It wasn’t a pretty lineup. It wasn’t a conventional lineup. Heck, if you had told Lakers fans their five-man unit in the fourth quarter featured two perceived draft busts, the last pick of the 2012 draft, a journeyman role player, and Jodie Meeks, they would have asked how bad they were losing by.
But you’d be hard pressed to find a gutsier performance than the one the Lakers put forth Sunday night. With Xavier Henry forced into the point guard role due to an injury to Jordan Farmar earlier in the game, the Lakers trotted out a lineup void of a true point guard and featuring just one true guard in Meeks. But with a 20-point deficit heading into the fourth, little was thought about the lineup other than it being a garbage time mess.
Needless to say, the 21-3 run they proceeded to go on sent the Staples Center into delirium and Lakers fans into hysteria. All five Lakers scored during the run, including 10 points from Henry. His dunk started the run early in the fourth, his four-point play highlighted the run, and Meeks’ fastbreak lay-up capped off the run. In the middle, we saw a sensational block by Johnson, relentless energy, and more heart in one quarter than was ever apparent in any Laker’s squad in recent memory.
All it was missing was the Hollywood ending. The Lakers pulled with one point on a Robert Sacre jumper in the lane and still had over three minutes remaining in the game. However, timely shots by LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, and Wesley Matthews sunk the Lakers, who ran out of gas late, dropping the contest 114-108. But the final score will never accurately portray how the game ended. Henry finished with a career-high 27 points on 9 for 12 shooting and 7 of 11 shooting at the line. Sacre added career highs in points (12) and rebounds (7) in 24 minutes.
Poor starts in both the first and third quarter doomed the Lakers. Early on, the Lakers very quickly found themselves trailing 21-4 just over halfway through the first quarter and behind the eight ball from the get-go. Paired with an injury to back-up point guard Jordan Farmar, and hopes were diminishing quickly in the Staples Center. A passion-filled run spanning the first and second quarter saw the Lakers tie the game at 40 at the 6:26 mark of the 2nd quarter. The two squads traded buckets to finish the first half, with Portland taking a three point lead into the locker room.
Another fast start seemed more lethal in the second half. While L.A. did score 24 points in the 3rd, they surrendered 41 points. They never got the gears turning, stalling behind Steve Blake, who played 33 of the first 34 minutes of the game. Without a back-up option, Henry stepped in as the impromptu point guard over the final minute and 52 seconds of the third quarter. But struggles by Henry to finish the quarter saw the Trail Blazers push the lead to 20 points after two Lillard free throws with just two seconds left in the quarter, setting the stage for the frantic fourth.
The #BenchMob once again paced the Lakers, finishing with 60 points, 23 rebounds, 7 steals, 3 blocks, and 23 for 39 (58.9%) shooting from the field. More notably, Pau Gasol continued to struggle, shooting 3 for 15 from the field and scoring just six points. Paired with Jordan Hill’s two points and the Lakers starting front court was far effective. However, the back court of Meeks and Blake scored 33 points, dished out 12 assists, and hit six threes.
The Lakers will now have a lengthy break between games, not playing until Friday in Sacramento. Kobe Bryant could return to the court on Friday, although it still remains unlikely. Steve Nash will likely return to practice this week, while we’ll have updates on injuries to Farmar (hamstring) and Gasol (ankle).