Kobe Bryant didn’t score 40 points this time. And it showed as the Lakers scored only seven points in the third quarter. Yet, Los Angeles still managed to spoil Lamar Odom’s homecoming as the Lakers narrowly defeated the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, 73-70, on Monday night at Staples Center.
Last night’s contest between the Lakers and the Mavericks had multiple headlines running at once: a rematch of the 2010 Western Conference semifinals, where Dallas swept LA out of the playoffs to end their bid for a three-peat; the return of Lamar Odom, who requested to be dealt to the Mavs after the Lakers’ brass attempted to trade him to New Orleans in exchange for Chris Paul during the offseason, and lastly, 37-year-old point guard Derek Fisher, who became the unsung hero on Monday, when he hit the game-winner to lift the Lakers over the Mavs.
On a night that saw countless air balls, turnovers and missed assignments from both teams, including an abysmal seven-point third quarter by the Lakers and 35 percent shooting by the Mavericks, the typical Kobe Bryant -whose streak of four consecutive 40-point games came to an end- was nowhere to be found. Bryant, who didn’t score until midway through the second quarter, shot a dismal 7-of-22 for the game, including going a woeful 0-for-6 in the third quarter, to finish with just 14 points as Los Angeles’ offense struggled without their superstar performer putting up big numbers.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, coming into Monday’s game, Bryant had averaged 43 points per game in his last four games. The Mavericks used seven different defenders against him, none more than Shawn Marion (7 points, 9 rebounds), who held Kobe scoreless, as he went 0-for-10 from the field with Marion guarding him. KB24 didn’t attack the rim against Dallas, as only 3 of his 22 field goal attempts came inside 10 feet, resulting in 4 points and 1 free throw attempt. During his four-game streak of at least 40 points, Kobe scored 77 of his 172 points inside 10 feet, including 43 made free throws. His night was summarized with three bad possessions in a row early in the third. First, he was stripped of the ball by Marion, and then got his shot blocked by Marion, and finally missing badly on a rushed shot near the top of the key. Bryant was never able to find his rhythm.
The Lakers scored seven points in the third quarter and almost uncorked their worst quarter since the shot clock era began in 1954, barely topping their six-point first quarter in November 1977 against Chicago. Fatigue could have been a factor for LA’s hapless play. The Lakers and the Mavs have played the most games thus far in this truncated season, playing 15 games in 23 days. Neither team looked much like a championship contender in their first meeting since the postseason. The Lakers needed all the offense they could get from anybody on their roster other than KB24.
Los Angeles offense came alive in the final period after scoring just 46 points through the first three quarters. Bryant and Fisher combined for 15 of the Lakers 27 points in the fourth, with Fisher scoring nine of his 13 points in the period. He lead LA on a 10-0 run midway through the quarter as he intercepted a pass meant for Jason Kidd and took it the length of the court to put the Lakers up 64-59 with 4:44 to play. Fisher then hustled down court with the ball after a long rebound and pulled up for a mid-range jumper from the right side to extend LA’s lead to 66-59. Despite the Lakers run, the Mavericks rallied behind Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 21points but committed a crucial traveling violation with 38 seconds left. Mavs’ sharp shooter Jason Terry (7 points, 7 assists) tied the score at 70, on a running jumper at the top of the key with 9.9 seconds left.
Coming out of a timeout, everyone expected Kobe to take the final shot. But Bryant drew a Dallas double team and was forced to pass the ball to Fisher on the right wing. The veteran point guard calmly knocked down the tiebreaking 26-foot 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds to put the Lakers ahead by three, 73-70. Newly acquired forward Vince Carter (6 points) missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game for Dallas, as the Lakers celebrated their ninth consecutive home win since Christmas and their efforts in snapping the Mavericks five-game winning streak.
Pau Gasol, who struggled in last year’s playoff series versus the Mavs, finished with just eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. Andrew Bynum had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers, who have won six of seven overall despite barely scoring 70 points. Los Angeles has a much needed two nights off before they travel east for back-to-back set with the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, Thursday and Friday.
Lamar Odom, who scored 10 points in his return to Staples Center, where he won two NBA championships in his seven seasons as a Laker, received a lengthy standing ovation when he entered the game midway through the first quarter, as the Lakers played a video tribute on the scoreboard. Odom called the experience “surreal” and is looking forward to moving on and succeeding in this next chapter of his life. Dallas veteran point guard Jason Kidd went 0-for-8 on 3-pointers and Terry was 2-for-9 from the field until his tying basket. The Mavericks will stay in Los Angeles to face the Clippers on Wednesday at Staples Center.