After defeating the Denver Nuggets on Friday night the Lakers were back in action Sunday afternoon when they hosted the defending NBA champions. After being swept by the Mavericks during last season’s playoffs, the Lakers were looking to return the favor in the regular season.
Los Angeles had won the previous three meetings this season with the Mavericks, but if they wanted to finish the sweep they would have to do so without Kobe Bryant. The star guard sat out his fourth consecutive game with a sore left shin, but did say he plans on returning well before the playoffs.
Still, with Kobe on the pine the Lakers would need some of their other players to step up and help lead them to victory over the Mavericks.
As has been the theme for much of this season, the Lakers started their Sunday afternoon game slowly. The players looked a little sluggish on the court, and seemed almost lethargic to start the game. While Dallas didn’t have a ton of energy either, they were certainly more active than the Lakers were to start the game. This allowed them to jump out to an early lead that they were able to sustain for the rest of the quarter.
Without Bryant on the floor the Lakers knew they needed to go elsewhere for their offense. This meant that they would need big games from Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. In the previous three games against Dallas this season their bigs had been successful against an undersized Mavericks frontline. However, to start this game off the Lakers had trouble getting the ball in the basket. Bynum started the game 0-4 shooting, while Gasol shot 0-2 before finally making a basket. Due to this slow start from their two offensive weapons, the Lakers fell behind early to the Mavericks.
Another main reason for the Lakers’ early struggles was poor defense. Reserve guard Delonte West was able to destroy L.A. offensively, as the Lakers inability to properly defend the pick and roll haunted them. They were also going under too many screens, which left Dallas’ shooters open on the perimeter. By the time the first quarter ended the Lakers were already looking at a deficit, trailing the Mavericks 27-22.
The Lakers opened the second quarter relatively strongly, thanks to the energy provided by Matt Barnes. Barnes, who had a very strong game on Friday against the Nuggets. They managed to pull the game back within two points, but were never able to overcome Dallas completely. The Mavericks managed to hit enough shots and make enough stops to keep the Lakers at bay, albeit barely.
Los Angeles got 13 productive minutes out of Matt Barnes in the first half.. He scored five points and grabbed six rebounds in the first 24 minutes of play, but it was his energy that made an obvious difference. The Lakers were plus-7 when he was on the floor, making him one of only three Lakers with a positive +/- in the first half (Josh McRoberts, Steve Blake).
Still, it was the team’s poor defense that kept them trailing in the second half. Even when they were able to get things going a bit on the offensive end, they would have a mental lapse on defense that would allow the Mavericks to score an easy basket and extend the lead. A late three-point shot from Jason Terry just before the half put Dallas up 54-48 at the break.
Despite trailing, the Lakers had a fairly balanced attack on offense. Ramon Sessions was leading the team with 10 points, but Bynum also had nine, Metta World Peace scored eight and Pau Gasol added six of his own.
Entering the third quarter the Lakers were looking to finally overcome Dallas and grab the lead. However, it proved to be difficult for the first half of the period as Dirk Nowitzki finally began heating up for the Mavericks. After scoring just five points in the first 24 minutes of play, Dirk more-than-doubled that total in the third.
Often times in games teams that manage to keep their lead throughout the game without ever giving it up seem to hold a mental edge, even if it is a close game. That seemed to be where this game was headed halfway through the quarter until the Lakers finally overcame the Mavericks. Ramon Sessions hit an open three-pointer in transition to put the Lakers ahead of the Mavs, but their lead would be short-lived.
A big reason for the Lakers comeback in the third was Metta World Peace. There’s no doubt he has played well these last few weeks, but on Sunday he was even more active. On defense he was very effective, using his quick hands to disrupt the Dallas offense on multiple occasions. He was also making an impact on offense, crashing the boards and scoring the basketball. With Kobe Bryant out of the game, it was once again World Peace who helped anchor the Lakers on both ends of the floor.
Los Angeles outscored Dallas by seven points in the third quarter, and heading into the fourth they had managed to claim a 76-75 lead.
Without Bryant the Lakers entered the fourth quarter knowing they would have to find other players to step up and provide their late-game offense. Still, to start the quarter the Lakers saw another defensive lapse. Dallas was able to quickly overcome the Lakers slim lead thanks to a three-pointer from Jason Terry. Terry, who killed the Lakers during last year’s playoff series, hit several big threes for the Mavericks on Sunday as well.
One reason the Lakers continued to struggle was their inability to make shots at the rim. While they were being aggressive and attacking the basket, there were multiple occasions where they missed several shots at the rim. These missed opportunities began to pile up as the clock ran down and the Lakers began to see their chances at overcoming Dallas dwindling.
In desperate need of some energy, the Lakers got a big momentum boost on a put-back dunk from Andrew Bynum. That pulled the Lakers back within a single point halfway through the fourth, and seemed to get the Staples Center crowd going. Just a few minutes later Sessions hit a big three-pointer with the shot-clock running down, forcing Dallas to call timeout. The crowd, and a benched Kobe Bryant, all rose to their feet.
Los Angeles was able to get a lead late in the quarter thanks to the tremendous play of Ramon Sessions. He made several big shots that gave the Lakers the advantage, and then let the defense take it from there. Combined with a strong performance from Bynum in the paint, Sessions took Kobe’s role of fourth quarter closer and ran with it. Nowitzki struggled from the floor throughout the game, and the Lakers were able to take advantage. But it was Terry who stepped up with Dirk struggling, hitting several big shots late in the game.
It came down to the last possession for the Lakers with time running out. Sessions was unable to score, leaving Dallas just 1.5 seconds left on the clock. The Mavericks would have time for one final shot to defeat the Lakers and avoid overtime at the Staples Center. However, Dirk’s fadeaway jumper came up short, and the Lakers breathed a sigh of relief.
Dallas and the Lakers headed into overtime tied up 98-98. Los Angeles was 4-1 in overtime games this season entering Sunday’s extra period. They were also able to strike first blood in the extra period, as Matt Barnes put in an offensive rebound to get things going. Dallas would not go quietly, however, as Terry and Nowitzki hit two big baskets for the Mavericks.
The weirdest twist of all came midway through the extra period, as Pau Gasol hit back to back three-point shots to put the Lakers on top. The Staples crowd was buzzing after the shots, and Gasol ran towards the Lakers bench fired up. During the timeout the officials reviewed the plays, and it appeared that Barnes may have interfered with Gasol’s first shot, but the play was not reviewable by league rules.
Nowitzki missed another three-pointer, allowing the Lakers to maintain their lead. While none of the Lakers were complaining about Dirk’s poor shooting, there’s no question the Lakers took advantage of this statistical rarity.
Still, with just 15.1 seconds left in overtime the Lakers held a slim 110-108 lead, and Dallas had the ball. The Mavericks were looking to either tie the game and force a second overtime or take the lead and potentially win the game with a three-pointer. Terry, who had killed the Lakers all night, was stopped short by World Peace at the rim, and was unable to score. A Los Angeles rebound and subsequent Dallas foul all but clinched the victory for L.A.
As time ran out in overtime the Lakers had completed the season sweep of the Mavericks, returning the favor from last year’s playoffs. It was a hard fought game, but in the end it was the Kobe-less Lakers that defeated the Mavericks, 112-108.