With six seconds remaining and the scored tied, about 20,000 people in Staples Center and a few million more watching on TV knew exactly where the ball was going. Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks had just tied the game at 70, and the L.A. Lakers would inbound the ball to Kobe Bryant, and Bryant would try to win the game. So when Bryant received the inbounds pass, Terry immediately rushed to double-team him 35 feet from the basket. Then Kobe did something remarkable -- he passed the ball. As Terry came to double, Kobe hit a wide open Derek Fisher, Terry's man, and Fisher, who has made a couple big shots in his career, calmly drained a long three-pointer to win the game. It was the smart play, it was the simple play, it was the right play, and because of it the Lakers escaped with a 73-70 victory.
Bryant had been on a roll lately, scoring 40 or more points in four consecutive games. That streak came to an end Monday night as he was held to a season-low 14 on just 7 for 22 shooting. Invariably Bryant is determined to take that final shot himself -- whether it was the cold shooting night or something else, he gave up the ball this time, and it was the right decision. It helps that it was Fisher on the receiving end, probably the Laker that Bryant trusts the most.
This was not a pretty game. Both teams shot in the 30s (the Lakers finished at 38 percent, the Mavs just 35 percent). The Lakers lost their halftime lead in a dismal third quarter during which they shot 3 for 19 and were outscored 16 to 7. Dallas was at least more consistent, but during no quarter did they score as many as 20 points. A 17-4 fourth quarter run had regained the lead for L.A. before Dallas clawed back to even on Terry's runner, setting up Fisher's heroics.
Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 21 points, but former Laker Lamar Odom was the only other Mav in double figures, at just 10. Andrew Bynum led the Lakers in scoring with 17 points along with 15 rebounds. It was the lowest point total of the season for the Mavericks -- and for the Lakers -- but the defenses deserve a lot of credit for the low-scoring evening.
For Bryant it was the rare game where he couldn't get his game going. He started off missing his first five shots, but then hit four straight before the intermission and it seemed like he might be primed for a big second half. Instead, he missed all six of his third quarter attempts as the entire Lakers offense struggled.
For Mike Brown and the Lakers, getting a win without having to rely on Kobe to score 40 is a major step forward. In the end, solid team defense and more even shot distribution is a more sustainable solution. There will no doubt be nights when they'll need Kobe to put on a scoring exhibition -- but it's nice to know that he can also make the pass to an open Fisher when the time comes.
This was L.A.'s ninth straight home win, and with it they improve to 10-5 overall. The Mavericks drop to 8-6.