Top 10 Lakers Moments of 2011-12
Through a barrage of 40-point Kobe games, a Pau Gasol triple-double, a 30-rebound game from Andrew Bynum and a clutch Game 7 performance, we count down the top 10 moments from the 2011-12 season.
#1: Game 7 Victory Closes Nuggets
May 12th, 2012 | Lakers 96, Nuggets 87
The top moment of last season's campaign came on May 12 at STAPLES Center, when the Lakers defeated an athletic, pesky Denver team 96-87 in Game 7 of the Round 1 series after the Nuggets had rallied from a 3-1 deficit.
A total team effort was required to get the job done, L.A. taking a six-point lead into halftime and building the margin to as many as 16 in the third quarter before having to hold Denver off in the final minutes. Kobe Bryant scored 17 points plus a team-high eight assists, Metta World Peace scored 15 points (including four three-pointers) in his return from a 7-game suspension and Steve Blake came up huge with 19 points (five of six from three) off the bench.
The respective Lakers seven footers were all over the glass, Andrew Bynum collecting 18 rebounds (nine offensive) with six swats to make up for a tough shooting night (4 of 15) and Pau Gasol grabbing 17 (11 offensive), the Spaniard adding 23 points with six assists and four blocks to earn (unofficial) player of the game honors.
With the dominating effort inside, Gasol and Bynum became the first pair of teammates in NBA playoff history to combine for 30+ points, 30+ boards, 20+ offensive boards and 10+ blocks in a single game.
With Denver cutting into L.A.'s lead, the home team scrapped and clawed on defense, forcing 19 turnovers for the game and holding the Nuggets to 7 of 27 shooting in the decisive fourth quarter. The Lakers took the lead for good with 6:30 to play in the fourth on, fittingly, Gasol's tip in.
The Lakers improved their franchise record in Game 7's to 16-8 (14-7 Los Angeles, 2-1 Minneapolis) and are now 15-1 in Game 7 home games, including 11 straight victories.
#2: Consecutive 40-Point Games
January 10th - 14th, 2012
In his 16th NBA season, Bryant (27.9 points per game) was mere percentage points behind Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant for the league scoring title, buoyed by an early scoring barrage highlighted by four consecutive games of at least 40 points from Jan. 10 to Jan. 14.
With the locked-shortened training camp under Mike Brown's making things difficult, the new coach turned to Bryant to carry the offense, and that he did.
Bryant scored in every which way, hitting seven triples and 43 free throws alongside a bevy of two-point jumpers and finishes off drives, making as many as 18 two-point field goals against the Suns.
Only two players in NBA history – Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan – have more career 40-point games than Bryant's 112, with the big man doing it 271 times and MJ 173. The Lakers have gone 77-35 when Bryant scores 40+ points, and his franchise record for 40-point games in a season is 27 (2005-06). Bryant also holds the franchise record for most consecutive 40-point games (9), established during the 2002-03 season. Only Wilt (14 twice, 10 once) has had longer consecutive 40-point game streaks in NBA history.
Speaking of Chamberlain: Bryant is now only 1,935 points away from passing him on the NBA's all-time scoring list 1,935. To reach Wilt's 31,419, Bryant would have to average 23.6 points next year without missing a game. If Bryant average 27.9 points as he did last season, he'd catch Chamberlain in roughly 71 games. Bryant currently ranks fifth on the chart, having passed Shaquille O'Neal (28,596) on Feb. 2 at Philadelphia.
In 2012-13, Bryant will have Dwight Howard protecting the rim and creating space inside, and Steve Nash feeding him the ball, so while Kobe may not need to post as many 40-point games, who's going to bet against him?
#3: Bynum's 30 Rebounds
April 11th, 2012 | Lakers 98, Spurs 84
That's the list of players in the history of the Lakers to have grabbed at least 30 rebounds, which Bynum did in a 98-84 road win at San Antonio that an injured Kobe Bryant watched in street clothes.
It was the best game of Bynum's first All-Star season, truly showing how dominant he could be in the paint at both ends with eight of his 30 glass cleans coming at the offensive end. At season's end, the 7-footer was awarded a spot on the All-NBA Second Team behind averages of 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.93 blocks pre game on 55.8 percent from the field.
The emergence of Bynum ended up being a key factor in L.A.'s acquisition of Dwight Howard, who happens to be the one player who can boast better numbers from the center position (not to mention the spot on the All-NBA First Team for the past five seasons): 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks on 57.3 percent shooting.
It's Philly who will now get to see what Bynum can do in the paint, with the Sixers receiving Bynum in the four-team trade completed on Friday, Aug. 10.
During the press conference that day to introduce Howard, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak made sure to start things off by thanking Bynum for all he contributed since being drafted at No. 10 overall in 2005, highlighted by the two championship rings in 2009 and 2010.
