L.A. Lakers rally past Warriors as Steve Nash returns
Los Angeles Lakers' Steve Nash brings the ball up against the Golden State Warriors during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012. (AP /Marcio Jose Sanchez)
The Associated Press
Published Sunday, December 23, 2012 10:54AM EST
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Canadian Steve Nash sliced through the lane, broke down the defence, and created shots for Kobe Bryant time and again, just the way he has for teammates throughout his brilliant 17-year NBA career.
So much for an adjustment period.
Bryant had 34 points and 10 rebounds, Nash finished with 12 points and nine assists in his first game in almost two months, and the Los Angeles Lakers rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Golden State Warriors 118-115 in overtime on Saturday night.
"It's easy. It's very easy. It's beyond easy," Bryant said about playing with Nash, from Victoria, who had missed 24 straight games while recovering from a small fracture in his lower left leg. "You put two guys together who can do opposite things and it fits extremely well. When I get a rebound, I look to get the ball in his hands because I know I will be getting an easy shot."
While defence remains an issue for the Lakers, the offence had no problems in Nash's return.
Metta World Peace and Nash each made a go-ahead three-pointer in the final minutes of regulation before the Warriors came back. World Peace scored 20 points, and Nash converted a step-back shot for the final basket in overtime to lift Los Angeles to its fourth straight victory.
This one had 20 lead changes, eight ties, and a sellout crowd of 19,596 cheering every possession as if it was the last one.
"To play 40 minutes after seven weeks was more than I could ask for," Nash said. "I felt in a decent rhythm. I feel positive about it. We'll see (Sunday). I'll have to keep working on it. I know it will be sore and painful but I'm used to that."
As well as the Lakers looked at times, the Warriors seemingly had the game in their hands.
Jarrett Jack scored 29 points and David Lee had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a disappointing collapse for Golden State, which had won 11 of 14 to get off to its best start in 20 years. As so often has happened in this one-sided California rivalry, though, the Lakers took over when it mattered most.
"This will not put a damper on our Christmas spirits," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "We're excited about where we're at, and we're excited about where we're headed."
For the first time in a long time, the Lakers and Warriors share that sentiment.
The 38-year-old Nash was injured in the second game of the season, the former Phoenix star's first with the Lakers, who have struggled for most of this season without their point guard. Nash showed no signs of rust throughout the game, and not in the crucial moments, either.
Nash's three-pointer gave the Lakers a 103-102 lead with a little less than 2 minutes left in regulation. Festus Ezeli answered with an alley-oop from Jack to put the Warriors back ahead, only to watch Bryant swish a pull-up jumper from 20 feet on the other end.
After Lee's jumper gave Golden State the lead again, World Peace made a corner three to put Los Angeles ahead 108-106 with 24.1 seconds remaining. Jack followed with a tying, step-back shot, and the Lakers took over with 14.9 seconds left before Bryant missed a jumper over two defenders at the buzzer.
Bryant made three quick jumpers in overtime, including a fadeaway that left him pumping his fist near the Warriors bench, to put Los Angeles ahead by four. He sank 16 of 41 shots and has scored at least 30 points in eight straight games.
After Stephen Curry's three-pointer trimmed the Lakers' lead to one, Nash's step-back shot in the paint over Curry extended Los Angeles' cushion again. Curry missed a potential tying three-pointer before Los Angeles grabbed the rebound -- and the game.
"The guy is a winner," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said of Nash, who he also coached with the Suns. "There was a difference before the game. He changes everything. He changes the whole perspective."
The Lakers handed Golden State its most lopsided-loss of the season on Nov. 9, a 101-77 rout in Los Angeles. In the past two months, the Lakers had continued to slide while the Warriors had become surprising winners.
The matchup Saturday marked the first time the Warriors faced the Lakers with a better record through at least 25 games since April 23, 1994.
D'Antoni said before the game that Nash's return could be a fresh start for the franchise, especially with more difficult matchups looming, including one against the New York Knicks (19-7) on Christmas. He said the lineup with Nash is what he envisioned when the Lakers called him in November to replace Mike Brown, who was fired after a 1-4 start to his second season.
With Nash anchoring D'Antoni's fast-paced system, the Lakers had no problem settling in offensively.
They scored 15 points off 10 turnovers in the opening quarter to take a 31-27 lead. Dwight Howard was in foul trouble throughout, and the centre's absence hurt Los Angeles on the other end, with the Warriors moving in and around the paint almost unchallenged.
At one point, Jack juked Nash and every other defender Los Angeles threw his way. He scored 15 points in the second quarter, sparking a 14-0 run that helped put Golden State ahead 61-53 at halftime.
The up-and-down pace had everybody winded. Curry had to ask Jackson to come out for a moment in the third quarter as Golden State played its fourth game in five nights. After a brief rest, Curry keyed another surge to give the Warriors an 88-74 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Bryant practically willed the Lakers back by himself -- with Nash's help, this time -- as he has done so often in his illustrious career. He finished an alley-oop from Nash on the next play with two hands, sliced Golden State's lead to 90-88 when he dunked after a give-and-go bounce pass from Howard midway through the fourth, and tied the game at 95 with a three-pointer in the face of Harrison Barnes minutes later to set up the frantic finish.
"It was the collective energy we're playing with, and that's the most important thing," Bryant said, "the fact we're fighting together as a group through adversity."