Lakers' 87-86 loss to Boston involves more than just a late timeout
With the whistles coming later than expected, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson remained expressionless with a stone-cold face masking his obvious frustration.
Forward Lamar Odom just missed a layup, leading many to think the team finished on the losing end of a Lakers-Celtics matchup that featured many peaks and valleys. But the Lakers were given a timeout with 2.2 seconds remaining. Great that the team had a second chance. Bad that the Lakers expected that timeout much earlier. Lakers forward Pau Gasol said he called the timeout immediately after Paul Pierce missed a layup with 5.8 seconds remaining.
"I think I made eye contract with the referee," Gasol said. "The refree decided not to call the timeout. I thought we made eye contact and I think they showed the replay. I thought the guys looked at me and they didn’t call it."
They did, but again with 2.2 seconds remaining as Lakers trailed by one. During Kobe Bryant's absence because of a sprained left ankle, Jackson had determined that the offense flows through everybody. But if he had to choose who would attempt a game-winning shot, it would be Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who's had his fair collection of big shots, including the one with 0.4 of a second left in the 2004 conference semifinals in San Antonio and two big three pointers in Game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic.
Yet, when Ron Artest threw an inbounds pass to Fisher, the circumstances only allowed him to muster an off-balance 21-foot shot that was heavily contested by Boston guard Ray Allen. Fisher's attempt only hit air and the Celtics left Staples Center with a 87-86 victory, ending the Lakers' four-game winning streak.
Fisher noted it was "a difficult shot" and acknowledged his strategy to try to draw contact may not have been the best way given "there's not going to be many calls made" late in the game. But even with a poor shooting night, Fisher accepted and embraced the responsibility.
"If you’re confident in yourself and you know your teammates are confident in you, if you’re open you have to be willing to take the shot and live with the consequences," said Fisher, who went only one of nine from the field for three points. "That wasn’t the type of shot I would’ve liked to have gotten in that situation. But if there's anybody else on the team that is willing to and can handle whatever comes with it, if you don’t make it, it's me. Ill take whatever comes with it, I just wish we could’ve won the game."
And though Jackson lamented that the delayed call "really changed the game as far as having good options," he and his players provided many reasons the game had to be decided on a final play. To be clear, one of those reasons isn't the absence of Bryant, though he would've been largely welcomed to have an opportunity at another game winner, the last one being Jan. 31 at Boston.
"That’s not part of our thought process," Jackson said. "Our thought process was why couldn’t we hit some of those shots that were wide open. Why did we make a turnover down the stretch. That was a situation that we thought we had a pretty good chance and a couple good looks."
For every reason the Lakers had for losing the game, they had a reason they could've won the game.
The Lakers only mustered two points in the remaining 7:14, but held the Celtics to 11 fourth-quarter points. Boston jumped out to an 11-2 lead, but the Lakers' 7-0 run shrunk the Celtics first-quarter lead to 30-27.
The Lakers backcourt largely struggled with Fisher and Shannon Brown combining for three of 18 shooting ("I think a lot of those shots weren't rhythm shots," Jackson said). But the Lakers roughed and tumbled with the Celtics inside, including outrebounding Boston, 30-19, in the second half. That also entailed Gasol leading the team with 22 points, Lamar Odom providing dependability on the glass (14 boards along with 13 points), Andrew Bynum dominating the paint (14 points) and Ron Artest providing both defense (limiting Pierce, "one of the greatest shooters of all time, to 11 points on four of nine shooting) and offense (scoring 12 of his 15 points in the first half with aggressive playmaking).
After the Lakers limited Allen to two of 10 shooting in the last meeting, he roasted the Lakers' backcourt (Fisher and Brown) with a game-high 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting (and to think he was involved with several trade rumors). But the Lakers managed to limit the bleeding, with Sasha Vujacic holding Allen to a zero of three effort in the fourth quarter.
Knee jerk reactions may chalk this loss up to the Lakers showing they need Bryant back. But they had managed without him before and appeared to be able to again this time against Boston.
Knee jerk reactions may point to the poor backcourt play, and say the Lakers should've made a trade to improve the unit. Even if the performance can't be justified, Brown has been reliable most of this season and Fisher has maintained his on-court leadership role (something that's not always quantified) even as his shooting has (something that can be quantified, 38% clip).
Knee jerk reactions may also point to the officials' clock mismanagement. But had the Lakers fared better on their 16 of 25 clip from the stripe, we'd be dissecting another Lakers victory and sweeping all the aforementioned problems under the rug.
"We fought back to get in the game," Odom said. "We could’ve folded, but we didn’t. We were right there. A couple of possessions here and there and we had our opportunities."
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Photo: Derek Fisher misses an off-balance 21-footer as time expires to seal the Celtics' 87-86 victory Thursday night at Staples Center. Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times.