With the Lakers missing the playoffs only twice since Dr. Jerry Buss bought the team in 1979, lottery picks have been few and far between, but the selection of a raw giant out of New Jersey in 2005 certainly ended up paying off for Los Angeles.
#4: Clutch 3's Deliver Playoff Win
May 6th, 2012 | Lakers 92, Nuggets 88
In the final minute of a playoff game, an opposing team is inevitably going to focus its defensive attention on Kobe Bryant, and this contest was no different as L.A. inbounded the ball.
Bryant had scored 22 points on the evening, hitting the team's last shot two minutes prior to Gallinari's, but on the next two trips down the floor, No. 24 expertly drew the defense before facilitating respective wide-open three-pointers for point guards Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake.
With Bryant holding the ball on the left wing, Pau Gasol came over to set a (solid) screen on Gallinari, who fell down holding his face as Bryant continued across the top of the floor, drawing Gasol's man (Al Harrington) before dropping the ball off to a then wide open Spaniard in the middle of the paint. Sessions was standing in the right corner, and with Gasol stepping towards the rim, Ty Lawson came off Sessions to help on Gasol. Pau took advantage by swinging the ball out to Sessions, who buried the triple to make it 89-86 with 48 seconds left.
An offensive goaltending call on Denver set L.A. up for the final dagger on the other end, with Bryant again orchestrating from the top of the floor, this time without the benefit of a pick, beating Gallinari off the dribble to his left to force Lawson off Blake. After zipping a pass to Blake in the left corner, Bryant watched as the ball swished through the rim with 18.9 on the clock, putting L.A. up six and securing a 3-1 series lead.
The subsequent embrace between Bryant and Blake was one of the lasting images of L.A.'s 2011-12 campaign, and L.A. would ultimately advance past the Nuggets in seven games before falling to Oklahoma City in the next round.
Even with the addition of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash for 2012-13, big playoff shots from role players will always be needed, just as Sessions and Blake provided in Game 4.
#5: Double OT vs. OKC
April 22nd, 2012 | Lakers 114, Thunder 106.
One of L.A.'s best moments of the 2011-12 regular season actually started with a real downer, when Metta World Peace elbowed Oklahoma City's James Harden in the back of the head with 1:40 left in the second quarter, L.A. trailing 48-47 in the second-to-last game before the playoffs.
Harden left with concussion-like symptoms, World Peace was ejected (and suspended for seven games) and the Lakers soon found themselves down by 18 points when a revved up Thunder squad went on a big run out of the half to open an 18-point lead. L.A. cut the lead down to 11 late after a Pau Gasol bucket early in the fourth, but Derek Fisher rose to hit a triple for OKC, pushing the margin back to 14 with only 7:15 to play.
Then L.A. caught fire. A little used line up of Steve Blake, Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Jordan Hill and Gasol whittled that lead down to just five with 3:18 to go, thanks to two Blake triples and a tough and-1 through traffic from Bryant. Gasol's layup soon cut the lead to just two, setting up an absurd Bryant three-pointer – off one leg from the top of the key — that put L.A. up one with 1:20 to play.
Still another three-pointer from Bryant put L.A. up by two, but Russell Westbrook's free throws ensured this one would go to overtime. Unsung heroes Ebanks and Hill stayed in, making some key plays as the teams managed only six points apiece in the first OT, setting up yet another session.
And that's where the Lakers found their magic, Bryant scoring six of his 26 points, helping L.A. outscore the Thunder 17-9 in the second extra period, aided by late free throws.
The final, after all that drama: Lakers 114, Thunder 106.
#6: Kobe vs. Nets
April 3rd, 2012 | Lakers 91, Nets 87
Game-deciding threes are always fun, but when Kobe Bryant pulled up from Long Beach to seal an April 3 win against New Jersey, STAPLES Center happily watched the ball bounced around the rim for a good two seconds before ultimately falling through, sealing a 91-87 victory.
The Lakers had led quite comfortably throughout, getting strong games from Bryant, Pau Gasol and Ramon Sessions in the absence of Andrew Bynum, who missed his only game of the season due to an ankle sprain. The lead was 13 at halftime and 12 heading into the fourth quarter. However, Deron Williams spurred the Nets on a big run, capped by a game-tying triple (86-86) with 1:30 to play. Before hitting the game-sealer, Kobe nailed a tough turnaround jumper from just in front of the three-point line to put the Lakers back up by two.
Gerald Wallace split two free throws for the team about to open a season in Brooklyn on the other end, cutting L.A.'s lead to 88-87. Matt Barnes nearly turned the ball over on the other end, but the rock just grazed the shorts of Williams to allow L.A. Possession with 12 seconds to play.
