The highly anticipated matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat finally took place on Sunday afternoon. With all the hype and questions going into the game (Kobe Bryant’s mask, Chris Bosh’s availability, LeBron’s passing), both sides were anxious to finally get out on the floor.
When news broke Sunday morning that Bosh would be unavailable again following the death of his grandmother, the Lakers’ size advantage would be even more apparent. However, despite all the hoopla surrounding the Dwyane Wade foul on Kobe Bryant in the All-Star Game, the Lakers said they were just looking for a win, not retaliation.
Since LeBron James joined the Heat back in 2010 the Lakers have been unable to defeat Miami. They were looking to end that streak Sunday, and opened the first quarter with a real sense of urgency. Led by a masked Kobe Bryant, the Lakers jumped out to an early lead on the Heat.
Bryant led the way offensively for the Lakers in the first quarter, hitting off-balance shots and contested jumpers. He seemed to be in one of those grooves where every shot he put up found itself falling through the net. Bryant finished the first quarter with 18 points, leading all scorers in the game. However, he didn’t do it on his own. The Lakers took advantage of a missing Chris Bosh by utilizing Andrew Bynum in the paint. The young center had several strong moves in the post, using his size and touch to get easy baskets over the undersized Miami frontline.
While the offense looked good in the first quarter for L.A., the bigger story was the defense. With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the floor the Heat are a very potent offensive team. However, the Lakers were able to limit them in the first quarter with strong defensive rotations and quick hands. By the end of the first quarter the Lakers had established a nice lead, 28-20.
The Lakers began the second quarter with their second unit on the floor. Often times this season that has been troublesome for Los Angeles, as their reserves have been unable to maintain leads built by the starters. However, thanks to some hot shooting from rookie Andrew Goudelock, the Lakers’ reserves managed to keep their lead until Bryant and the starters checked back into the game.
One thing we saw from coach Mike Brown was the decision to keep Andrew Bynum on the floor with Goudelock, Steve Blake and the rest of the bench unit. This made the big man the focal point of the offense, and he was able to have a strong impact on the game offensively. By halftime, Bynum had eight points and seven rebounds, and was well on his way to another double-double.
After his sizzling start to the game it’s no surprise that Kobe Bryant saw his numbers dwindle a bit in the second quarter. However, Los Angeles got some offensive help from an unlikely source – Metta World Peace. While his struggles have been well documented this season, World Peace made a large impact in the first half against Miami. His defense on James was strong on one end, and even was an offensive presence on the other end of the court. World Peace finished the first half with nine points, which is almost double his points-per-game average of 5.3.
By halftime the Lakers had managed to build their lead to double digits, and went to the locker room up 50-38 on the Miami Heat.
The Lakers have been notoriously prone to giving up leads so far this season, and that was one thing they didn’t want to do in the second half against Miami. However, the Heat weren’t about to let the Lakers walk all over them and cruise to an easy victory. Led by LeBron James, the Heat came out of the locker room surging on both ends of the floor. To make matters worse for the Lakers their reserves were once again struggling on the offensive end. They began to settle for too many outside shots, and the Heat were able to pull back within two points.
After his hot first quarter Bryant continued to struggle in the third. He scored just two points in the third quarter, while James began to have a big impact offensively for Miami. However, after the Heat pulled within two points late in the third the Lakers managed to finish the quarter strong. After a lob pass from Steve Blake to World Peace and another three-point basket the Lakers pushed their lead back to nine at the end of the quarter.
There were some fireworks at the end of the third, as well. After Miami failed to score on their final shot attempt things got a little chippy. James and Troy Murphy had a few words for one another before Gasol came over to chat with James. By the time the scuffle ended it required Mike Brown and assistant coach John Kuester to get in the mix and separate the players. Still, entering the final quarter the Lakers had the lead, 71-62.
With just 12 minutes remaining the Lakers knew they would have to play well to keep their lead and get the win. However, once again they opened the quarter struggling on offense. And, once again, the Lakers got an unlikely boost from Metta World Peace. He continued his great play on both ends of the floor, making several strong defensive possessions as well as a couple more defensive plays on James.
The Lakers managed to maintain their lead despite several runs from the Heat. However, the biggest moment in the fourth came when Dwyane Wade earned his six foul halfway through the quarter, sending him to the bench for the duration of the game. At that time the Lakers led 79-72, and from there they never looked back.
Despite seeing his offensive numbers dwindle in the second and third quarters, Bryant came out in the fourth ready to carry the Lakers to victory. The team often times struggled with their ball rotation in the final quarter, but Bryant made sure it wouldn’t matter. The newly-christened ‘Masked Mamba’ hit several big jump shots late in the game to help pad the Lakers lead. With Wade on the bench and Bosh out of the game, Miami just didn’t have enough firepower to hang with the Lakers as the fourth quarter reached it’s conclusion.
Ultimately it was an enormous win for the Lakers, who have struggled against elite teams over the last two seasons. While it was the first victory against the Heat since they added James, it came at a time when the Lakers find themselves surrounded by trade rumors and speculation.
The player of the game for the Lakers was a surprise, as it was Metta World Peace who proved to have the biggest impact on the floor. His defense on James was strong at times, and he made multiple strong moves on offense as well. He finished with 17 points, six rebounds and four steals, but also had a huge emotional impact on the game. He was able to frustrate James and several other Miami players, and finally played the role of disruptor for the Lakers.
With Bryant ensuring the Lakers’ victory down the stretch, the last minute was nothing but a formality for both teams. There was a brief scare for Miami when James rolled his ankle with a minute to go, but ended up staying in the game. By the time the final buzzer sounded it was an impressive win for Los Angeles, who defeated the Miami Heat, 93-83.
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