As the Indiana Pacers continued their early-season road schedule, they knew it began with a trip to the Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite having won two straight against the Lakers away from home, the players understood it would not be an easy game. The Pacers are playing without star forward Danny Granger, and the Lakers without star point guard Steve Nash.
The Pacers got off to a hot start, outscoring the Lakers 25-21 in the first quarter. The shooting then went ice cold for both teams, as they combined for 27 points in the second period. Indiana entered halftime with a well-earned seven-point lead.
Los Angeles continued to struggle, as it has thus far into the season, on the offensive end. In the meantime, Indiana was able to open up a double-figure lead after the midway point of the third quarter. However, Kobe Bryant was not going to let the game get away from his team. The Lakers closed the third period on a 15-6 run to pull within four points going into the final 12 minutes.
You would have never known Bryant was suffering from flu-like symptoms while on his way to posting 40 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He also committed a lofty 10 turnovers, unofficially giving him a triple-double on the stat sheet.
This looked to be another close contest for the Pacers, resembling seven of their other 14 games that already have come down to the final minute. And this one did, too.
With just over five minutes remaining in the game, the Indiana Pacers were clinging to a one-point lead, 67-66. Free throws by Ian Mahinmi and David West bumped the lead to five, in favor of the Pacers. Moments later, with the Pacers holding a 72-66 adavantage, George Hill charged the basket for a layup to make it an eight-point lead for Indiana, 74-66.
Then it was the Lakers’ turn. With more incredible play from Bryant, Los Angeles went on a 11-3 run to knot the game up 77-all. The eleventh point came via a fadeaway three-point basket by Bryant from the right wing with a pinch more than 24 seconds to play in the game.
Once again, the leadership of David West and George Hill late in the game proved to be the difference.
Frank Vogel loves drawing up plays for the two veterans late in games to set up open looks. As we have seen a number of times, it was a screen-and-roll involving West and Hill. West sprinted to the top of the key to screen Metta World Peace, leaving Pau Gasol to stop Hill on a potential drive.
Had Hill been double-teamed, it would have been an open jump shot for West from just beyond the charity stripe. That wasn’t the case, as Hill drove to the basket, basically leaving Gasol in his breeze. Still, George Hill then had one man left to beat: Dwight Howard.
Hill’s response: no problem. He put up a rainbow finger roll off the glass over the outstretched arm of Howard, and then watched – as did everyone else in the building – as the ball bounced around the rim for almost a full second and then fell in with 0.1-seconds remaining on the game clock.
The outcome was every bit decided, except both teams still had to play out the final 0.1 seconds after a timeout was called by Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.
Not much the Lakers could do as the buzzer sounded and the Indiana Pacers celebrated their third consecutive win against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. The poise that the Pacers displayed throughout the game was remarkable. Once they took the lead in the first quarter, they never squandered it.
David West, the Pacers most consistent player this season, finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, a near triple-double. George Hill led the Indiana Pacers in scoring with 19 to go along with five rebounds and five assists. And it was the play of both veterans that won the game for Indiana.