Lakers Erase 27-point 4th Q Deficit vs. Dallas: Retro Running Diary

Kobe Bryant scored 21 points in the 4th Q to lead LAL to the 2nd-biggest 4th Q comeback in NBA history.
by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

Before the Lakers hosted the Mavericks on Dec. 6, 2002, we had two key facts: Dallas was 17-1, boasting the fourth-best start in NBA history; and the Lakers had won 23 straight home games against Dallas, a ridiculous form of domination in the Kobe/Shaq tenure.

Who knew that, after three quarters of playing subpar basketball, the Lakers would execute the second-biggest fourth quarter comeback in NBA history*?
*MIL over ATL in 1977.

You see, Shaq was just starting to round into form, having missed the start of the season coming off LAL’s back-to-back-to-back championships due to toe surgery he’d had on Sept. 11 – which of course had its own narrative. He was playing just his 9th game, and against a smallish Mavs squad that on paper had no answer for him.

The Lakers, without Shaq and with the championship hangover, had started just 3 for 9, and were 7-13 overall.

Starting for the Lakers: Fisher, Kobe, Fox, Stanislav Medvedenko and Shaq; Dallas: Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki, Raef LaFrentz and Adrian Griffin (with Nick Van Exel off the bench).

FIRST QUARTER
8:10: Dallas opened the game 4 for 4 from three to take a 16-6 lead, spreading the floor with Dirk at the top of the key, as each starter but Finley buried a triple.

6:01: Kobe picked up his 2nd PF, on a charge, and had to sit with LAL already down 18-9. Kobe had some remarkable games before Shaq returned: 33, 15 and 12 in a W over the Clippers; 33, 14 and 12 in a W vs. Portland; 41, 9 and 4 in an OT loss to Boston; 45, 4 and 4 in an OT win over Golden State. But other than those three wins, the team struggled, with so much different on the court without Shaq.

0:22.2: The most impactful player for LAL in the first was Big Shot Bob Horry, who came off the bench to pitch in seven points in five minutes, hitting 3 of 4 FG’s if only 1 of 4 FT’s, to keep the deficit reasonable at 29-24 after 12 minutes.

SECOND QUARTER
9:46: Kareem Rush hit a J to bring LAL within a point at 31-30, but the Mavericks would completely dominate the rest of the quarter.

4:40: Five minutes later, Dallas held a 47-31 lead, with Van Exel hitting yet another Mavs 3, following up seven straight points from Dirk.

1:59: Subs Samaki Walker and Tracy Murray managed B2B buckets to trim the deficit to 49-36, but in the next two minutes, the Mavs went nuts on offense.

0:00: Here was the sequence: Van Exel 3 (1:44); Nash 3 (1:12); Dirk 3 (0 :48.9); Finley and-1 layup (37.8); … Dirk and-1 (0:01.7). LAL failed to score, missing shots early in the clock or turning it over, and found themselves down 64-36, with Mark Cuban freaking out behind the Dallas bench. And, remember, the Mavs hadn’t beaten the Lakers here in years. LAL actually got booed off the floor at the half.

THIRD QUARTER
10:53 LAL opened the third with a Fisher three, and Phil made an adjustment by replacing Slava with Horry in the starting lineup. And yet, the funny thing about this game, is that if you knew going in that the Lakers would ultimately win, you’d assume that they started to really cut into that huge lead in the third quarter. But that’s not how it went. Kobe (1 for 7 to that point) kept missing.

4:00: Shaq went up for a powerful dunk, trying to provide some momentum with L.A. trailing 75-54, but the Lakers just couldn’t get within 20.

2:34: Well, they got it to 78-58 on a Kobe J, but Van Exel answered with a three, then a two, to help Dallas take an 88-61 lead out of the third quarter. Nick was terrific, with 25 points off the bench and five triples … but he, like the rest of the Mavs, got cold in the fourth.

FOURTH QUARTER
11:07: How many times had Brian Shaw sparked the Lakers with a 3? His triple was the first make of the fourth quarter, trimming the lead to 24, but the fans didn’t really believe just yet…

8:36: The general rule in the NBA is that if you’re within 10 with six minutes to play, you have a chance for a comeback. Anything about that is just gonna be tough, as you’re battling not just the opponent and the deficit, but the clock. LAL had outplayed Dallas to start the 4th Q, slowly starting to trim the lead, which was 92-73 after the first time out.

7:13: … And there’s the crowd! It came courtesy of Kobe, who exploded to the rim for a 2-handed dunk, capping an 8-0 run. That’s all it took for a dead arena to become fully engaged, and that’s no surprise, because Lakers fans have been schooled by decades and decades of good basketball, and know when to get going. With Dallas slowing their pace, trying to run clock and changing what had gotten them to this point, LAL got yet another stop, then a transition three from Devean George to close the margin to 92-82, capping a 15-0 run. Jack and the rest of the fans were on their feet. It was a 21-4 blitzkrieg to start the fourth, with Dallas getting only a pair of buckets from Steve Nash.

4:11: The next-biggest bucket came again from Kobe, who drilled a three from the top of the key to trim the margin to seven at 96-89. After a stop, Kobe did work yet again, getting all the way to the rim for a reverse layup through traffic to cut the margin to five.

3:08: Two shots of Mark revealed what was going on: 1) a giddy, jumping, laughing Mark Madsen on the Lakers bench; 2) A devastated Mark Cuban behind the Mavs bench. The run was 26-4 after Shaq scored at the rim, the 27-point lead down to just three.

2:38: Nash converted a terrific/difficult finger roll from the deep paint after going around Shaq and getting the ball over the help defense, only for Kobe to answer on the other end. Dallas had begun to hunt that switch of Shaq onto Nash in screen/roll situations, and it worked again as Nash drew his foul and hit two FT’s to make it 100-95 with two minutes to play. BTW, why did Dallas let Nash go, again?

1:50: Guess who answered for the Lakers? Kobe, again unstoppable as he drove to the rim right through Dirk.

1:28: Did I mention Brian Shaw’s penchant for hitting bit threes? There was never a doubt that he’d bury a game-tying triple with 1:28 left, after spotting up and gathering from Kobe, to whom the defense had adjusted. Mavs 100, Lakers 100.

1:04: Amidst “Kobe” cheers, Horry went to the FT line and split a pair, putting LAL in front. Phil put Shaq on the bench, so that Dallas couldn’t switch him onto Nash. But just as everything was coming up Lakers, former beloved Laker Van Exel rose up, fired and canned his fifth three, apparently oblivious to the crazy home crowd and momentum, making it 103-101 Dallas … at least until Shaw hit a two to tie it again moments later. L.A. then got a stop, setting up a chance for L.A. to take the lead.

0:08.4 : KOBE. Man. Who else but Bryant capped off the 2nd greatest 4th Q comeback in NBA history, with a beautiful spin move to his left after a hard drive to the right, capped by a hanging, leaning jumper … swish. No rim at all. Lakers 105, Dallas 103. Oh, what a play, and what a player.

0:00: Finley missed a potential game-winning three, sealing the remarkable comeback victory, L.A.’s 24th straight home win over the Mavericks. Kobe scored 21 points in the 4th Q … on 8 of 8 FG’s, and 4 of 4 FT’s, not to mention three assists and two rebounds. Kobe, Shaq (3 for 3), Shaw (3 for 3, two 3’s) and George (2 for 2) were a perfect 16 for 16, with Murray’s 0 for 2 the only misses. Just insane. But hey, they were the 3-time champions for a reason!

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