LOS ANGELES, CA-Basketball is a game of runs. Everyone in the NBA knows that to be fact instead of fiction. They also know that a ballgame is never over until it’s over. A lead doesn’t really hold weight until the clock ticks down to zero. The Los Angeles Lakers got an updated version of that memo against the Indiana Pacers.
By the end of the first quarter of their game against the visiting Pacers, the Lakers appeared that they would be on cruise control the rest of the way after accumulating a 38-15 lead.
Indiana quickly erased that deficit getting backing back into the game by the end of the second quarter and pressured the Lakers down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Despite their best efforts, the Pacers just couldn’t quite get over the hump of that large double-digit lead (though they briefly took the lead late in the third quarter) or the majestic performance of LeBron James.
James dominated the opening period and then closed the game just as strong to lead the Lakers to a 104-96 win at Staples Center. James, who finished the game with an atypical performance of 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, scored 12 of the Lakers’ 21 points in the fourth quarter. The catalyst of the game was set up by the Lakers’ opening period blitz.
“It’s a game of runs,” said Lakers forward Michael Beasley. “We went on one early. They came back with one in the second quarter, the third also. We went on one late.”
Seven blocked shots and 20 points in the low post in the just the opening period facilitated the Lakers’ early advantage. It also helped that LeBron James was being LeBron James, scoring 14 points and dishing out four assists in the period. The Lakers seemed to be doing everything right.
The Pacers, on the hand, were doing pretty much everything wrong. The Lakers defended, they blocked shots and seemingly could not miss from the field, connecting on 16 of the 23 shots they attempted. The Pacers, clearly intimidated by the Lakers’ backend shot-blocking ability with Tyson Chandler and JaVale McGee lurking under the basket, struggled to even get the ball across half-court at one point.
Indiana played the first quarter of its scheduled West Coast trip against the Lakers about as bad as the uniforms they wore on their backs. No disrespect to the Pacers, but the color contrast of those Hickory Hoosiers uniforms didn’t blend in too well with the Staples Center floor.
Thanks to the Lakers’ invite-only block party, the Pacers played much of the period like unwelcomed guests.
Indiana’s field goal percentage in the first quarter was about as bad as you can get. The Pacers misfired on 20 of their 25 shots they took from the field, a pasty 20 percent. The Lakers and their long and extended length had a lot to do with that.
“We came in and we got stops,” said guard Josh Hart, who connected on six of his seven field goal attempts to score 13 points off the bench for the Lakers. “We were able to get turnovers and get quick buckets. Our focus was defense, and that defense translates into easy buckets on offense.”
But turnabout is fair play. Just as hot they were in the first quarter, the Lakers shot poorly in the second period, allowing the Pacer to claw their way back into the game. Indiana outscored the Lakers 35-18 in the period. By the time the two teams hit the locker room at intermission, the Pacers trailed 56-50.
With that, the Lakers and Pacers played it close to the vest the rest of the way with third quarter serving as the appropriate barometer. The Lakers edged the Pacers 27-25 in the third period. Then it was time for James to do his thing. Indiana got within 89-88, but James connected on a deep 3-point shot to give the Lakers a four-point cushion.
A traditional three-point play by James and a long-distance salvo from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with 3:24 left in the game essentially closed the deal for the Lakers as they notched their 10th win of the season. James put the finishing touches on the victory scoring his team’s last six points. As far as that big lead the Lakers had early on that would eventually dissipate, Hart said that’s pretty much the nature of basketball.
“It’s a game of runs. We were doing a good job of ball movement,” Hart said. “We got stagnant for a little bit, but we got it right back.”