Kobe Bryant didn’t score 40 tonight. The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t dominate and overwhelm their opponent in the last quarter. But regardless, this win was better and meant more to the purple and gold than any win prior. This was the win that put them back into the playoffs, sending them to the other side of that red line to claim the 8th seed in the Western Conference for now.
The Bulls managed to play the game as they wanted, forcing the high-octane Lakers offense to 90 points, though still allowing them to
shoot at 45% from the field. As has been the case for much the Bulls’ stint without Derrick Rose however, they had no idea what to do at the offensive end. Nate Robinson provided his usual spark with an equal game high 19 points, starting in the place of an injured Kirk Hinrich. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah both added double-doubles, Noah boasting the most impressive stat line with 18 points, 17 rebounds (10 offensive) and 3 blocked shots.
The Lakers jumped out to an early 20-14 lead in the first quarter behind Dwight Howard’s 6 points and 4 boards, and never looked back from there. The solid team performance carried the Lakers to a 4 point lead at the halftime break, before a third quarter explosion from Steve Nash blew the Lakers lead out to up to 16 points. At the final break, the Lakers led 73-61. Nash’s scoring barrage came off of some versatile scoring. After spotting up to net a three off of a Kobe Bryant feed, the savvy veteran buried another two-point jumper and nailing a turnaround fadeaway over Robinson in the paint. He followed it up with a crucial running jumper that pushed LA’s lead into double digits for the first time in the game.
The key to this game was the partnership between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. The storied duo are combining with a new-found chemistry that is making them a terror to deal with on both sides of the floor. At the defensive end, Howard is looking more and more like the Defensive Player of the Year that the Lakers traded for, swatting away 4 shots today and making the Bulls think twice about a lot more.
Offensively, one of the most dangerous scorers in the league’s history is now a dual threat. With a willingness to pass, Bryant himself deadly when he’s driving. As difficult as it is to stop him, it’s even tougher when there’s a chance he’s about to lob it over to one of the most vertically explosive Centers in the league for an easy dunk. Kobe has become a lot more adept at spotting a cutting, open Howard and Dwight has become much better at working off the ball to get touches on it.
This win puts the Lakers back into the postseason picture, but their work is far from over. Now they’re back, they need to keep it and fend off playoff hopefuls Utah and Portland. With an upcoming back-to-back on the road against Orlando and Atlanta, the Lakers have two very winnable games but two that could also slip out of their hands if they get complacent.
For now, they’ll bask in an impressive win against a solid team, and enjoy the feeling of being on the other side of that decisive playoffs line. To borrow a line from Steve Nash’s countryman Drake, “started from the bottom now we here.”