After a heart-wrenching win over the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday, the Lakers were right back in action Sunday night when they hosted the Golden State Warriors. The team had struggled lately, going just 2-2 in their last four games. They were also looking to overcome the curse of the Sunday game, of which they had lost two straight.
This would be the second meeting between the two teams in less than a week, as the Lakers defeated Golden State 104-101 back on March 27 at Oracle Arena. The Warriors would be looking to exact a little revenge Sunday at Staples Center, but would need a big game to do so. When the teams met the previous week it resulted in a benched Andrew Bynum and a week of drama for the Lakers. They were looking to avoid that this time around.
It took three and a half quarters for Kobe Bryant to get his first points on Saturday against New Orleans. It took one possession for him to get on the board on Sunday. Bryant, never afraid to take a shot or two, opened the game strong for the Lakers. After scoring just 11 points total against the Hornets, Bryant connected on three of his first four shots from the field against Golden State, and finished with 13 points in the quarter. Bryant was also getting his teammates involved early as well, as he dished out several early assists as well.
The Warriors found themselves dealing with some foul trouble early in the game. Rookie Klay Thompson picked up two fouls in the first, and forward Jeremy Tyler picked up three fouls before the nine minute mark in the first. However, despite these two players finding themselves in an early foul predicament, the Warriors managed to hang with the Lakers for the duration of the quarter.
Things got scary for the Lakers late in the quarter when Bynum came down gingerly on his left ankle after landing on Josh McRoberts’ foot. The oft-injured center had played in all 49 games for the team this season after sitting out the first four due to a suspension, but was immediately sent back to the locker room for X-rays. Without Bynum the Lakers lead was slim at the end of the first, 27-26.
Without Bynum the Lakers knew that they would have to find other sources of offense, as well as defense. They were able to ride Bryant for most of the quarter on offense, but did get some help from point guard Ramon Sessions. The newest Laker scored 11 points in the first half, including a last-second layup that was hard to catch without slow motion.
The team also got a boost from Gasol, who slid over to play center once Bynum went out. The 7-foot Spaniard scored eight points and dished out three assists, but also found himself forced to take on a bigger defensive role as well.
Los Angeles’ bench troubles have been well documented this season, and without Bynum those problems could have easily been trouble for the Lakers. However, Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts stepped in and gave Mike Brown some valuable minutes in the first half. Murphy hit several outside shots and McRoberts gave the team some energy on the defensive end. Even without Bynum, the Lakers were leading Golden State 57-54 at halftime.
The third quarter has been the Achilles’ heel for this Lakers team so far this season, and they were looking to solve some of those problems on Sunday. Entering the quarter with just a three-point lead, the Lakers were actually able to build on their advantage rather than see it disappear. Led by Gasol and Sessions, the Lakers built a double-digit lead over the Warriors midway through the quarter.
One of the reasons the Lakers were able to build their lead was due to their determination to get the ball into the paint. This was especially evident from Sessions and Gasol, who lived in the colored area for much of the quarter. However, even Bryant was getting in on the action. His shooting woes of late have been well publicized, especially from beyond the arc (Sunday’s game-winner not included).
The best stat of the night, though, was that through three quarters Bryant had only attempted one three-point basket. Instead he was working the midrange game to perfection, shooting high percentage shots that were within the offense.
The Lakers entered the fourth quarter looking to start strong and finish the Warriors. This would give them the opportunity to give Bryant, Gasol and the starters some much needed rest down the stretch. Unfortunately, like we’ve seen many times before, the Lakers were unable to hold onto their lead early in the fourth. Golden State was able to crawl back within single-digits almost instantaneously, forcing Brown to bring Sessions and Gasol back earlier than he wanted.
With Bynum leaving early in the game, Los Angeles got an unexpected boost from his two replacements: Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts. They were both very active on the boards, combining for over 20 rebounds on the night. Their production on the bench allowed Bryant to seal the deal offensively. All of the shots that weren’t falling on Saturday were going down for the Black Mamba on Sunday.
Kobe caught fire late in the fourth, following up his worst shooting game of the season with a 40-point performance. The Warriors managed to stay with the Lakers for much of the game, even cutting it to a single possession game with just 90 seconds to go. However, Bryant and Gasol combined for multiple clutch shots, including a big three-pointer from Bryant, that ultimately was too much for the Warriors to overcome.
Still, it wasn’t Bryant, Gasol or Sessions that hit the final dagger. It was a three-point basket from Metta World Peace that sealed the deal for the Lakers, and secured their second consecutive win. Bryant finished the game with 40 points, while Gasol added 26 and Ramon Sessions put in 23 points of his own. Even without Bynum the Lakers found enough to overcome Mark Jackson’s Warriors, 120-112.