On the inbounds play, Gasol set a great screen on Wallace, leaving Bryant all alone at the top of the key. He collected the ball with about 10 seconds on the game clock – the shot clock running out – and heaved a triple from well beyond the three-point line. It took nearly four seconds to get to the hoop, bounce around for a bit off the glass and rim, before finally falling through with 6.8 to play.
#7: Andrew Bynum All-Star
For the first time in Andrew Bynum's 7-year career, the 24-year-old center was receiving a routine Synvisc injection in his right knee on the day before the game so as to be in better shape for the second half of the season.
He continued to play well in the second half of the season, earning his third Western Conference Player of the Week honors by averaging 21.8 points, 16.3 boards and 1.5 blocks from April 9-15.
It's Bynum's plan to become a staple as the West's All-Star starting center, a marker he can start to pursue in just a few months.
#8: Gasol's Triple-Double
April 18th, 2012 | Lakers 99, Warriors 87
The Lakers entered an April 18 contest at Golden State on the second of one of the team's brutal 20 back-to-back game nights in the compressed season off their worst loss of the season, 112-91 at home to San Antonio.
Kobe Bryant was set to miss his seventh consecutive game with a bruised left shin, but Pau Gasol was there to provide a reminder of why he's the NBA's most skilled big man: 21 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a 99-87 road victory.
It was the fifth triple-double of Gasol's career, and came on 7 of 16 field goals with three blocked shots and not a single turnover despite the 11 dimes. The assists were perhaps the most impressive of his messing around like Ice Cube, with many finding fellow 7-footer Andrew Bynum (31 points) for dunks, Metta World Peace for layups off post up mismatches or a cutting Ramon Sessions for buckets at the rim.
Even while playing out of position all season, often ceding the low block to help Bynum emerge into an All-Star and make sure Bryant got his touches inside, Gasol managed to produce 17.4 points, 10.4 boards, 3.6 assists and 1.35 blocks per game while missing only the season finale to rest up for the playoffs.
He showed the full arsenal against Golden State, was just as good in an OT win at Boston in early February in which he produced 25 points, 14 boards and the game-saving block at the rim as time expired.
The Lakers expect him to benefit as much as anyone else with the addition of Steve Nash, whose skill set meshes perfectly with Gasol's on paper, and should vastly improve the flow of L.A.'s offense.
Having a big man with the capability to produce 11 dimes in a triple-double is a luxury car L.A. rode to three straight trips to the Finals and certainly doesn't want to keep in the shop.
#9: Kobe vs. Suns
January 10th, 2012 | Lakers 99, Suns 83
Baseline turnaround J's. Pull up swishes. Three-pointers. Twisting leaners off post ups. And even a pair of huge two-handed dunks in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
Kobe Bryant has scored at least 40 points using his full offensive arsenal so many times before, but an NBA-season high 48 to that point on Jan. 10 was vintage Black Mamba. Especially with L.A. still learning Mike Brown's offense in the lockout-shortened early season.
By doing what he has long done best despite his 2012-13 teammate-to-be Steve Nash keeping Phoenix in the game for most of the night, Bryant pushed L.A. to a 99-83 win, putting on a show for the STAPLES Center faithful. Bryant would go on to win Player of the Week honors for the second time on the young season and the 30th time in his career.
It was his highest point total since March 1, 2009, against ... you guessed it: Phoenix, when he dropped 49. He also hit the Suns with 44 in 2010, making three of his last four highest scoring games come against Phoenix.
In related news, Phoenix took L.A. out of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007.
Kobe has a long memory.
#10: Sessions vs. Mavericks
March 21st, 2012 | Mavericks 93, Lakers 109
The Lakers acquired Ramon Sessions from the Cavs at the trade deadline on March 15, and six days later, he had perhaps his best game in purple and gold in a 109-93 thumping of Dallas on March 21. That win gave the Lakers the tiebreaker should the teams have shared the same record ahead of the playoffs, and was the third victory in a 4-0 season sweep that exacted a tiny amount of revenge for being swept in the 2011 playoffs.
Kobe Bryant was terrific with 30 points - highlighted by an insane reverse alley-oop layup - and Gasol chipped in 27 on 13 of 16 field goals - including a corner three-pointer, but Sessions was so good that he finished with a game-high +28 on the evening.
Sessions had already dished four assists with his five points in five minutes of first quarter action off the bench, and nailed his second three early in the second period before yelling "That's right!" to an approving Kobe Bryant after the ball swished home, helping the Lakers open a 13-point advantage into halftime. Dallas cut into the lead to start the second half, but Sessions again proved the difference off the bench in what was ultimately a 16-point win, scoring 17 points (three triples part of his 7 of 8 shooting) with nine assists and five boards in 28 minutes of play.
While the Lakers are certainly excited to hand the point guard reigns over to Steve Nash, they were appreciative of the kind of skill Sessions flashed, highlighted by that Texas night against Dirk and Co.