“This is Staples!”
The home crowd erupted as Kobe calmly shook off a double team on the inbounds play and drained his third three in the 4th quarter to tie the game at 109 with 5.5 seconds to go in regulation. Such an ending seemed a far cry from the rest of the contest as the Lakers allowed another sub-.500 team to dominate them throughout the game, surrendering 37 points in the 1st quarter.
In overtime, the Lakers fell behind once again. But they would not yield. A game-tying three by Steve Nash and double team confounding drive for a two-handed slam dunk by Kobe for his game-high 41st point gave the Lakers the lead for good and a 118-116 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Like Leonidas of Sparta charged his forces to defend the coastal pass of Thermopylae, the Lakers valiantly fought their way back into their narrowing path to the playoffs, trailing by as many as 15 points, 11 going into the 4th, with defense. Absent in the 1st as the Raptors made 16 of 22 field goals, Dwight began to challenge shots in the 2nd, registering 3 of his 5 blocks in the quarter. Although the Lakers efforts brought them to within 9 at halftime, 59-53, they proceeded to sink back into a double-digit deficit entering the final frame. They seemed destined to succumb to season-long ceiling of a .500 record once again.
The Lakers’ “Big Three” of Bryant, Howard, and Nash came alive and brought their squad back from the brink. Howard threw down dunks and made 3-4 free throws down the stretch for 22 points. Nash netted the precursor to his game-tying three, chipping in 22 points, to set the table for some fine Vino. Kobe nonchalantly drilled a 3 with Raptor Allan Anderson in his face to get within two with 1:41 on the clock. He circled back towards the corner for a catch-and-shoot three on an out of bounds play to get within one with 29.3 to go. And then, the one to force overtime, Kobe split the double, pumping Amir Johnson out of the picture, and cashing in a three over Rudy Gay. Of all teams not to get the ball out of Kobe’s hands, the Raptor could do nothing to stop the collapse.
With each enormous three, the Mamba pulled his team closer to a tie, to a win, escaping a devastating loss that would have, once more, kept the Lakers just below even in the win-loss column. The seemingly insurmountable .500 mark, however, would not oppress the Lakers any longer. As Rudy Gay missed at both the end of regulation and the end of the extra five minutes, the Lakers earned their 32nd win and a record above .500 for the first time since November 20th when they were 6-5. With the torturous win, the Lakers moved to within a ½ game of Utah as the Jazz dropped a nail-biter to the Lakers’ Sunday afternoon opponent, Da Bulls.