It's a new and improved blueprint for the Los Angeles Lakers: trust the big men. Kobe Bryant was not able to find the target, shooting 4-of-15 for the game, but Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined for a 17-of-28 floor game with 22 rebounds and seven assists as the Lakers wore out the Dallas Mavericks down the stretch to beat the defending champs 96-91 in Dallas Wednesday night.
Down the stretch, the game went back and forth, and swung on two critical turnovers by Jason Terry and a pair of excellent passes from Kobe to his bigs for easy buckets that kept a scoreboard buffer zone that the Mavericks ultimately couldn't erase.
Both passes could have been disguised as shots, but the first found Gasol right at the rim, and after missing the first attempt, Gasol put home his next. On the second pass, Kobe drew his man and Dirk Nowitzki to him and lobbed it to Bynum, who was at the front of the rim himself. The new All-Star dunked it home giving the Lakers a seven-point lead with a minute left.
Normally, that would be good enough to hang on through the free throw endgame to win. But the Lakers took everyone through a magical, mysterious ride through that endgame and made things interesting. Nowitzki, who still doesn't seem right in his lower body on his shots, misfired for the fifth time on a three-point shot, and Matt Barnes rebounded.
And then Matt Barnes missed two free throws.
After Terry made a three-point shot, the Mavericks fouled again, but this time it was Kobe who would go to the line.
And then Kobe missed two free throws.
Vince Carter took the next three and missed it, but Nowitzki was there to tip it in and make it a two-point game with 29 seconds left. Faced with fouling or playing it straight defensively, the Mavericks gambled that they could trap the inbounds pass and force the turnover.
The Lakers treated that possession like a game of 'Hot Potato' as they nearly turned the ball over three times before Brendan Haywood waylaid Gasol on a play that could have been called for a flagrant foul but was not.
And then Gasol missed two free throws.
Amazingly, the Lakers were 15-of-27 from the free throw line after those misses. This time, however, Nowitzki couldn't corral the rebound and Barnes did for the Lakers and then was immediately fouled.
And then Matt Barnes made two free throws, leading the Lakers to victory -- finally.
Gasol led the Lakers with 24 points and Bynum scored 19 points with 14 rebounds, providing the bedrock for the Lakers getting the key win in Dallas. Derek Fisher scored 15 as Mike Brown went to the veteran (at least more veteran than Steve Blake) and the lefty responded with five huge points down the stretch.
For Dallas, Nowitzki scored 25 on 9-of-22 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Vince Carter added 20. But the Mavericks shot only 40 percent, including a brutal 25 percent from three-point range as Nowitzki, Terry, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion didn't have it against L.A. Dallas was also without Lamar Odom, who missed the game due to family matters.
C.A. Clark at Silver Screen and Roll isn't sure what happened:
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Dallas Mavericks by a final score of 96 to 91, and having watched the entire game, I have no idea how. This was a strange performance all the way around. The Lakers won despite a pretty terrible effort from Kobe Bryant, who shot 4-15 from the field and turned the ball over 7 times. They won despite turning the ball over 17 times total, giving Dallas 23 fast break points. They won despite giving up 21(!!) offensive rebounds.
For more on the Mavericks, check out Mavs Moneyball.