Even after the Los Angeles Lakers blew a 16-point lead in the second half, Kobe Bryant had two chances in the final seconds to erase the Dallas Mavericks’ big comeback with yet another game-winning shot.
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Bryant and Pau Gasol fumbled away the Lakers’ first opportunity before Bryant just plain missed his last shot, allowing Dirk Nowitzki and his tenacious Mavs to take an early second-round series lead.
Nowitzki scored 28 points and hit two go-ahead free throws with 19.5 seconds left before Gasol and Bryant made a crucial turnover, and the Mavericks rallied for a 96-94 victory in Game 1 on Monday night.
”You’ve got to make plays, and you’ve got to dodge some bullets,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. ”We did both.”
Nowitzki had 14 rebounds for the Mavericks, who steadily erased a huge third-quarter deficit before the dramatic finish to the perennial playoff teams’ first postseason meeting in 23 years.
Bryant scored 21 of his 36 points in the second half for the Lakers, but he fell down under defensive pressure from Jason Kidd while trying to get the ball from Gasol with 5 seconds to play. After one free throw by Kidd, Bryant missed a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer off the back rim just before the buzzer.
Game 2 is Wednesday night at Staples Center.
Gasol had 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the second-seeded Lakers, who lost their second straight series opener. Their loss to New Orleans two weeks ago was much more surprising than this loss to the playoff-tested Mavs, but the Lakers’ lack of poise down the stretch should be scary to anybody anticipating a threepeat.
”We felt like we gave the game away,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ”I’m not so sure Dallas didn’t outplay us, but the players felt like we gave it away. … The game was won in the third quarter when we got the lead and stopped playing defense and stopped playing offense. It took a lot of energy out of us and gave a lot of energy to them.”
The Mavericks trailed 92-87 with 3:32 to play, but finished on a 9-2 run – showing all the late-game tenacity that’s expected of Bryant and the two-time defending champions.
”We did well, but I think we can do better,” said Shawn Marion, who scored 10 points for Dallas. ”Is there anybody that knows we play good D?”
Lamar Odom scored 15 points for Los Angeles, which nursed a small lead throughout the second half into the final minute. Nowitzki scored in the lane with 40 seconds left to trim the deficit to 94-93, and after Jason Terry swiped the ball from Bryant, Gasol fouled Nowitzki on the Mavericks’ inbounds play, allowing the 7-footer to give Dallas its first lead since the second quarter.
Terry added 15 points to lead a dominant bench effort for Dallas, which struggled on the boards and in the paint before the comeback.
The Mavericks too often settled for jumpers early on, and they lost their cool with 90 seconds left in the first half after offsetting technical fouls for Gasol and Tyson Chandler, who jawed all the way down the court after jockeying for rebounding position. The Lakers leaped to a 53-44 halftime lead with four points in the final 0.7 seconds, thanks to an ill-advised foul by Terry and a technical foul on Nowitzki.
Dallas made a 20-6 run shortly after falling behind 60-44 in the third quarter, but Bryant singlehandedly kept the Lakers ahead with 12 consecutive points.
”I know we got that crazy last minute there, but we’ve got to come out in the second half and play better,” said Andrew Bynum, who managed eight points and five rebounds for Los Angeles.
Both teams finished the regular season with 57 victories, but Los Angeles won two of three in their series, including a blowout victory March 31 that was marred by several ejections. Matt Barnes was suspended for getting involved in a confrontation between Steve Blake and Terry, who appeared to shove Blake to the court after a foul.
After a brief Twitter battle between Terry and Barnes, whose sportswear company made up T-shirts commemorating the clash, both teams put aside the ugliness of their last meeting while preparing for the franchises’ first postseason meeting since the 1988 Western Conference finals.
Even Jackson and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban declined to rekindle their history of mutual sniping in the media, instead praising each other in recent days. Jackson even said Cuban would be an excellent prospective owner for the troubled Los Angeles Dodgers, although Cuban declined to comment on the much-rumored prospect before Game 1.
Both clubs finished off their first-round series in six games after splitting the first four. The Lakers blew their opener against the Hornets before finally taking control despite an unimpressive series from Gasol, while the Mavericks bounced back admirably after blowing a 23-point lead in a Game 4 loss to Portland.
Terry scored 13 points in the first half while hitting five of his first six shots, but the Lakers took a 53-44 halftime lead with a 14-2 run – including that productive final second.
Terry got too close to Odom’s last-ditch heave from halfcourt right before the buzzer, and Odom made three free throws. Nowitzki then got a technical foul for throwing an aggressive elbow under the hoop while scrapping with Ron Artest, and Bryant hit a final free throw.
NOTES: Bryant had the 81st 30-point game of his playoff career, trailing only Michael Jordan (109) in NBA history. Bryant has scored in double figures in 156 straight postseason games. … Fans near courtside included Eddie Murphy, Justin Timberlake, David Beckham (on his 36th birthday), Jack Nicholson, Gordon Ramsay, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, January Jones, Jennifer Carpenter, singer Seal, Mekhi Phifer, Anthony Kiedis, New York Jets TE Dustin Keller and Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis.