After just their third loss of the season on Friday the Lakers were anxious to get back on the court tonight. The Indiana Pacers were in town for their only trip to Staples Center during the regular season. The Lakers were clear favorites going into the game tonight, and following that tough loss in Utah were expected to come out and take care of business against the Pacers. With Los Angeles receiving the news that the Spurs had already won earlier in the day, the game against Indiana became more important.
The Lakers have been accustomed to building big leads in the first quarter this season. That wasn’t the case in this one, however, as the Pacers kept it close throughout the first quarter. Led by Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant on the offensive end, the Lakers managed to keep their slim lead for much of the first period. Indiana certainly was anxious to play, and gave the Lakers a decent amount of trouble to start the game.
Despite their large size advantage, the Lakers were unable to utilize it to their advantage in the beginning of the game. Pacers’ center Roy Hibbert supplied the low-post game for Indiana to start things off, but was unable to match Gasol’s contributions in the first. While Indiana was able to shortly snag the lead towards the end of the quarter, Bryant quickly gave Los Angeles the lead back with a three-point play. At the end of the quarter the Lakers led the Pacers 26-23.
The first play of the second quarter for Los Angeles wasn’t what they were looking for, as they quickly turned the ball over. The Lakers reserves were looking for some redemption after a dismal performance on Friday night versus Utah. They got a good chance at the beginning of the quarter, as they had their hands full with a tough Pacers squad in a close game. The Pacers stepped it up in the second quarter, and caught the Lakers off guard.
One of the lone bright spots for the Lakers in the second quarter was reserve Matt Barnes. Barnes went 3-5 in the first half, putting up 7 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist. Bryant stepped up in the first half as well, and had 18 points at the break. By the time the quarter came to an end though, the Lakers trailed the Pacers by 6, 51-45.
The Lakers started the third with more dismal play. They lacked energy and efficiency on both ends of the floor. While the Pacers were cutting and finding open shots, the Lakers were standing around and relying on too much one-on-one play. The Pacers pushed the lead to 15 halfway through the quarter, as Los Angeles couldn’t seem to figure out what was preventing them from making it interesting. They were a step slow on every play in the third, and seemed uncharacteristically lethargic throughout the period.
Bryant kept the Lakers in it despite their poor play, getting the Lakers back within ten with less than a minute to play. Heading into the fourth quarter, however, the Lakers would need someone other than number 24 to step up and provide some momentum. The Pacers led Los Angeles 77-69 with twelve minutes left in the game.
With Bryant on the bench to start the quarter the Lakers struggled again on offense. They couldn’t seem to get much going in terms of offensive movement and rhythm. Poor shooting from Brown and the rest of the reserves, save Matt Barnes, turned one of the Lakers’ biggest strengths into a weakness tonight. The Lakers were able to cut the lead down to six with Bryant on the bench, but Indiana wasn’t about to concede the lead.
Phil Jackson was forced to sub Bryant back into the game early, and it paid off for Los Angeles. The Pacers deserve credit, however, as they kept the Lakers on their heels for much of the quarter. After a three-point bucket from Blake gave the Lakers momentum, but Indiana always seemed to have an answer. Roy Hibbert gave Los Angeles problems all night, and outplayed Gasol mightily down the stretch of the game. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, this was not the type of effort that Jackson and the coaching staff were expecting tonight.
The game got close at the end, despite continued defensive lapses from Los Angeles. Bryant continued to work his magic and Gasol hit two big free throws with 34.1 seconds to go to cut the lead back to one. For Bryant, this was the 105th time in his career he reached the 40-point plateau in his career. In the end the Lakers couldn’t quite muster enough strength to come back, and they fell to the Pacers 95-92.