozer shoved Hibbert to the ground. Both players had to be separated by their teammates. Boozer was hit with a flagrant-1 foul, and Hibbert was given a technical foul.
The Lakers honored longtime ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who died at the age of 49 on Sunday of cancer, with a moment of silence.
“The sports world lost a legend,” Bryant said. “I certainly grew up wanting to be on Sportscenter just to have him comment on a highlight or two of mine.”
Here are five things we learned about the Lakers:
Mamba has his legs
The 36-year-old continued his all-around play on Sunday with 20 points, six assists, and six rebounds in 32 minutes played.
Bryant got going early in the game with nine of the team’s first 15 points. He scored his points in a variety of ways that included a 3-pointer, a tear-drop floater, and an impressive cut to the basket for a dunk after a pass from Boozer.
In the second quarter, the 36-year-old was a non-factor offensively as he missed his one shot in the period, but did dish out two assists and grabbed a rebound. He also was quiet in the third, but showed up when it mattered most in crunch time in the fourth quarter.
He scored his nine points in the final 2:32 of the period. He hit a step-back 3-pointer to give Los Angeles a 84-82 lead with two minutes left. Bryant followed it up with a pair of free throws, and hit the game-winning shot with 12.4 seconds left on a four-foot floater in the lane over Hibbert.
Bryant appeared more fresh and able-bodied down the stretch of the game, which to Scott was a sign of him being more healthy and energized.
“We’re just trying to keep him healthy, keep him around that 32-minute mark,” Scott said. “I love the fact that it seems like he has more energy. He obviously has his legs, he’s been well-rested and if he has to, he’s able to carry us in the fourth quarter.”
With the fact that he is sitting out Monday’s tilt against the Portland Trail Blazers, Bryant should continue to be to have performances like he had on Sunday night.
Since returning from rest, Bryant is leading the team in scoring (17.0), rebounding (8.5), and assists (8.0) in the last four games.
Young catches fire
Despite shooting just 4-of-12 from the field, Young was a huge factor offensively with a game-high 22 points.
Much of his scoring came in the decisive fourth quarter, which he chipped in with a quarter-best 10 points on 2-of-5 shooting that included knocking all five of his free throw attempts.
Young’s two makes in the quarter came at critical moment. His first was at the beginning of the quarter on a 3-pointer that cut the deficit to just one point at 69-68. The second was on an impressive two-hand reverse layup that tied the game at 74 with 7:19 left in the period.
His perfect night at the free throw line (12-of-12) was capped off in the fourth quarter that kept his team in the game.
“That’s all we do after practice is shoot free throws,” Young said, who is shooting 90.4 percent from the free throw line this season. “Coach kind of made that an emphasis and we are doing alright.”
The 29-year-old also made his impact in the second quarter with 12 points on 2-of-7 shooting that included going 7-of-7 from the free throw line. He punctuated the period with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer after he made a steal to cut the deficit to seven points at 48-41 at halftime.
However, Scott was most impressed with Young’s performance on defense especially guarding Miles in the second half only allowing two points on 0-of-6 shooting.
“He did a heck of a job. It took me 34 games to figure out that he can play defense, so now I’ll have to demand that every night,” Scott said. “He did a heck of a job on C.J. Miles in the second half. Nick guarded him 90 percent of the time in the second half, so he did a great job.”
The Lakers squeezed out their 11th win on Sunday, but one glaring area that could of cost them was in the battle of the boards with the Pacers holding a decisive rebounding advantage at 50-37.
The area the Lakers struggled the most against Indiana was on the offensive glass allowing them to hold a 16-5 edge in the game. This included an 11-3 advantage in the second half that led to a 26-2 second-chance points mark for them over Los Angeles.
The Lakers have been a middle-of-the-pack rebounding team averaging 46.2 team rebounds per game, and hold the fifth worst differential (-2.7) in the league.
Despite that, Scott believes it was the team’s ability to make stops when needed that was the difference in the game.
“We just hung in there. The one thing I kept saying on the bench was to get some stops and hang in there,” Scott said. “Guys didn’t hold their heads down when we were missing shots. When you look back at this game, and see the 16 offensive rebounds and those 50-50 balls we miss, they did a better job of getting to them. Luckily we made enough plays.”
The game appeared to be in the Pacers’ hands following a solid opening quarter with 28 points on 6-of-8 shooting from three, and a 13-point advantage.
However, things slowly but surely shifted in the second half toward the Lakers’ favor. This was due in large part to their play defensively in the second half allowing just 39 points on 31.1 percent shooting from the field. They also forced the Pacers to miss their last 16 three-point attempts of the game.
Los Angeles was particularly stingy in the fourth quarter forcing Indiana to shot 26.1 percent with only six made shots in the period. It was their play on that end of the floor coming out of halftime that changed the flow of the game in their direction.
What stood out to Scott was how they defended in the third quarter, which has been their worst quarter this season with a league-worst 28.5 points entering Sunday’s game.
“Our focus was coming out with a sense of urgency in the third quarter, because it hasn’t been our best quarter,” Scott said. “I reminded them how we played the last time in the third quarter at their place. We needed to come out with that same aggressiveness.”
Los Angeles’ team defense is one of the biggest problems, if their performance is of any indication of improvement it could a long ways in helping turn their season.
Wesley Johnson injured
The Lakers’ win on Sunday was not all gravy as Johnson suffered a strained right hip flexor in the first half, and didn’t return to the game.
The injury occurred with 1:01 left in the first quarter when he attempted to stretch out for a pass and was slow to get up off the court. He was subbed out of the game with 16.1 seconds left in the half.
Johnson finished the game with zero points on 0-of-2 shooting with three rebounds, and an assist in 12 minutes played.
Scott stated after the game that the 27-year-old “didn’t look good” and didn’t want to speculate on the time frame for how long he may be sidelined. He did indicate that Johnson will not travel or play in Monday’s game against the Trail Blazers.
He also added that Ryan Kelly may be an option to start in his place. Young could also be another option, but Scott in the past has chosen to keep him on the bench due to what he brings to the team in that role.
Johnson has started every game this season for the Lakers, and has played in 113 of a possible 116 games (95 starts) since joining the team prior to last season.
Photo Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
Bob Garcia IV
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