Lakers make selves at home, top Warriors in shootout
on January 13, 2011
The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers faced off in an offensive slugfest on Wednesday night, but despite being ahead most of the game, the home team was unable to secure the lead when it mattered most, eventually succumbing to the more widely popular California team, 115-110.
Warriors guard Monta Ellis, originally expected to sit the game out due to flu-like symptoms earlier in the week, instead played every minute of the game and set the hoops ablaze, scoring a team-high of 38 points. But in the ultimate act of one-upsmanship, Laker guard Kobe Bryant scored one point better with 39—30 in the clutch in the second half—leading his team to their sixth straight win, and twelfth in a row over the Warriors.
The scene at Oracle Arena was something else, though. Considered the “New York Yankees of basketball,” the Lakers are known for having a national following in addition to a large contingent that travels to see them play. At times during the road contest, it seemed like a home game for the Lakers thanks to all of the purple and gold in the audience.
In the Warriors third sellout of the season, fans from both alliances tried their best to be more exuberant than the other, giving the game the feeling of a high-stakes heavyweight fight. When fans would start to loudly cheer for Laker players—namely chants of “MVP! MVP!” for Bryant—the Warriors fans in the 19,596-person crowd immediately intensified their boos to drown out even the faintest of cheers.
“God, it was like a playoff atmosphere down the stretch,” said legendary Hall of Fame player Rick Barry afterwards. “People were standing up in the last two or three minutes. I think the fans had a great time. It was an entertaining game.”
Barry played ten seasons of his 16-year pro career with the Warriors franchise. He is probably remembered most for keying the Oakland team to its only NBA championship in 1975.
“We knew it was going to be electric in the building,” said Warriors coach Keith Smart after the game. “One thing about our fans, some of them may have Laker jerseys on, but as we start getting a little closer with a chance to win, you start seeing them kind of cheering for us a little bit.”
Asked after the win if it felt like a home game, Bryant responded affirmatively. “When we’re up, yeah,” he said to a group of reporters circled around him in the locker room. “When we’re up, we give our fans reason to cheer. Then it feels like a home game. When we’re down, this is one of the most fun places to play in terms of a road game.”
After the teams felt each other out in the first quarter, the Warriors’ Ellis put it on cruise control for the second, scoring his team’s first eight points. Almost everything he shot went in; he scored 23 points by halftime on 67 percent shooting—50 percent is generally the number that players aim for—including three of four from behind the three-point arc.
“My shots were going down,” said the sixth-year player after the game. “We were pretty much getting anything we wanted.”
Both teams shot the with extreme precision—each approaching that 50 percent mark—but Golden State took the lead into the break, up 53-45. That’s when things got really interesting.
Lakers’ forward Pau Gasol, who kept the game close on five of six shooting and 12 points in the second quarter while Bryant rested, maintained the hot hand during the opening of the third to keep the two-time defending league champions within striking distance of the Warriors. Then, to the pleasure of many in the stands, and to the chagrin of a large group of others, it quickly became Kobe time.
With just nine points in the first half and struggling with five turnovers, the league’s fifth-leading scorer shifted to overdrive and started putting down jump shot after jump shot. He ended the quarter with 13 points for a total of 22, and helped cut the lead down to just four.
Now with forward Dorell Wright locked and loaded and adding 20 points by that time in the game, Ellis hit a spectacular jumper in his defender’s face as the buzzer sounded to end the quarter.
With Laker guard Shannon Brown licking his lips in anticipation, and the 24-second shot clock off because there wasn’t that much time left in the period, Ellis held the ball for the last shot. When the game clock hit three, Ellis made his move.
On a hard drive to put Brown on his heels, Ellis tried to lean in to draw a foul, and then let off a 19-foot jumper just inside the three-point line. Brown dodged enough contact to avoid the foul call, but Ellis would not be denied. The ball hit the top of the rim as the buzzer sounded, caromed upwards near the top of the backboard, and then finally fell in on the hometown bounce. Warriors’ fans exploded as Ellis walked self-assuredly to his bench. Warriors up six, 75-69, heading into the final stanza.
Kobe Bryant is from a different planet though, and just flicked the switch to take it to yet another level. He would shoot four of five in the fourth, as well as a perfect seven of seven from the foul line (11 of 11 for the game). He willed his team to its first lead at 85-84 with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
On what was the most spectacular play of the game, with his team up by only one, 94-93, Bryant had Ellis guarding him. He started near the three-point marker, drove the lane to his left past his trailing rival.
As Bryant went up for the lay-up, Warriors’ center Andris Biedrins shifted over for defensive help, making considerable contact with Bryant as the Lakers’ star somehow hung in the air and released the ball off the backboard. The ball improbably fell in as Bryant tumbled to the floor. He lay on the court for just a second before wagging his finger and shaking his head, giving the crowd a look that seemed to say “This is over.” Everyone in the stands wearing purple pumped their fists and exchanged high-fives.
Biedrins fouled out of the game on the infraction, and Bryant sank the ensuing free throw to convert the three-point play and take the lead to four, 97-93.
The Warriors hit some late three pointers, but the Lakers never again gave up the lead, and moved their record to 29-11 on the season. The loss dropped the Warriors season mark to 15-23, and just 9-7 at Oracle.
After the game in the locker room, Bryant didn’t even crack a smile when asked about his incredible finish. “Just taking care of business,” he said. “I just went to work. [When] it’s go time, it’s go time.”
Despite his performance, the Warriors’ Monta Ellis was disappointed by the loss. Still, he kept things in perspective and looked forward to his team’s next chance to show they can compete with the league’s best. “It was a great test for us,” he said. “We gave it our all and left it out on the court. We didn’t want the outcome to turn out as a loss, but hey, we have another game on Friday, so we just have to move on to that one and put this one behind us.”
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