Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors traveled to Los Angeles Friday night looking to push the Lakers not only from their sole possession of the eighth seed, but also playoff contention all together. The Lakers, who have won the last nine home meetings versus Golden State, hoped to continue the streak to keep their head above water as the end of the season gets closer.
With the Warriors touting the best shooting back court in the NBA, L.A. had their work cut out for them on defense – something that has been problematic thus far in the season. Curry, who has an average of 22.5 points per game, with the assistance of Klay Thompson and numerous others, has established his side as a high scoring team. Their presence in the paint was weakened with the announcement of starting center Andrew Bogut being out, but the Lakers knew before hand that the largest scoring threat was going to take his strikes from the perimeter.
Coming off of a season high 47-point performance versus Portland Wednesday, Kobe Bryant continues to prove that he will do what ever means necessary to push his team into a playoff spot. This even includes playing all of the 48 minutes within a game. Against the Trail Blazers, despite a massive statistical performance from Kobe, the front court has a large impact, as well. These performances, especially from both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, are a necessity to cool off the playoff bound Warriors, and will be a contributing factor to L.A. sealing the game victorious Friday.
Stephen Curry opened up the game shooting hot, as expected, with nine points and scoring four of his five shot attempts in only four minutes of the competition. Dwight Howard had a few baskets off of Gasol passes, keeping the Lakers in the game despite Curry scorching on the floor.
With both the Lakers and the Warriors being two of the teams with the highest turnover rates in the league, L.A. held true to their title, giving the ball away three times in less than six minutes. Steve Blake continued to demonstrate how important his contributions offensively were with the absence of Steve Nash, nailing a three while falling to the floor, getting assistance from Lakers bench members to get back up and on defense.
As soon as Metta World Peace stepped onto the floor for Blake, his defense was a game changer for Los Angeles, as he forced Jarrett Jack to travel and put the ball back into the Lakers possession. Howard looked explosive and energized as the final minutes of the quarter passed, on one occasion receiving a pass from Bryant while running through the key, and throwing the ball up for an easy layup. Speed typically is not a word you would associate big man Dwight Howard with, but he was proving critics wrong in the first quarter, which is something the Lakers can take graciously in their playoff run.
Antawn Jamison and Howard worked together in the paint in the closing minutes defensively, pushing many hungry Warriors away from scoring opportunities and regaining ball possession. Although the Lakers started off the game impressively, they were completely shown up by Curry’s 22 points, and L.A. ended the first quarter down 32-26.
Kobe Bryant was the one man show offensively at the start, scoring all three of L.A.’s first three baskets, including a three-pointer after some tricky moves to shake off Klay Thompson. With Curry on the bench to start off the second, Golden State had to look elsewhere for point production, and they found just that in the likes of Jack and Thompson. As soon as Thompson was subbed for Curry, however, the fourth year guard was right back at it, scoring again and again, being a single threat in the Lakers victory hopes.
Pau Gasol, who finally looks as if he has worked off the rust he acquired after the foot injury earlier in the season, was establishing himself as both a facilitator and a scorer in the game. This included multiple occurrences where he found Dwight Howard in the paint, and whether the towering center was open or not, he still manages to get the ball in his hands. The duo, along with Bryant, were the three Lakers with double digit points as the two minute announcement rained over Staples. Howard can credit a large amount of his points to his success from the free throw line – a place he has found difficulty from in his career.
Steve Blake nailed another three-pointer, and after two consecutive baskets from Dwight Howard, the Lakers regained the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the game. A final pair of free throws from Thompson after drawing a foul from Metta World Peace tied the game up at 57 at the half, despite 32 points from Stephen Curry. Dwight Howard led the Lakers with 18 points.
The half time break did nothing to cool off Curry, who hit a two point basket within 10 seconds, proving that the defensive work was still necessary from the Lakers in the second half. Kobe drew in a pair of fouls from Klay Thompson, booking multiple trips to the line and putting away a few free throws. Gasps were heard around Staples Center when Kobe went down after contact holding his knee under the basket, forcing Gary Vitti to make an on court appearance. Of course, Kobe being Kobe, he was up and walking before the commercial break even ended, and the game was back on.
