Reliving Lakers' clutch shots in 2010 playoffs
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has been down this path many times before, witnessing clutch performances from the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry.
But even if the Zen Master has witnessed and been the beneficiary of plenty of game-winning shots along with his 10 championship rings, he shared Friday that it's actually the missed shots that stay with him the most.
Nonetheless, with Ron Artest's game-winning put-back in the Lakers' 103-101 Game 5 Western Conference Finals victory over the Phoenix Suns, it's leaving many reflecting on numerous clutch performances. The Times' Mike Bresnahan ranks Artest's shot as one of the best in Lakers playoff history, as does The Times' Mark Heisler. The Times' Fabulous Forum blog also has a poll asking the fans which buzzer-beater ranks as the best in Lakers' playoff history.
Interestingly enough, the Lakers' current playoff run has included two buzzer-beaters and two other games that featured clutch shots in the waning moments. Below is a breakdown of who filled that role and how.
May, 29, 2010: Lakers' 103-101 Game 5 victory over Phoenix Suns in West Finals
Artest instantly emerged from being the team's scapegoat to becoming the team's hero. He launched an ill-advised three-pointer in the final minute as the Lakers nursed a three-point lead with 22 seconds on the shot clock. He then responded with a put-back off Bryant's missed three-pointer with 0.8 seconds remaining.
The second the ball dropped through the hoop, forward Artest jumped into Bryant's arms. Lamar Odom quickly joined in, wrapping his arms around the back of Bryant's head and over Artest's shoulder moments before the rest of the team joined the celebration. Shortly after, Artest stormed out of the entrance tunnel as the 18,997 at Staples Center roared in elation.
"Biggest layup," Artest said regarding his put-back. "I missed a lot of layups during the regular season. Previous teams, I made more jumpers and layups. But now I'm missing jumpers and missing layups. But you know just staying with it. Staying with it and trying to stay focused. And just trying to play my part and see what happens."
May 8, 2010: Lakers' 111-110 Game 3 victory over Utah Jazz in Western Semifinals.
Lakers guard Derek Fisher entered the postseason riddled with similar questions as last season, including his age (35), inconsistent shooting and struggle to defend quick guards.
But in Game 3, he proved how he can still make a difference. He drew charges, resulting in Utah guard Deron Williams getting into foul trouble. He made shots, finishing with 20 points on seven of 13 shooting, including a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 109-108 lead with 28 seconds remaining. And he made defensive stops, such as disrupting Carlos Boozer on a missed layup on the following play.
Although Fisher's performance helped silence a bitter and antagonistic Utah crowd, it's a shame Utah's fans treated him with such hatred when his departure hinged on his daughter's health.
"I would venture to guess that if I was a construction worker ... who requested a transfer to another department for the betterment of his family, I would be commended for it," Fisher told The Times' Bill Plaschke. "But because it's sports, there's just so much passion added to it."
April 30, 2010: Lakers' 95-94 Game 6 first-round victory over Oklahoma City
With the clock winding down, Bryant brought the ball up the floor, and looked to fulfill a role many expect from him. The Lakers trailed by one in Game 6 against Oklahoma City with 14 seconds remaining, and what better way to end it than having the Black Mamba orchestrate another game-winning shot.
As ESPN analyst Mark Jackson said as the game neared its final stages, "Put the ball in the best player on the floor's hands and live with the results." So with 6 seconds remaining, Bryant drove past Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook toward the near baseline. Bryant stopped short of the lane and squared up along the near post, pump faked and then pulled away for a fade-away jumper. The shot rimmed out, but Lakers forward Pau Gasol grabbed the rebound and gave the Lakers a one-point lead with half a second left. Following the timeout, Westbrook's missed three-pointer from the far corner made the Lakers' 95-94 series-clinching victory official, marking the third consecutive year the Lakers advanced past the first round of the playoffs, the team's seventh victory in the last eight close-out games and improving the team's record to 28-14 in close-out games during Bryant's 13-year career.
The last play perfectly served as a microcosm of the entire game. It featured plenty of heart-pounding moments. The result proved unpredictable. And the Lakers managed to stave off a loud and blue Oklahoma City crowd because of various contributions. So it was only fitting that on a play that appeared to mark Bryant's seventh game-winner this season, Gasol helped recover from Bryant's missed shot. Gasol had only nine points on four of 11 shooting, but finished with 18 rebounds, including the last one that ultimately decided the game.
"I kept battling, kept hustling," Gasol told reporters. "Luckily, I pursued that ball and I put it in."
Instead of answering questions about his fractured right index finger, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant fielded questions about his fourth-quarter dominance in the Lakers' 95-92 Game 2 victory over Oklahoma City. Instead of Lakers Coach Phil Jackson citing how the Black Mamba needs to alter his shot selection, the Zen Master quoted Mark Twain to suggest he was wrong after all. Instead of expressing annoyance over all the questions regarding his health and player capabilities, Bryant now found them "amusing" and "entertaining."
The Lakers' victory gave the team a 2-0 series lead, but the performance raised several issues, what with the team's experience coming into play in the final minutes against a team that's struggled securing close games, whether the Thunder's 17 blocks is a sign it has found a way to neutralize the Lakers' inside presence and whether the Lakers can get by with only Bryant (39 points) and Gasol (25 points) leading the way. But Bryant properly answered that all he needed was a fourth-quarter surge to get his rhythm back, which entailed scoring 15 fourth-quarter points on four of eight shooting.
Said Bryant: "After 13 years, you think they'd know better."
-- Mark Medina
Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter: twitter.com/latmedina. E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org