Five things to take away from Lakers' 87-86 victory over Clippers
1. Derek Fisher's preparation for his game-winning shot in the Lakers' 87-86 victory Wednesday over the Clippers paid off. As the Lakers huddled together on the sideline with 3.1 seconds remaining, Fisher planned out what he would do should he receive the ball. It wasn't likely that scenario would play out, considering the first option would go to Kobe Bryant on the perimeter or Pau Gasol inside. But with each of them heavily marked, Lakers forward Matt Barnes inbounded the ball to Fisher near the top of the key.
As soon as Fisher caught the ball, he noticed Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe marked him as if he would shoot from long-range. Instead, Fisher drove through the lane and lofted a left-handed layup that reminded him of his coast-to-coast drive that signified his clutch Game 3 performance of the 2010 NBA Finals. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan nearly swatted it, but just missed.
"Had his finger nails been longer," Fisher said of Jordan, "he probably would've got to it."
But the final sequence didn't just lead to luck. It signified the clutch plays that have defined Fisher's 14-year-career and it was a sequence Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said knew would work since Fisher also made a jumper to cut the Lakers' deficit to 78-77 with 6:24 remaining on the first play he entered the lineup.
Said Jackson: "I thought Fish was ready to make shots."
2. Fisher spoke to the team afterwards about its inconsistent play: The euphoria spilled out as soon as the game-winning layup dropped in the basket. Fisher clutched his fist. Lakers forward Pau Gasol breathed a heavy sigh. And Clippers forward Blake Griffin stood there holding the basketball with a blank stare. But the Lakers' giddiness proved short lived.
The Lakers (16-6) pointed to their experience as helping them overcome a poor performance against the Clippers (5-18). They expressed hope they could carry it through their six-game trip beginning Friday at Chicago. And they credited the various contributions I'll detail later on that secured the win. But it didn't stop from the Lakers welcoming Fisher speaking to the team at length about his dissatisfactions with the team's recent play, what with its four-game losing streak after Thanksgiving and its need to grind out close wins this week against sub. 500 teams in Washington and the Clippers.
Lakers guard Shannon Brown provided the Cliffs Notes version of what Fisher said: "We can't keep playing the way we're playing. Fisher and Jackson didn't say exact specifics, but both suggested the team hasn't managed properly to fill in for the absences of Andrew Bynum and Theo Ratliff, team chemistry has dropped off and there appears to be a disconnect between newcomers and corps lineup.
"Not just effort in terms of trying hard and realize we have a responsibility to each other to try and play the game a certain way," Fisher said when asked the gist of his message to the team. "We have to put each other in a position to be successful. You can't just go out and play five guys on the court if it's not a collective and united team."
3. The Lakers lacked a spark most of the game. No one epitomized that issue more than Gasol, who scored 10 points on only four of 13 shooting in 40 minutes. Jackson said "Pau had his head down running tonight," making it surprising he played late in the game, a move that nearly cost the Lakers dearly. Moments after Gasol entered the lineup with 2:32 remaining and the Lakers trailing 83-79, Griffin easily stuffed his shot. A minute later, he mishandled Bryant's bounce pass. And then Jordan then easily went backdoor over Gasol to give the Clippers an 86-85 lead with 15.5 seconds remaining.
"There wasn't really energy out there," Gasol said. "No one was really being productive.
That was clearly evident in the Clippers' outrebounding the Lakers, 52-39, the team shooting 38.1% in the first half and allowing the Clippers to lead by as many as 12 points. Numerous plays epitomized that poor energy: Bryant getting stripped dribbling while everyone stood around; Bryant driving the lane and his pass in mid-air bouncing off Griffin. and leading to a fast-break dunk; Jordan beating a non-hustling Gasol for a rebound that led to a lob from Al-Faroug Aminu; Ron Artest force-feeding an entry pass to Bryant that led to a turnover; and Griffin beating Lamar Odom one-on-one twice using a simple spin move to draw bank shots.
"You have to find that fire every single night and bring it," said Bryant, who scored 24 points on nine of 15 shooting, while often glaring at teammates for silly mistakes. "We have to demand that from one another every single night."
4. Ron Artest showcases defensive versatility on Griffin and Eric Gordon. Artest sat in his locker room chair, almost relishing the possibility that Griffin would outperform him. "His highlights are sick. I wish he dunks on me later," Artest said before the game. "I'm not going to lie. I hope he dunks on me and puts his shoulder on my face." Whether Artest just wanted to soften Griffin up, elicit a few laughs or both, the result proved the exact opposite. Most of Griffin's 16 points on six of 17 shooting came against Odom. But when Artest matched up with Griffin, the Clippers rook had a Welcome to the NBA moment. Instead of Griffin dunking over Artest, he ripped ball out of his hands as he hit the ground. Artest also provided two late-game steals, including one where he shut off an Eric Gordon entry pass to Griffin. The steals led to a Bryant floater and a Bryant jumper, giving the Lakers an 85-84 lead with 31.9 seconds remaining.
"He does a great job keeping a body on him," Bryant said of Artest's work on Griffin. He's very sticky defensively and he does a good job and maintains his position. Guys aren't going to overpower him. It's not going to happen."
Artest's work didn't stop there. On one play, Artest fought for a loose ball and nearly lifted Gordon before falling over him.
"You have to have quick feet to punch fast," Artest said. "Quick punches come from the feet from your corp and everything. So you just apply it to the game and apply it to athletic part of the game. So you can guard quicker guys and take abuse from bigger guys."
5. Brown's third-quarter shooting sparked momentum: Brown stood on the sideline maintaining his cool, drinking water and wiping the sweat off his face. He had just drilled a half-court shot at the end of the third quarter, leaving the 19,614 at Staples Center buzzing. It capped an 11-point third quarter, cut the Clippers' lead to 71-65 and, Jackson argued, "an energy boost." When Brown stood on the sideline, Bryant approached him with a simple message: "Keep it going."
That he did, creating a trickle effect on the bench. Brown opened the fourth quarter driving baseline and dumping a pass off to Barnes for an easy bucket. Barnes then followed suit with a defensive rebound and found Steve Blake open for a jumper. Moments later, swift ball movement led to Blake nailing another jumper and taking a 74-73 lead with 8:45 left. The energy trickled onto the starting lineup once they entered the game trailing 78-77 with 6:41 remaining.
"I tried to shoot it as naturally as I can," Brown said. "That's our job coming off the bench to give us energy and give us a spark and extend leads or give leads back."
Quote of the Night: " "His highlights are sick. I wish he dunks on me later. I'm not going to lie. I hope he dunks on me and puts his shoulder on my face." -- Lakers forward Ron Artest on Clippers rookie forward Blake Griffin.
Stat of the Night: 8 - The number of lead changes in the Lakers-Clippers matchup
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Photo: Lakers guard Derek Fisher, center, puts up the game-winning shot at the buzzer as Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, left, and center DeAndre Jordan try to defend in the Lakers' 87-86 victory Wednesday. Credit: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press.