Thompson, instead of making a trip to the bench with four fouls, stayed on the floor, and put away the next six points for the Warriors in the meantime. Earl Clark put away another three-pointer for the Lakers, which Stephen Curry answered with a three of his own, pushing his own total to a massive 39 points. With no team leading by more than seven points at one time, it was a back and forth shooting competition from both sides, with one basket being made and the opponent answering almost automatically.
Despite another injury a few minutes, possibly to Bryant’s foot, he was still putting points away for the Lakers, who trailed by single digits thanks to the cooling off of Stephen Curry. It was obvious his legs were becoming weaker as each shot went up, however, as some of Kobe’s shot attempts were barely touching the rim, demonstrating the lack of input coming from below the waist. David Lee started getting hot offensively for Golden State, a big problem that Metta World Peace answered to with a three-pointer, which were the first points from the Lakers’ bench in the game.
World Peace put away the final basket of the third quarter after realizing the space and taking it to the basket, and L.A. entered the final quarter trailing the Warriors, 85-90.
L.A. started off the final quarter of the game with a turnover, which ended up in the hands of Klay Thompson, who then put away a driving dunk on the opposite end of the floor. The Lakers, unable to grab important defensive rebounds, were practically giving away points to Golden State, who had been having difficulty scoring in the paint a duration of the game. Gasol had all of the Lakers’ four points in less than three, but this was in comparison to the Warriors’ eight in the same time duration, and Golden State began extending their lead.
With Gasol grabbing assist number 10, he solidified a double-double performance, being only two assists shy from a triple-double. The screams and cheers from the crowd after Bryant hit another two point shot were quickly quietened after Curry drained another three-pointer with ease. Jodie Meeks hit his first bucket of the game with a huge three, cutting the Warriors’ lead to only four with just under eight minutes remaining in the competition. A wide open Curry kept hitting the Lakers where it hurt as time struck by, as no matter how many buckets the young point guard scored, defense still wasn’t as tight as necessary from Steve Blake.
David Lee drew a foul from Dwight Howard, signaling Howard’s fifth of the game, forcing the big man to take a seat. A seat is something Bryant still had not taken with over 42 minutes of the game already played. Blake drew a charge from Klay Thompson, and the next trip down the court, drained a three pointer to cut the lead to six, with Blake hitting four three-pointers.
An open David Lee missed, and another big three from Kobe Bryant brought L.A. within three with five minutes remaining, getting the crowd on their feet. Kobe, scorching, hit another far three to push the Lakers on a 9-0 run, and the next play drew a foul to shoot two. While drawing the foul, Bryant looked as if he stressed his Achilles tendon, and after making both free throws to tie the game up at 109, finally took a seat on the bench after playing every second previous.
Metta World Peace drew a foul from Festus Ezeli, which fouled out the Warrior, and send World Peace to the free throw line where he made two. Stephen Curry duplicated the play, drawing a foul from Steve Blake and nailing two. The fouls kept raining down inside Staples Center, with Dwight Howard booking a trip the next time down the floor, but he was unable to make either. Carl Landry hit a jumper to retake the lead for Golden State, but Pau Gasol dominated with a spin move on the offensive end to tie it all back up again.
Klay Thompson nailed a three to give Golden State the lead yet again, and after a miss from both teams, the Lakers regained the lead 117-116. Two free throws by Steve Blake pushed L.A. back ahead, after he drew a foul from Stephen Curry with 42 seconds left in the game. Pau Gasol missed the next basket, and after Dwight Howard was unable to grab the rebound, the Warriors regained possession with nine seconds on the clock. Carl Landry missed the wide open jumper after receiving the ball from Curry, and Dwight finally grabbed the important rebound, drew a foul, and put away one of his two free throws.
A huge half court shot from Stephen Curry almost sealed the game for the Warriors, but the Lakers somehow survived, and beat Golden State 118-116. Curry finished with a huge 47 points for the Warriors, while Bryant, Gasol and Dwight all made up for a uninspiring bench performance from L.A. Bryant finished with 34 while Howard had 28. Gasol had a massive performance, ending up with a triple-double, scoring 26 points with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. The Lakers kept their playoff dream alive despite the Jazz beating Minnesota, still having sole control of the eighth seed.