Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images/NBAE
The Lakers’ 87-81 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday was painful to watch, but a slash mark in the W column to draw the series to 2-1 has to be a sight for sore eyes for L.A. fans.
After all, it had been 12 days since the Lakers last experienced a triumph back in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals and L.A.’s haphazard play for most of Game 3 made you think that Kobe and Co. had forgotten how to win.
L.A. missed 39 of its 69 shot attempts (.435) and bricked an equally paltry 13 of its 34 free throw tries (.618).
The only place you’ll see a worse group of numbers these days is on the pricing billboard at a gas station.
If the Lakers were upset with the refs because they only took 10 foul shots in all of Game 2, they’ll look back at the tape from Tuesday and can only curse themselves for missing 10 freebies in the first half alone.
Speaking of the game tape, after the coaching staffs watch it, they might just want to use the DVDs as coasters. (They may need a stiff drink after that one.) Or they could put them under the uneven legs on their desks so that they don’t wobble anymore. No need to save this one for the video archives.
There are instant classics and then there are anti classics. Tuesday was the latter.
It looked like the last pickup run of the day, you know, the one plagued by slow feet, mistimed passes, forced shots and guys that want to go home.
It was at times as sloppy as a freshman dorm room.
Most of the action as unpleasant to look at as Jabba the Hutt’s fat rolls.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson made the understatement of the decade when describing Game 3:
“It was not a beautiful ballgame.”
But somehow through it all, Kobe Bryant emerged with a 36-point, seven-rebound, two-steal night and a clutch performance that made him like the flower that manages to grow through a crack in the sidewalk on a dilapitated city block.
The only bright spot for L.A. other than Kobe and the myriad celebrities in attendance at STAPLES Center (Sylvester Stallone and Eddie Murphy were sitting side by side, with no buffer seat in between them - that's how you know the stars are really out in full force, the lack of buffer seats) was Sasha Vujacic who had 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including a big three with two minutes remaining.
But it wasn't as big as what Kobe did down the stretch.
With the Lakers holding a five-point lead and only a minute left on the clock, Bryant connected on a jumper to push the lead to seven.
The Celtics’ Eddie House (who played his first minutes of The Finals thanks to a Rajon Rondo turned ankle) banged a 3-pointer to draw Boston back to within four.
The ball went back to Bryant who had Ray Allen checking him one on one. Mr. Mamba slithered into the lane, got Allen to bite on a pump fake and flipped in a back-breaking leaner that sealed the win for the Lakers.
Fittingly, even Kobe’s night was flawed as he was one of the main culprits in the Lakers’ foul line ineptitude. Bryant went just 11-for-18 from the charity stripe and said that he felt like he was in a “foreign territory” after coming up empty at the line so often.
“It's like somebody took me and just dropped me off in the middle of Shanghai with no translator,” Bryant said.
Bryant didn’t appear nearly as lost as his teammates Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.
The not-so-dynamic duo combined to score just 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting with eight turnovers.
Gasol had more missed free throws (five) than he had made field goals (three) and Odom had more turnovers (five) than he had points (four).
"We're playing a great defensive team," Bryant said. "They're going to take something away. The important thing for us is to figure out how to win despite that, and that's the key if you want to win a championship. We've got to figure out how to win ballgames when we don't shoot particularly well, when Lamar is in foul trouble, when Pau is in foul trouble. We still have to figure out how to win."
The poor play was infectious, as the Celtics’ Big Three was operating at similar one-third capacity to the Lakers’ trio turned solo of Bryant, Gasol and Odom. Like Kobe, Ray Allen showed up with 25 points, but Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce came up as small if not smaller than Odom and Gasol, combining for 19 points on 8-for-35 shooting, seven fouls and six turnovers.
“Throughout the game and throughout the series there’s going to be ups and downs and you just have to find a way to gut them out, gut them out, gut them out,” Odom said. “We did that tonight.”
Thanks to L.A. gutting it out on Tuesday, the Lakers will have a chance to tie up the series in Game 4 on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
The prospect of an NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics knotted at 2-2?
Now that’s a beautiful thing.