For once, Lakers fans didn’t leave early. They couldn’t.
The Lakers haven’t had a meaningful fourth quarter since, uh, well, you know, but there they were against the Miami Heat, another home game in a seemingly endless string, though this wasn’t another routine blowout.
Kobe Bryant rarely fails to amaze, and Friday was no different, his latest foray into Lakers lore taking place with no time left on the clock and 27 feet separating him from the basket.
The Lakers were down two, but Bryant didn’t care.
The Heat should have won, but Bryant didn’t notice.
Instead, he took an inbounds pass from the right side with 3.2 seconds left, moved quickly around Dwyane Wade and delivered an off-balance three-pointer that banked into the basket.
Lakers 108, Miami 107.
It ended a string of seven consecutive victories by 10 or more points, but it was still a victory, the Lakers’ eighth in a row, something they never did last season on their way to the franchise’s 15th championship.
“To win that ballgame, you have to be lucky, and we were tonight,” said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who chuckled a few moments later. “I thought [Bryant] had really good balance on it and he set it up really well.”
Wade had had a chance to put a little more pressure on the Lakers, but he made only one of two free-throw attempts with 3.2 seconds left, giving the Heat a 107-105 lead.
The Lakers needed all of Bryant’s 16 fourth-quarter points to defeat the Heat.
Predictably, it was billed as a matchup between Bryant (33 points) and Wade (26 points). Nobody could have predicted the ending, certainly not the dazed Heat players who watched the Lakers celebrate after Bryant’s shot.
Even before that, there were moments of tension in the fourth quarter, beyond the fact the score was 76-76 when it began.
Lakers fans became hushed when Pau Gasol went down after being hit in the left eye by teammate Lamar Odom, who was trying to block a layup attempt by Quentin Richardson.
Gasol stayed prone on the court for about two minutes before walking back to the bench, blinking his eyes rapidly. He reentered the game less than a minute later.
Then there was the skirmish between Odom and Miami center Jermaine O’Neal, who dunked on Odom with 5:07 to play. Odom didn’t like O’Neal hanging on the rim over him and said something to O’Neal, who pushed Odom after letting go of the rim. Odom pushed back, and the two had to be separated by Richardson.
O’Neal and Odom each picked up technical fouls, but Odom was automatically ejected because he had picked up a technical earlier in the game for complaining about a foul call.
The Lakers haven’t lost at home to Miami since December 2004, Shaquille O’Neal’s first game against the Lakers after being traded by them. Since then, it has been a one-sided matchup at Staples Center.
The Lakers haven’t won this many consecutive games since taking 10 in a row in February 2008, not long after acquiring Gasol.
How much longer can it go? The Lakers have three more home games (Phoenix, Utah and Minnesota) before hitting the road, finally.