The billing for Wednesday night's game was all set: Kobe Bryant versus close friend and longtime court rival Dwyane Wade for the very last time. The two NBA superstars have combined for eight titles, three Finals MVPs, and 23 All-NBA teams between them. Then came yesterday’s news about a locker room rift over a leaked video in which D'Angelo Russell secretly taped Nick Young discussing sexual exploits without Young's apparent knowledge. (Young is engaged to rapper Iggy Azalea.) Rumors swirled that the incident played a part in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 48-point thrashing by the Utah Jazz, which tied for the worst loss in team history. How would the Lakers respond against the Miami Heat at home?
Not badly, it turned out.
Young, Russell, and Coach Byron Scott all addressed the media before the game to respond to the brouhaha. While Young stayed mostly tight-lipped, begging for privacy, Russell issued a public apology in which he claimed to be “sick” about the incident: “If I’ve lost anybody’s trust I’m going to work my tail of to gain it back because… that’s something you need for a winning team. You need everybody to trust each other.”
Scott took a more philosophical view: “This is Life. You deal with it and move on… We’ll see what type of characters we have in that locker room when it’s all said and done.” Young would not see action in the game.
BENCH PLAY KEYED A TURNAROUND
The Lakers first unit came out flat. Again. The starters couldn’t hit open shots, Roy Hibbert went to the bench quickly with foul trouble, and Kobe went 1-7 before leaving the game for good in the second quarter with overall body soreness. His duel with Wade had ended before even getting started. One early sequence epitomized the first team’s struggles: Russell lost the ball in transition traffic on a bad pass attempt, and the Lakers neglected to get back to defend Miami’s three-on-zero. Dwyane Wade missed an uncontested layup, but he was able to put it back easily on a second-try with no Laker around to challenge him.
It looked like makings of a blowout halfway through the first quarter when the Lakers second unit crept back into the game. Lou Williams drilled a corner three, Larry Nance, Jr., slammed home a put-back, and Marcelo Huertas dished to Brandon Bass over Heat star defensive stopper Hassan Whiteside to cap a 13-0 run. The second unit—Bass, especially, and then Hibbert when he returned—did a nice job limiting Whiteside’s offensive effectiveness. Whiteside got going late in the game, finishing with 18 pts, 17 rebounds and seven blocks, but at halftime he'd only managed two offensive points and his free throws were shaky all night.
Nance in particular provided spark off the bench with hustle plays, steals and tough offensive rebounds. Even though Miami outscored Los Angeles 13-2 in fast break points, the Lakers bench outscored the Heat bench 20-1 to rally for a 48-41 halftime deficit.
CLARKSON GOES OFF
In the third quarter, Jordan Clarkson snatched a rebound under the Heat basket and dribbled coast to coast around Goran Dragic for a layup. It was the Lakers first fast break points of the night. The play liberated Clarkson, who did most of his damage in the third quarter and in overtime. He finished with 26 points on 9-19 shooting, holding Dwyane Wade in check defensively until the fourth quarter. Clarkson's hot touch neutralized the Heat’s Luol Deng, who scored 22 on an efficient 9-15 effort.
Led by Hibbert’s strong night both guarding Whiteside and scoring off the glass (12 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks), the Lakers snagged 19 offensive rebounds for the game which helped them claw out a six-point lead with under ten minutes to play.
DWYANE WADE IS STILL DWYANE WADE
After a solid 12 point first half, the Lakers held Wade to just one more basket through the third. Then he set to work taking over the game in the fourth. With the clock winding down, Wade scored eight straight Miami points. After collecting a missed free throw from Randle with 47 seconds to play and an 85-85 tie, D-Wade dribbled down court along the left arc, drove left to break Clarkson’s ankles, then spun right to drain a jumper that put the Heat up by two. Clarkson redeemed himself on the next possession, driving baseline and turning the corner to lure Whiteside into a foul, then sinking both free throws to tie the game again. Wade had an opportunity to win it in regulation with the last shot, but he heaved an ill-advised three from the top of the arc as time expired, trying to get Russell to bite on a foul. D’Angelo didn’t, and the game went to overtime.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
The Lakers first unit came together when it mattered most. Down the stretch in overtime, Scott delivered on his promise to play the young stars together with a lineup featuring Russell, Randle, Clarkson and Nance with veteran Brandon Bass. They rewarded his faith, turning in a true team effort to snare the victory. Russell hit a clutch three with the shot clock winding down, a tone-setting strike early in the extra period. Clarkson scored six of his 26 points in overtime, answering with a bucket after Wade put the Heat up by two with 1:30 to play. And then there was Randle. After draining two clutch free throws to tie the game at 100, he wanted more. Mad at himself for misses earlier in the game, he asked for the final shot. Russell passed him the ball across half court with the clock turned off. Randle stared down Deng, coolly letting precious seconds tick away as he timed his move. Suddenly he drove right, stutter-stepped, then spun left in control to rise and sink the game-winning jump shot with 1.9 seconds remaining. If anything could stanch the bad blood of a locker room rift and an embarrassing loss, this was it.
MORE THAN BASKETBALL
Six months removed from a near-fatal accidental overdose that left him comatose with a grim prognosis, Lamar Odom sat courtside at the game looking better than anyone could’ve expected. Shipped to the Lakers in the legendary Shaquille O’Neal trade, Odom became a Lakers fan favorite and a two time champion with Kobe and Pau Gasol. Seeing him hug Jeannie Buss in the tunnel was an inspirational sight on a night of unlikely upsets.
As if there weren’t enough storylines on this night of high drama at Staples Center, Lakers legends Pat Riley and Kareem Abdul Jabbar were also in attendance.