L.A. looked to win their fifth straight game at Staples Center, which would also mark their 15th win out of 21 attempts. Despite the Raptors’ unimpressive season record, Los Angeles needed to come out on both ends of the floor alert in order to slow down a quick shooting team riddled with names like Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan.
With large contributions for the Lakers coming from bench players in previous games, such as Jodie Meeks scoring 19 points in 26 minutes versus New Orleans Wednesday, the increase in team chemistry is very noticeable. The Lakers finally seem to be “getting on the same page,” and it couldn’t start happening at a better time. Kobe Bryant, who is having yet another impressive season, has not only found a role with ball distribution, but also manages to drop over 30 points in most competitions.
All of these positives are happening without both Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, and the increase in productivity from the bench, including L.A. being 12-6 since the return of Steve Blake, prove a depth in the roster that wasn’t present in late 2012. L.A. needed to step up on defense and execute their shot attempts in order to not only grab the victory, but also avoid a stressful fourth quarter that required a 33-9 run, like they did Wednesday.
Howard’s size advantage was noticeable in the first play down the court, ans he swooped down the baseline, received the ball, and threw up an easy layup. Metta World Peace made his first three-pointer of the game, contributing to his over 50 percent field goal shooting in the previous five games. The Raptors demonstrated their youth in comparison to L.A., with speedy ball movement while finding success in jumpers kept them at the Lakers heels as the quarter progressed.
Attentive defense found its success on multiple occasions, including Bryant putting the press on DeRozan for half of the shot clock, forcing an ugly shot attempt which eventually contributed to a turnover in the Lakers favor. The pick and roll was working for Dwight not only from Nash but from Kobe as well, and the forced turnovers also enabled L.A. to grab a few uncontested fast break baskets.
Intensity continued to run high, with aggressive plays occurring on both ends of the floor, especially in the defense being produced by Toronto. Despite Dwight being aggressive under the basket, grabbing offensive rebounds, he was unable to put a majority of the second chance attempts away, allowing the Raptors to gain on their lead. Toronto’s impressive shooting in the latter of the quarter, including nine straight baskets on over 75 percent shooting with three minutes remaining, only added to the Lakers woes.
Despite their quick offensive start, the Lakers once again allowed their sluggish defense hurt them early. Committing six turnovers in the first half, with five of them coming from Bryant, the Lakers lost all composure as the quarter came to an end. The Raptors finished the first 12 minutes of the game on top of the hosts, 37-25.
The Lakers picked up a few fouls to start off the quarter, sending the Raptors to the free throw line to increase on their already healthy lead. Toronto began playing much like the Lakers, but unfortunately for them, it was more in regard to turnovers than anything else. After giving away back to back possessions to the Lakers, Steve Blake hit his first basket of the game: a three-pointer from 26 feet. Howard began taking a bigger role on the floor as the clock ticked by, scoring his free throws and swatting away shot attempts left and right.
As soon as the Lakers would score, they would slack to get back on defense, giving the Raptors the perfect opportunity to execute the fast break basket. Bryant slowly began moving more and more into attack mode, and Dwight became more and more aggressive on defense, something Lakers fans arguably have not seen since he was wearing an Orlando jersey.
Rudy Gay put away three of the Raptors’ five final points in the half, pushing his personal total all the way up to 12. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard combined 27 in the first 24 minutes of the game, and a small surge at the end of the half enabled the Lakers to cut a once large deficit. Los Angeles headed into the locker room still trailing by six, 59-53, as Toronto’s fast break baskets and 58 percent shooting from the field kept the hosts at bay.
As soon as the half got started, Dwight Howard found himself at the free throw line shooting two. Despite both attempts missing the mark the Lakers needed to continue feeding Howard in the post if they wanted a chance of regaining the lead. The Raptors shooting continued to exceed Los Angeles’ expectations from the defensive end of the court, as their sluggish start once again enabled the visitors to grab easy baskets.
As soon as the Lakers would establish a small run or string of well executed plays, their lack of defense would shoot them in the feet once again. Toronto once again had a double digit lead only half way through the quarter. After expressing the importance of the bench and the Lakers demonstrating it in previous match ups, with six minutes left in the quarter the three players off the bench were a combined 5-15. Scoring only 12 points at that point was clearly an issue, and Bryant both realized that and addressed it offensively.
Bryant knocked down back to back three-pointers to cut the lead down to nine, and forcing a few turnovers pushed the momentum in his team’s favor. As much as he was forcing turnovers, however, he was giving them up, giving away his eighth turnover of the night with just about a minute remaining. The Raptors, who were still shooting over 57 percent from the field, managed to keep hold of a double digit lead despite Kobe Bryant’s best attempts. L.A. headed into the final quarter of the game down 79-89 with 10 turnovers.
Jodie Meeks started off the quarter with a quick demonstration of both his speed and offensive capabilities, and he forced a turnover and put away a driving layup to get the ball rolling for L.A. Antawn Jamison drained a three from the right end of the arc, and after only three minutes passed in the quarter, Bryant made his way back onto the floor to salvage a victory. With Blake, Bryant, World Peace, Howard and Jamison all on the floor, an increase in defense was a necessity moving forward.
Consistency was key, especially for Dwight Howard on offense, who couldn’t find his rhythm a majority of the game. His inability to put away baskets while in the paint, especially second chance ones, despite his clear height advantage was hurting L.A.’s chances. Howard’s defense was keeping his side in the game, however, and the Lakers needed to once again turn to someone else, preferably named Kobe, to grab the victory.
Finding themselves down eight with five minutes remaining, the Lakers found an opportunity within Toronto missing 10 of their last 14 shots. The Kobe to Dwight offensive schemes continued to produce numbers in the Lakers’ favor, but the second chance baskets the Raptors kept draining made L.A.’s work produce little results on the scoreboard. DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were killing the Lakers from beyond the arc, hitting both wide open and contested shots over and over. A huge three-pointer from Steve Nash with three minutes remaining brought the lead down to only four, with a roar from the crowd encouraging the Lakers to keep fighting.
A massive pair of plays by L.A. had Dwight block a Toronto basket, and Kobe Bryant drain a three as the shot clock ran out on the other end of the floor with a defender right in his face. The Lakers had one last chance to tie the game at the end of the game, and an absurd triple from Kobe tied things up at 109-109, forcing overtime.
DeRozan missed both of the Raptors’ first two shot attempts of the OT, and the Lakers managed to grab their first lead since the first quarter off of a Howard free throw. After a long review the ball going out of bounds and the officials initially giving it back to Toronto, the Lakers regained possession after a second look, only to turn it over right away. Another defensive error on defense allowed the Raptors to once again grab a bucket. Howard’s presence in the paint and hunger for rebounds on the offensive end of the floor finally gave L.A. the opportunity to score some second chance baskets.
After drawing a foul under the basket, Kobe put away both of his free throws to put Los Angeles one point behind the visitors. A huge block from Dwight Howard resulted in a turnover, but the Lakers went down their end of the floor and were called for a three second violation, which turned it over again. Jodie Meeks had the opportunity to tie up the game at three with just over a minute remaining, but the miss pushed the ball back toward the hot shooting Raptors.
Still, with the game on the line it was Kobe again. The guy simply refused to quit, and a last second dunk and a free throw from Steve Nash to give the Lakers the unexpected and much-needed victory over the Raptors, 118-116.