March 27, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) drives to the basket against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter at ORACLE Arena. The Lakers defeated the Warriors 104-101. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
Golden State came from 16 down to take their first lead with under two minutes remaining, but Kobe Bryant hit back to back baskets to regain the lead and give the Lakers the win.
Tuesday night's meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors was a huge mismatch on paper. After all, the Lakers starting bigs, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, are each legitimately 7 feet tall (quite a bit more in Bynum's case) and All-Stars to boot. Golden State, on the other hand, recently traded away Kwame Brown and Ekpe Udoh and got the injured Andrew Bogut in return. Andris Biedrins is also out with a strained groin. That left the Warriors with rookie second round pick Jeremy Tyler (total career NBA minutes, 134), undrafted rookie Mickell Gladness (total career NBA minutes: 52) and undrafted rookie Keith Benson (total career NBA minutes: 8) as their only players in uniform over 6'9.
In fact, Benson didn't get off the bench and Tyler and Gladness combined to play just 15 minutes, which means that for most of the game, the Lakers were facing no one bigger than David Lee. Indeed, the Lakers started the game pounding the ball inside and dominating the boards, and it looked like it would be a blowout when L.A. took an 11 point lead early and stretched it to 16 midway through the second quarter.
Then a strange thing happened. The Warriors kept working and working and worked their way back into the game. With just 82 seconds left, Golden State took their first lead at 97-95 on Lee's jump shot. But Kobe Bryant hit identical 20 foot jumpers on the next two possessions to give the Lakers the lead back and they held on to win 104-101.
It was a strange game, and strangest of all was Bynum. In a game where he should have been having his way with the Warriors inside, he played just five minutes in the second half, scoring just one point. Why did Bynum play so little? On the Lakers' fourth possession of the third quarter, with a little less than two minutes gone by, Bynum trailed the rest of the Lakers up the court and received a pass a couple steps beyond the three-point line with 15 seconds on the shot clock -- and hoisted the eighth three-pointer of his seven-year NBA career (he's made one of them). Immediately coach Mike Brown got Josh McRoberts up off the bench to replace him. Bynum returned for the start of the fourth quarter, but meandered through a few possessions before Brown removed him for good with over nine minutes left in the game.
It's anyone's guess what Bynum was thinking with his three-pointer. It was bizarre. It gave the impression of a player who had no interest whatsoever in the game -- had he taken that shot in the Rookie Challenge on All-Star weekend the coach there would have benched him. The timing is interesting, coming as it did a game after Bryant's own four-minute benching in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' loss to Memphis Sunday. The big difference being that we know why Bynum was benched. But there certainly seems to be some tension in the air between the Lakers stars and the coach.
As for the game, it's hard to explain how the Warriors almost stole this one. They got destroyed on the boards, losing that battle by 17 while giving the Lakers 17 offensive rebounds. They didn't shoot particularly well, 43 percent overall and 32 percent from deep. They did take excellent care of the ball with just five turnovers, tying an all-time franchise low. Lee and Brandon Rush led the team in scoring with 23 each, and rookie Klay Thompson had 20.
For the Lakers, Bryant led the way with 30, and Pau Gasol had 19 and 17 rebounds (tying a season-high in boards). Matt Barnes had a season-high 18 off the bench.
With the win, the Lakers improve to 31-19, atop the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference. The loss drops the Warriors to 20-28, 11-14 at home.
For all of Tuesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.