Lakers have mixed record in securing close games
With the Lakers facing a far from certain outcome with four minutes and 39 seconds remaining last week to Golden State, a member of the Lakers coaching staff approached Coach Phil Jackson and offered him this statistic.
"The difference between the teams that win and lose in this period of time -- this is significant -- there's a stat that says 75% of NBA games are decided within the last four minutes of a game," Jackson said following the Lakers' 104-94 victory over the Warriors. "That tells you something about the closeness in games in the NBA. Teams that win know how to defend at the end and know how to execute at the offensive end at the end of games."
The outcome was far from pretty, with the Lakers tied, 89-89, with 4:39 against a not-so threatening team. But the Lakers prevailed by going on a 15-5 run and holding Golden State to two of nine shooting the rest of the way. Having to make the difference in the game's final minutes is certainly nothing foreign to the Lakers (42-14).
Consider their record during close games. The Lakers are 4-0 in overtime, 8-3 in games decided by three or fewer points, 3-1 in games decided by four to six points and 6-2 in games decided by seven and nine points. One of those games included a 95-93 loss Feb. 1 to the Memphis Grizzlies, who the Lakers play Tuesday night. For better or worse, those outcomes have often come down to late-game plays.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has taken care of that responsibility, netting five game-winning shots this season. The most recent one came in the Lakers' 90-89 victory Jan. 31 over the Boston Celtics, where Bryant drove left,stopped at the free-throw line, pump faked and then swished a fall-away jumper over Boston guard Ray Allen with 7.3 seconds remaining.
Bryant also bailed the Lakers out in a 100-95 victory Jan. 13 against the Dallas Mavericks, in a 109-108 victory Jan. 1 against Sacramento, in a 108-107 overtime win Dec. 16 at Milwaukee and a 108-107 win Dec. 4 against Miami.
Against Dallas, Bryant dribbled past guard Josh Howard and pulled up for a 19-foot jumper, giving the Lakers a 97-95 lead with 28.9 seconds remaining. Against Sacramento, after making contact with Kings guard Sergio Rodriguez, who slipped and fell, Bryant took a wide-open pass from Pau Gasol in the left corner. The shot swished in as time expired. Against Milwaukee, Bryant drilled a 15-footer over Andrew Bogut as time expired. And against Miami, Bryant banked in a fall-away 27-foot shot from the top of the key as time expired.
These final shots haven't always worked out in the Lakers' favor, however. In a 106-105 loss on Jan. 24 to the Toronto Raptors, the Lakers had only 1.2 seconds remaining to get a shot off. Luke Walton's inbounds pass went slightly out of Bryant's reach, but Bryant got the ball and then pulled up for a fall-away three-pointer that ultimately rimmed out. In a 95-93 loss Feb. 1 to Memphis, the last 21 seconds didn't go exactly as planned. Bryant brought the ball up the court, Gasol ran a screen and roll at the top of the key, O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol effectively switched and Bryant had nothing open with three seconds remaining. He passed to Ron Artest in the near corner for a three-point attempt, but the shot went off the rim as time expired. And in an 87-86 loss last week to the Boston Celtics, Derek Fisher was forced to muster an off-balance 21-foot shot with only 2.2 seconds remaining. But it resulted in an airball.
Late-game lapses versus Big Plays.
Though a final shot can ultimately determine a victory, it's not the leading indicator for what leads to a loss. The Lakers found that out the hard way during their eight-game trip in January with late-game losses to Cleveland, Toronto and Memphis.
In a 93-87 loss Jan. 21 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Pau Gasol's two missed free throws that could've tied the game with 24 seconds remaining proved costly. In the Lakers' loss to the Raptors, it appeared numerous times that the Lakers could pull away. They had a 14-5 advantage with 5:07 remaining in the first quarter but Toronto fought back to trail, 24-21. The Lakers built a 48-40 lead with 3:31 remaining in the first half, but the Raptors cut the lead by halftime to 56-54. The loss became more frustrating for the Lakers since it was essentially decided on a controversial foul called on Gasol against Hedo Turkoglu, marking the first time in the season that the Lakers lost in a game decided by three points or fewer. And against Memphis, the final minutes accurately reflected the Lakers' overall sluggish play. Lamar Odom missed a layup, Bryant missed a three-pointer and Odom was called for a foul on Zach Randolph. Bryant answered Randolph's two free throws with a trey. He answered Rudy Gay's three with a three of his own to make it 95-93. But he didn't answer on the final play.
Jackson mentioned in the video above the need to make a defensive stand, and he used an interesting example to illustrate that. After Paul Pierce missed a layup with 5.8 seconds remaining last week, Odom was in the position to score a fast-break layup. But he missed the layup, a shot that would've been nullified anyway because a timeout was called with 2.2 seconds remaining, something the Lakers say they called immediately after the miss. Let's not forget the Lakers wouldn't have been in that position had they mustered more than a field goal in the final 7:14.
There are other examples of those type of stops benefiting the Lakers, however. The Lakers appeared sluggish in a 99-97 victory Feb. 3 against Charlotte, an outcome that wasn't safe until Lakers guard Jordan Farmar deflected an inbound pass from Stephen Jackson with 7.9 seconds remaining, resulting in a Farmar dunk off Gasol's pass for the eventual victory. Fisher made a similar effort with a late-game steal in the Lakers' 103-102 overtime victory Nov. 5 against Houston.
In the Lakers' win at Boston, Artest made some big plays in the final minute. After Bryant kicked the ball out to Artest in the far corner behind the three-point line, Artest drove past Kevin Garnett, brushed off Pierce's help defense and Kendrick Perkins' double team and made a four-foot runner. It cut the Celtics' lead to 89-88 with 45 seconds remaining. Moments later, Artest fought through Allen's screen at the top of the key and locked down on Pierce. As he tried going in for a pull-up jumper, Pierce tugged at Artest's jersey and was called for an offensive foul with 27 seconds left, setting up Bryant's game winner.
And in a 98-92 victory Jan. 19 against the Orlando Magic, Shannon Brown's 22 points and Farmar's nine of 11 points in the fourth quarter proved instrumental in the Lakers' putting together 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. That was a role usually reserved for Bryant, who led fourth-quarter charges in the Lakers' 101-98 overtime victory Nov. 4 against Oklahoma City and against Milwaukee where he made the game winner.
What this means
Pay attention to the number of variables Bryant, Jackson and Gasol rattle off after I asked them the keys to executing in close-game situations. Bryant ticked off open looks, high percentage shots and defensive stops. Jackson and Gasol also cited defensive stands as a main component. And Gasol added making the right pass.
Those are many areas that can define breaks in a game. And when a contest comes down to a last shot or a few possessions, sharpening on all those factors becomes a necessity to secure a win.
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Photo: Lakers forward Pau Gasol heads off the court while Memphis big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph celebrate their 95-93 victory over L.A. on Monday night. Credit: Mark Weber / Associated Press.
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who made only eight of 20 shots and two of his four free throws, is forced into a difficult shot by Boston forward Glen Davis (11) and guard Ray Allen (20) during Sunday's game. Credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images.
Photo: Lakers guard Shannon Brown, who had a career-high 27 points against Golden State on Tuesday night, splits the defense of the Warriors' Anthony Morrow, left, and Devean George in the first half. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.