Kobe Bryant calmly dribbled to his right and made a 19-foot fadeaway at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.
It would have been easy for the Detroit Pistons to fold – but the mood at The Palace is finally beginning to feel different.
”Kobe, he’s a phenomenal player. He’s going to hit those,” Detroit guard Rodney Stuckey said. ”We didn’t hang our heads. We pretty much just dug down deep in overtime.”
Stuckey scored six of his 34 points in overtime, and the Pistons recovered from Bryant’s tying shot to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 88-85 on Tuesday night.
Bryant and Metta World Peace both had chances to tie it late in overtime but couldn’t connect from beyond the arc.
”Everyone played a little tired,” Bryant said.
In front of only their third home sellout of the season – with Gladys Knight performing at halftime – the Pistons won despite scoring only nine points in the third quarter. Detroit started 4-20 under new coach Lawrence Frank, but the Pistons have gone 9-6 since.
”When you just have a short amount of time with this lockout and stuff like that – new team, new coach – everything’s brand new,” Stuckey said. ”It’s going to take time. It’s all a process.”
Down 74-71 in the fourth, Stuckey shook free of Bryant with a nifty crossover dribble, stepping back to make a shot from near the free throw line. He then put the Pistons ahead with a driving layup.
World Peace stole the ball near midcourt and went the other way for a layup to put the Lakers ahead 76-75, but Stuckey’s 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds left gave the Pistons a two-point lead.
Bryant’s shot over Tayshaun Prince forced the extra session, and neither team led by more than three in overtime.
The Pistons won by forcing the Lakers to take bad shots from the perimeter late. With Detroit up 86-85, World Peace forced a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down. After that miss, Stuckey drove hard to the basket and drew a foul, sinking both free throws with 36.8 seconds remaining.
Bryant missed a quick 3-pointer from the top, but the shot clock was still on for the Pistons, who had to settle for a perimeter shot by Jason Maxiell that missed badly. The Lakers rebounded and called a timeout.
The Pistons had a foul to give and used it immediately on Bryant. When the Lakers inbounded again, Bryant – anticipating another foul – tossed up a quick 3-pointer that missed. World Peace came up with the ball and had time to dribble back to 3-point range and toss up a turnaround that missed as well.
”Nothing went well, and we paid for it with a loss,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. ”I was very disappointed in our team defense. All they did was drive the ball every time and they got layup after layup after layup.”
Andrew Bynum had 30 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers.
Before the game, Brown said in no uncertain terms he thought Bryant should be an MVP candidate, but the star guard shot only 8 of 26 on Tuesday, finishing with 22 points. He started the game with a black mask protecting his injured nose but switched back to a clear one while struggling through the first half.
”The mask we tried tonight didn’t work,” he said. ”It just slid all over the place.”
While Bryant struggled to find any rhythm from outside, Bynum was too much for the Pistons to handle around the basket. His alley-oop dunk from Steve Blake gave the Lakers a 37-25 lead, and it looked like Los Angeles might overpower the Pistons. Stuckey helped Detroit rally, hurting the Lakers with his ability to drive to the basket.
”Stuckey did an unbelievable job of attacking the paint,” Frank said. ”Kobe made a great shot to put the game into overtime and yet our guys kept the resolve.”
Stuckey cut the lead to one with a three-point play, and Detroit eventually went ahead. The Pistons led 45-41 at halftime.
Bryant had nine points on 2-of-10 shooting in the first half.
The Lakers outscored Detroit 20-9 in the third quarter, and Bryant had success with more high-percentage shots. His alley-oop from Pau Gasol gave Los Angeles a 59-52 lead, and Bryant added a runner to make it 61-54.
Notes: Lakers assistant coach John Kuester was the Pistons’ head coach for the last two seasons before being fired. He shared a hug with Detroit assistant Brian Hill before the game. … Bynum was 13 of 18 from the field.