Lakers tickets aren’t easy to come by. Getting to Staples Center for a game isn’t easy, either. Parking is frustrating and expensive, and the whole experience sometimes makes you wonder if watching the game on TV would have been a better idea.
Last night, roughly 20,000 fans and I were inside the famous structure to witness a winner doing what he does best: win. After three quarters of basketball that were extremely painful to watch, the Lake Show decided to make a go at the Toronto Raptors. The crowd responded, and things changed. To really feel the intensity, however, we must recap the events leading up to the end.
Pre-game felt empty. The arena was eerily quieter than normal, and the fans simply didn’t seem enthusiastic about the game they were about to see. If you’ve never been to a game before, you should know that the Lakers drop these enormous curtains around mid court and project a video montage of great highlights before announcing the starters. It gets the crowd fired up, and they keep it fresh with highlights from the current season. Last night, the electricity of that pre-game highlight reel was slightly subdued. My only guess is that the 3-game slide made fans nervous, and it’s difficult to be boisterous when you’re as worried as many fans were.
This was the first time I attended a game against the Raptors, so I was a little surprised when the Star-Spangled Banner was preceded by the Canadian National Anthem. The extra anthem was only one of many quirks in an odd evening.
When tip-off came, it finally felt like a Laker game. The Lakers won the tip, and Fisher took the ball up court. “This feels normal”, I remember thinking. Fish then takes a three-pointer and it rims out. “Yep, this is normal,” was my internal response. It feels like we miss our first shot quite often to me.
Chris Bosh was being defended by Andrew Bynum on one of the early Toronto possessions. The fans in my section quickly started talking about how difficult it is for Bynum to guard someone who has an outside shot and decent quickness. Just as this chatter came to a peak, Bosh steps back and drains a three. That would be Chris Bosh, the forward who is a 30% career three-point shooter and averages around 25 three-point attempts per year.
The Raptors’ Andrea Bargnani caused problems for multiple people last night. The most detrimental was his play against the Laker bigs. Laker bigs just can’t keep up with a big man on the perimeter. It’s just as bad as the guards against a fast point guard- the Lakers just can’t keep up. The other problem Bargnani caused was for the announcer, who butchered his name repeatedly throughout the evening. He kept saying “Barn-yarni”, making many of us cringe. It’s just as annoying to me as when some announcers (*cough* Reggie Miller *cough*) say “Farmer” instead of “Farmar”. Learn to pronounce names when that’s what you’re paid to do.
At half time, the murmur of the crowd told the story. The Lakers were down by 8, losing the inside battle to a team that isn’t known for its inside presence. Some people were talking about going home early. I’m glad I didn’t (I would never, for the record).
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Lakers bench players found a rhythm. They started playing inspired basketball that was enthralling to witness. They were jumping routes, boxing out, and playing with a determination that hadn’t been seen all evening.
The Raptors fought back, though, and it took a great defensive play to get the crowd into the frenzy that continued until the end of the game. This defensive play was not an Artest steal or a Gasol block. It wasn’t a deflected pass or a hustle play. It was simply a fan who stood up from his courtside seat to knock a ball away when the Raptors’ Jose Calderon was chasing it. You may not know it from TV, but that man received a standing ovation from the crowd for his heroics with less than 2 minutes on the clock.
The game was tied back up on a Chris Bosh three with 9.5 seconds left. Just after seeing his second three-pointer of the night go in (remember, 30% career, only takes 25 per year), Bosh made his way back to the Raptors’ bench with the same swagger that Robert Horry had after draining his game-winner against the Kings a few years back. He had that “I’m the man” look as he chest-bumped other teammates.
As we watched this reaction, many of us wondered two things: First, the words “oh no” were said thousands of times in the arena. But within a half second, a second though collectively hit the crowd: “Does he realize he just left almost 10 seconds on the clock for Kobe to hit a game-winner?”
The entire arena rose to their feet during the ensuing timeout. The roar of the crowd grew despite the lack of action on the floor. You just knew something amazing was about to happen.
I turned to my friend and said, “I hope Kobe draws a double and passes to Lamar or Pau inside for an easy layup or dunk to win it.” Little did I know that Kobe actually had the same plan, but wound up abandoning it when the defense reacted differently than he expected.
I’m not complaining, though.
As Kobe went up for the shot, Staples Center turned quiet for a split second as everyone held their breath. “NO!!!”, I heard one fan shout as they were worried about his shot selection. To be fair, our angle made it seem like he was shooting from behind the backboard- a shot he CAN make, but not the one you want him taking when the game is on the line.
As the ball went through the net, the final 1.9 seconds didn’t matter. Most of the arena paid no attention to the final desperation shot by the Raptors, even though it would have won the game for them had it gone in. Everyone was too busy high-fiving and cheering. Staples Center came back to life on the shoulders of a game-winning shot by the best closer in the game.
Let’s hope the Lakers come back to life as a team now, too.