In a season full of turmoil and frustration, this would have been a particularly exasperating loss for the Los Angeles Lakers.
One of the most accurate free throw shooters in NBA history had missed two, giving the Detroit Pistons one more chance at a game-winning shot. Kyle Singler lobbed the ball toward the basket, and rookie Andre Drummond stretched his 6-foot-11 frame and tried a one-handed dunk with Pau Gasol defending.
No good. The Lakers held on for a 98-97 victory.
”Every game is like a playoff game for us right now,” Los Angeles coach Mike D’Antoni said. ”And some crazy things happen in playoff games.”
Gasol had 23 points and 10 rebounds and was the last line of defense on Detroit’s final alley-oop attempt Sunday. The Lakers blew an 18-point third-quarter lead but overcame their late free throw struggles to win for the fifth time in six games.
Los Angeles has won two in a row without Dwight Howard. The All-Star center sat out again with a right shoulder problem.
Kobe Bryant’s driving three-point play with 1:09 remaining gave the Lakers a 98-95 lead, and they held on despite missing four free throws in the final 16.8 seconds.
Steve Nash – a 90.4 percent foul shooter for his career – missed two free throws with 2.7 seconds left. Down by one, the Pistons inbounded from midcourt with 1.2 seconds to play. They tried a lob to Drummond, but with Gasol contesting the play, Drummond couldn’t convert.
Drummond looked surprised that no foul was called on the play.
”I have no comment,” Drummond said afterward when asked if there was contact.
Detroit was still without guard Jose Calderon, who the Pistons acquired from Toronto on Wednesday. The Spanish-born Calderon has not been available to play because of unresolved visa issues.
The Lakers trail eighth-place Houston by 3 1/2 games in the Western Conference playoff race. Bryant scored 18 points but shot poorly from the perimeter. After an airball with the score tied at 95, he decided to drive to the basket the next time down. Bryant muscled through a foul and scored a basket that was counted on a continuation call.
Detroit’s Will Bynum cut the lead to one, and after Gasol missed, Drummond missed a baseline fadeaway that would have given the Pistons the lead. Earl Clark missed two free throws for Los Angeles with 16.8 seconds left, but Bynum’s driving shot over Gasol went off the glass and rattled in and out.
That set the stage for Nash, whose two misses dropped him percentage points behind Mark Price for the top free throw percentage in NBA history for players with at least 1,200 attempts.
”I feel bad that it could’ve cost us the game and that I choked two up there,” Nash said. ”A win is a win, but I take a lot of pride in being a fourth-quarter player and making shots, particularly free throws.”
The Lakers scored 10 straight points early in the third to take a 72-54 lead. Bryant highlighted that run with a one-handed dunk while Detroit’s Brandon Knight tried in vain to prevent an easy basket.
”We were moving the ball well in the first half, but we got comfortable in the second half again. That’s been a problem,” Gasol said. ”Drummond changed things, but a lot of that was because of Bynum. He’s so fast that he gets into the lane and opens a lot of things up for Drummond.”
The Pistons rallied quickly, with Drummond showing off his athleticism around the basket. Drummond’s two-handed dunk over Gasol made it 76-70, and the Lakers led 78-72 after three.
”We weren’t moving the ball, we were over-dribbling the basketball and we weren’t guarding anyone,” Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said. ”Then we started to get some stops, got energy into the game and obviously Dre had a huge impact the second half.”
Bynum had 18 points and 10 assists for the Pistons, and Greg Monroe added 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Clark had 17 points for Los Angeles. Nash had 11 points and 10 assists.
Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey was called for his third foul in the first quarter, then picked up a technical to boot. The Pistons turned the ball over nine times in the half, and they finished the second quarter with a terrible defensive breakdown. Bryant was inbounding around midcourt with 0.4 seconds left in the half, and Clark somehow slipped free for an alley-oop dunk at the buzzer that gave Los Angeles a 62-51 lead.
The Lakers did a better job defending that situation on the final play of the game.
NOTES: Knight became tangled with Metta World Peace of the Lakers with 1:43 left in the first half. That got a rise out of the crowd, which no doubt remembered World Peace’s role in the infamous ”Malice at the Palace” brawl on the Pistons’ court in 2004. World Peace was assessed a flagrant foul this time, but the situation didn’t escalate. … Bryant had five assists, snapping his streak of five straight games with at least eight.