Despite an ankle sprain that was described as worse than the one he acquired in the 2000 playoffs, Kobe Bryant couldn’t resist suiting up for the Lakers road game against the Pacers Friday.
The Pacers, who showcased one of the best records the Lakers will come against in their current string of games, came into the competition at 40-24. This beaten up Lakers squad had to look for a lot of production from outside of Bryant in order to top the squad who had a 26-7 home record.
Indiana, who has only allowed their opponent to score over 100 points 13 times so far this season, were a solid threat on defense, as well, forcing Los Angeles to require impressive shooting from every aspect of the floor. The Lakers also had to prepare themselves defensively, as in comparison to Indiana, they have shockingly allowed multiple teams put away over 100 points over them on 34 occasions.
With this game solidifying the end of L.A.’s three game road trip, a war at the boards was to be expected. As Indiana is both a tall and aggressive team, Dwight Howard could easily expect some competition in the rebounding game on both ends of the floor. Also, as one of the final games the Lakers have to play with Pau Gasol on the bench, a win against a playoff caliber team would be just what the doctor ordered before the long trip home.
Dwight Howard started off the game on a low note, grabbing not only two personal fouls but a technical as well early to send himself to the bench within five minutes. The Pacers were finding themselves in numerous uncontested offensive situations afterward, including Paul George being able to grab his own offensive rebound after a layup to push the home sides lead to 11.
George ran rampart after Dwight took a seat in the bench, grabbing every rebound he could in the remaining minutes and continuously keeping the ball within Indiana’s possession. The Pacers dominated the boards throughout the entire quarter, and the statistics proved it, with the Pacers outscoring L.A. in the paint 12-2 as well.
Kobe Bryant looked out of sorts throughout the quarter, shooting 0-4 from the field and not putting any points on the board before the clock ran out.
Metta World Peace put together two huge three pointers which brought the Lakers within five with just under two minutes remaining. Steve Blake performed a spectacular offensive play with only 0.4 seconds left in the quarter when he charged down the court and threw up the ball from beyond the arc, drawing the foul to book himself a trip to the charity strip. With Blake putting away two of his three free throws, the Lakers finished the first quarters of the game trailing only three, 16-19.
Bryant started off this quarter on the bench, receiving his first rest of the game after playing the entire first quarter, paving the way for the bench to prove their worth in a needed situation.
L.A. did just that, finally looking alive as soon as the second set of 12 minutes started, stringing together a 10-0 run to grab their first lead of the game. Dwight Howard began expressing hunger underneath the basket, forcing Hibbert to foul him, grabbing his third personal foul of the contest, and sending Howard to free throw line.
Howard slammed home back to back dunks to grab a two point lead with seven minutes left in the quarter, but his momentum was again diminished when he committed his third foul to be forced to take a seat. He wasn’t alone in foul trouble, however, with World Peace having three personal fouls as well. Ian Mahinmi and Roy Hibbert also had three fouls each for the Pacers.
Antawn Jamison put away his second consecutive three-pointer, which not only gave the Lakers an 11 point lead, but also forced Indiana to take a much needed timeout. The Lakers hit their eighth three-pointer of the game off of the hands of Jamison again. Robert Sacre joined in on the fun as well, making a jumper off of a Steve Blake assist to keep the lead healthy.
Despite a buzzer beating jumper from Nash to end the half, an error with the clock as it was started too soon forced L.A. to try the basket once again with 1.5 seconds on the clock. Finding themselves unable to execute the same basket, the Lakers still had the lead as they headed toward the locker room up 46-41.
After taking in and getting animated the whole second quarter from the bench, it was announced that Kobe would not be returning for the remainder of the game due to his ankle. This gave Jodie Meeks the opportunity to slide into the starting position, but he unfortunately was just as cold shooting as Bryant was at the start of the game.
To make matters worse, Dwight Howard’s battle with the Pacers offense took a bad turn, as the big man committed his fourth foul of the game. L.A. was unable to get any of their baskets to fall in the first six minutes, and World Peace took this opportunity to show off his tenacity toward the basket, booking multiple trips to the free throw line, as well.
Led behind World Peace, the Lakers managed to string together a few baskets to hold the Pacers from running away with the lead. Being fed by Blake on multiple occasions, L.A. went on just under a four minute scoring drought before a Metta offensive explosion, which has rarely happened thus far in the season. The next nine points for the Lakers all came off of the hands of World Peace, but Lance Stephenson had all of the answers offensively for the Pacers, as well.
Blake and World Peace continued to speak the same language on the floor as the clock ticked by, especially in regards to transition. Whenever the Pacers committed a turnover and the ball ended up in Blake’s hands, Metta was always expecting the pass, and able to put it away. Blake continued to play well personally, as well, hitting a three-pointer allowing the Lakers to regain the lead with a minute remaining.
The Lakers found themselves down only one at the end of the third, backed behind a massive 11 points from Metta World Peace in the quarter. The Pacers entered the final 12 minutes of the game ahead 69-68.
The first point of the quarter came from a Sam Young free throw, which occurred after Jamison was charged with a Flagrant 1. Jamison, Howard and Blake all changed that stat, however, each putting away a bucket within a minute. Embarrassing Indiana’s defense in the process, Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel exercised his right to call a timeout.
Nash and Blake continued to work the back court superbly, especially considering Blake had his highest point total of the season with seven minutes still on the clock. Metta World Peace demonstrated his hustle game after a long three-pointer attempt from Blake rattled off of the rim, and the small forward charged through the paint while the Pacers’ defense stopped and stared. World Peace grabbed the rebound and easily kissed the second chance attempt off of the glass to salvage two points, giving L.A. a three point lead.
Paul George answered right away with a three-pointer of his own, but was upstaged by Los Angeles once again, as a tricky pass from Nash to Earl Clark at the corner resulted in another three. Nash answered with another three-pointer in their next trip down the court. World Peace executed some tough defense, forcing turnovers and unwanted shot attempts for the Pacers, placing the ball right back into the Lakers’ hands.
A tough foul from Howard in the paint allowed George Hill to put away the layup and book a trip to the line, but Steve Blake was back at it again with a three on their next possession. Nash began finding difficulty executing shots from around the elbow, and increased tempo from the Pacers began unsettling the Lakers’ offense and leading to unnecessary turnovers – an issue they didn’t have problems with previously.
With a minute and a half left, both teams were out of fouls to give. Dwight Howard threw up a shot over Hibbert, drawing a foul and executing the three point play to put the Lakers back in front. Jamison hit a three-pointer with a minute remaining, and George missed the answering three on the next play. Jamison drew a foul while trying to grab the rebound, putting away one buckets at the line, pushing the Lakers ahead of the Pacers.
Ultimately it became the biggest road win of the season for the Lakers against one of the top Eastern Conference contenders. The Lakers defeated the Pacers, 99-93.