Derek Fisher, on the final play of the game:
Much more to come below the jump.
There were 2.2 seconds left on the clock. The Lakers were down 87-86, with a chance to win a ragged but exciting game against the Boston Celtics.
Before Tuesday's win over Golden State, Phil Jackson was asked who would likely get the final shot for the Lakers without Kobe Bryant available, as was the case this evening. Derek Fisher was the man tabbed by his long-time coach, and true to the The Zen Master's word, Fish was the man who received Ron Artest's inbound pass, despite having converted only one of eight previous shots. "Point Four" took a few dribbles to his left, then lost the handle with Ray Allen stuck to him like Krazy Glue. No foul called -- Fisher may be a Laker icon but he's hardly a star who gets that kind of love -- and after regaining the rock, an off-balance heave missed the rim entirely.
Game over. The Greenies return the favor after the Lakers stole a contest by one point in their house late last month.
Does this loss, snapping a streak of four straight victories without Bryant in the lineup, serve as a reminder of how much Bryant is missed? To some degree, without question, but not just because they missed one of those game-winners that have cemented Kobe's legend.
Yes, it's always preferable having the ball in Kobe's hands with the final seconds ticking away, as he most recently reminded us during the game in Beantown. But his absence was probably felt more during the final 2:24, a stretch during which the Lakers were held without a bucket after Lamar Odom scored on a layup.
Or during the final 7:14, really, since LO's basket was the only one between a dunk from Andrew Bynum and the final horn.
Or when you realize Kobe's not around to spell either Fisher or Shannon Brown, the starting backcourt good on only three of 18 combined tries.
That's when Kobe Bryant especially feels like a pretty handy ace up the sleeve.
On a night when the Lakers offset some bad elements by kicking their D into gear, out-rebounding the Celts 30-19 in the second half, and matching Boston's intensity shove-for-shove and glare-for-glare, the purple-and-gold equalizer is seriously missed. These are games when star players truly can make a difference, and it's easy to wonder whether Kobe might have been able to get his team over the hump, considering how close they came to getting the job done without him.
Sasha Vujacic Suffers Grade-1 Right Shoulder Sprain
In a lot of ways, Thursday's game was a microcosm of Sasha's season. Even when things look good, they're bad. Entering the game at the start of the second quarter, he missed two shots including one triple, earned his all-too-standard personal foul 35 feet from the basket, and turned the ball over on an ill-advised drive through the paint resulting in a charge.
Safe to say the Staples crowd wasn't exactly waiting with bated breath for his next appearance.
But in the fourth quarter, Vujacic came up big. He corralled a Jordan Farmar miss for a key putback, and followed with a nice driving finish with the right hand. He knocked down another jumper, and played solid defense on the other end. Things were looking up.
Then he ran into a Kendrick Perkins screen, and that was the end of it. Vujacic went down hard, holding his right shoulder. After the game, he was in obvious pain, struggling to get his shirt and vest on. (Lest you think the media are simply a bunch of vultures, we actually helped him out, though in regards to pants, Sasha was on his own. And while fashion is certainly important, this would have been a good night for Sasha to simply carry the vest home.)
The Lakers won't practice Friday and don't play again until Tuesday. Diagnosed with a Grade-1 sprain, Vujacic will need every moment of the break to get healthy.
There's no immediate timetable for his recovery, but Lakers PR indicated he could certainly miss some time. In one night, Sasha saw the barrel's bottom, enjoyed a moment of redemption, then got hurt. Par for the course in a brutally frustrating '09-'10 season.
While Sasha's play has been spotty at best, if he was to miss substantial time, particularly while Kobe is still on the shelf, it would continue to strain Phil Jackson's rotation. With Kobe out and Luke Walton on the shelf indefinitely, the Lakers are running out of dudes available to play and/or guard small forwards in moments where Ron Artest is out of the game.
Phil Jackson might be forced to use Lamar Odom more at the three, or dust off Adam Morrison and cross his fingers. Meanwhile, missing Kobe and Sasha puts a strain on the backcourt as well.
Nothing impacts a team's title hopes like injuries, and they're starting to mount for the Lakers at both ends of the rotation. Obviously Kobe's health is paramount, but losing lesser players erodes the squad in significant ways.
One Moment of Controversy
After Lamar Odom hauled down a Paul Pierce miss with just over five seconds remaining, he headed up court to try and push the action (a choice I liked, actually). Behind the play, Pau Gasol, having peeked at the bench, signaled for a timeout. It wasn't granted until 2.2 seconds were left on the clock.
There was a fair amount of confusion during the break, and Jackson was clearly unhappy with the officials. He explained the sequence after the game:
"The timeout? I called it with six seconds, Pau gave them the signal at five, and we ended up having 2.2 on it, and it really changed the game as far as having good options. Even so, (the final shot) wasn't a good option (for that time available)... They say there are four people on the clock now, and there's no mistakes. They rarely ever give any time back on the clock. I think only one referee saw the timeout when Pau called it anyway. The other two either had their backs turned to it or didn't see it. That's not a reviewable thing."
PJ's clock was off by a second or so, but no question Gasol was asking for the timeout long before it was granted, which obviously impacted the final play.
Before Jackson's postgame presser, a few members of the media debated the final sequence and wondered aloud who should have been available to shoot. It's hard to argue with Fish as an option, but I'd have figured out a way to put Artest in a potential shooting position rather than have him inbound the ball. With 2.2 seconds to play, if Fish isn't able to shake his defender before the ball is thrown in -- Allen was stuck to him -- it's almost impossible to expect him to create space to shoot. Artest, on the other hand, is so freaking big he might have more potential to lean into a defender to create enough space to shoot.
I don't like the odds of either guy finding cord on a heavily contested jumper (given how often Artest gets his shot blocked, it's clear he doesn't lead the league in lift), but given a choice, I'd take Artest, and would have had him available.
One Great Quote
Fisher, on how he reacts when fans approach him and tell him he's washed up:
"They ask (media people), they don't ask me. Most of the time when they see me they ask me for my autograph."
1) 25. The Lakers' percentage from behind the arc, made worse by the amount of wide-open looks that were bricked. Brian and I have stressed how the lack of outside shooting is a bigger deal than "Derek Farmar's" inability to lock down "elite, speedy point guards." This is what we're talking about.
2) 64. If you think some of those treys were clean looks, they're nothing compared to the ones at the free throw line. Thus, hitting just 16 of 25 (a 64 percent tally bumped considerably by Pau Gasol's eight-for-eight mark) is even less excusable. I'm no mathemagenius, but I have a sneaking suspicion those nine wasted points added up in this 87-86 fall.
3) 20: That would be the amount of points obtained on second chance opportunities. Like I mentioned earlier, you can blame the loss on many factors, but effort isn't among them.
4) 24: Kobe and Ray Allen have a relationship described generously over the years as "frosty." Thus, it's both ironic and stinging when Jesus Shuttlesworth racks a Mamba jersey's worth of points over the opening three quarters. "Unconscious" doesn't begin to describe a guy who drills 10 three-pointers in 25 minutes of burn.
Derek Fisher, on the missed game-winner, the loss and the Lakers-Celtics rivalry:
Lamar Odom, on the positives taken from the loss:
Ron Artest, on the loss and his goal to lose a few pounds during the long break. If you see him on the StairMaster, the setting is likely "Calorie Burner," at a light pace.