HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — It was just four days ago that we noted how the Lakers’ 13-5 run was based largely on turning around their late-game fortunes. And since then, L.A. has already won two more nail-biters.
On Wednesday, they came back from a 25-point deficit to win in New Orleans, 108-102. Kobe Bryant tied the game with 1:34 left, gave the Lakers the lead a minute later, and basically sealed the game with his runaway dunk with 24 seconds left.
And on Friday, Bryant did it again, hitting three ridiculous 3-pointers at the end of regulation and then getting the game-winning dunk when Toronto stupidly sent the lumbering Aaron Gray to *double-team him on the perimeter. Rudy Gay did his part to help his opponent, taking six bad shots in the clutch and missing all six.
Side note: There was a video where Michael Jordan noted that he loved it when teams sent a big man to double-team him. As the big approached, Jordan would quickly go right around him, and basically the big would set a screen on his own teammate (the one guarding Jordan in the first place). Jordan was talking about post-ups, where he didn’t have the real estate that Bryant had on Friday. The Raptors sent Gray to guard Bryant 25 feet from the basket. Things may have been different if the more mobile Amir Johnson hadn’t fouled out, but that doesn’t excuse the decision to double with Gray.
So, since Jan. 27 L.A. is now 10-2 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. Before that, they were 5-16.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the Utah Jazz, the team the Lakers are trying to catch for eighth place in the West. After a painful loss in Chicago on Friday, the Jazz have dropped six of their last seven games, with four of the last five losses coming by three points or less.
Here’s a quick rundown of the excruciating way they’ve allowed the Lakers to pull within a half game in the standings…
Feb. 25 – Celtics 110, Jazz 107 (OT)
Down eight to the Celtics, the Jazz began the fourth quarter with a 13-2 run to take the lead. They defended Paul Pierce well at the end of regulation, but couldn’t stop him from scoring seven straight points in overtime. Down three with 1.2 seconds left, Randy Foye‘s 3 to tie didn’t hit anything.
March 4 – Bucks 109, Jazz 108 (OT)
This time, the Jazz were down 10 to start the fourth. They came back again, but Paul Millsap missed a free throw that could have given them a four-point lead with 15 seconds left in regulation. That opened the door for Brandon Jennings‘ game-tying three. Gordon Hayward‘s drive to win was denied by Larry Sanders and Enes Kanter‘s follow rolled off the rim at the buzzer. A costly Alec Burks turnover and a missed DeMarre Carroll free throw doomed them in overtime.
March 6 – Cavs 104, Jazz 101
The Jazz were the team to blow the fourth-quarter lead this time. They led by 12 with just over seven minutes to go and by eight after a Millsap bucket with 2:46 left. But Kyrie Irving sparked a 12-1 Cavs run, featuring a couple of ugly Utah turnovers, to finish the game.
March 8 – Bulls 89, Jazz 88
The Jazz seemingly took control with a 10-0 run to go up five in the middle of the fourth quarter, but Chicago answered right back. An Al Jefferson jumper gave Utah the lead in the final minute, but another one couldn’t seal the deal. Marco Belinelli then hit a 3 to put the Bulls up one. And though Hayward got a good look to win it, his jumper was way off.
Before this stretch, the Jazz were 19-11 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes. Now, they’re 19-15.
Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune has the story from Chicago…
The Utah Jazz don’t have an open roster spot, but Misery has signed on with this team and is their most reliable clutch performer.
This time the opponent was the Chicago Bulls, their weapon of choice was a Marco Belinelli 3-pointer. But the rest? It felt exactly the same.
With reports circulating that Utah is on the verge of signing D-League standout Travis Leslie, the Jazz lost their third game on this road trip after they held leads in the final minute in all three. But after an overtime loss in Milwaukee and a missed layup in Cleveland, the storyline for the Jazz (32-30), as they struggle to remain playoff relevant, borders on the absurd.
“They didn’t draw that up,” Al Jefferson said. “That was just the ball bouncing their way.”
There’s a lot of luck involved in winning and losing close games. There’s still plenty of season left, but right now, it seems that the Jazz’s luck has run out.