The Los Angeles Lakers came into tonight’s Game 3 trailing the series 0-2 after losing both games at Staples Center. The Lakers had not seen such a daunting challenge since the Jerry West era, and history was not on their side trailing in the series. The Lakers had to fix their flaws and weaknesses if they wanted to steal a game in Texas.
There was a lot of speculation as to who would replace Ron Artest in the starting lineup, and Phil Jackson was contemplating either Lamar Odom or Shannon Brown. Prior to the tip-off of Game 3, Jackson decided to go with Odom, thus increasing the size and length of the front-court.
Jackson rarely allows Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom to play together on the court, but in tonight’s game his choice turned out to be beneficial. The Lakers’ size in the paint allowed them to get easy shots near the basket, and their length prevented the Mavericks from attacking the basket. The offense was much improved compared to the previous games, and the ball movement was impeccable. After Odom attacked the basket for an easy finger-roll at the 7:05 mark of the first quarter, the Lakers opened up a 12-7 lead.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Bryant had to be taken out of the game due to two personal fouls, and this forced Shannon Brown to defend the savvy Maverick guards. With Kobe out of the game, the Mavs began to get open looks, and they went on a 9-2 run to take a 19-16 lead with 4:12 left in the period.
Despite the Mavericks hot stretch in the quarter, the Lakers responded back with their own run. Center Andrew Bynum once again carried the team, and his dominance versus the Mavericks’ front-court allowed the Lakers to reclaim the lead. Just when it seemed as though Bynum would help the team expand its lead, he also had to leave the game due to two fouls.
Once Bynum was taken out of the court, the Mavericks capitalized on the Lakers lack of size. Gasol was left with the responsibility to defend the opposing center, but he was again showed weaknesses on defense. In the latter half of the first, the Mavericks went on a 9-0 run and momentum had shifted their way.
The Lakers closed out the period strong, and they only trailed by two points, 29-27. The Lakers leading scorer was Bynum with 10 points, while Nowitzki poured in 11 for the Mavericks.
In the opening minutes of the second quarter, Kobe Bryant nailed an elbow jumper and surpassed Shaquille O’Neal for third on the NBA’s All-Time Playoff scoring list.
The Mavericks started the quarter strong, and the Lakers had trouble matching their energy and level of focus. Mavericks’ reserve guards JJ Barea and Jason Terry troubled the Lakers with their penetration and ability to find teammates off the dribble. The Lakers were able to connect on their shot attempts, but they were having difficulties creating stops on the other end of the court. The Mavs were hitting their open shots, and they opened up a 38-32 lead with 8:41 left in the half.
However, just when it seemed as though Dallas would extend their lead to double-digits, Shannon Brown hit two consecutive threes to bring the Lakers back into the game, 39-38. Brown sparked the Lakers with his offensive explosion, and the rest of the team soon amped up their intensity. Gasol and Bynum led the late-quarter charge for the Lakers, and after an 8-0, the team regained the lead, 48-45.
The Lakers headed to the locker-room on a high note, and thanks to the superb play of Bynum and Bryant, the team found itself leading 51-47.
The Lakers made it a priority to attack the basket in the early goings of the third, and the team was finally able to hit its perimeter shots. The big men were connecting on their close attempts, while the guards were nailing down open long-distance looks. After a Derek Fisher three-point field goal, the Lakers opened up a 58-51 lead with 8:16 left in the third.
The Mavericks answered with their own run and after hitting two consecutive threes, they cut the Lakers’ lead to one. Just when it seemed as though the Lakers would pull away, the Mavericks brought the crowd back into the game and momentum had shifted their way.
However, after Phil Jackson called a time-out due to sub-par play by his team, the Lakers cranked up their energy and amped up their level of focus. The Lakers fed the ball to Bryant and Bynum, and the duo recaptured the lead. Bryant found his offensive groove, and he was hitting shots from every angle on court. As for Bynum, he forced his will in the paint and his strength was too overwhelming for the Mavs.
At the end of the third, the Lakers were leading 72-66 thanks to 18 points by Bynum and 13 points by Kobe.
Jackson started the fourth quarter with Kobe Bryant resting on the bench, but reserve guard Shannon Brown proved to be just as effective. Brown crashed the boards to keep balls alive, and his dribble penetration was a boon for the Lakers. After an easy lay-up by Brown, the Lakers found themselves leading 79-71 with 9:28 left in the game.
The teams began to exchange baskets, and neither one could create a defensive stop. Bynum continued with his offensive prowess, while Dirk Nowitzki’s shot-making ability galvanized his teammates. However, Coach Jackson faced a dilemma when Bynum picked up his fourth person foul, but he decided to take out the versatile Odom instead. With Gasol and Bynum paired together, the Lakers had to rely on their big men to carry them on defense.
The Mavericks made a late-game run thanks to great three-point shooting and they eventually took a 88-87 lead with over two minutes left in the game.
The Lakers failed to execute down the stretch, and they fell to the Mavericks, 98-92.
Game 4 will be held on Sunday at 12:30 A.M. PST on ABC.