On Thursday night at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers welcomed two-time champion Pau Gasol back to Staples Center with two standing ovations and two overtime periods. The Lakers, surprisingly, pulled off a 123-118 victory over a team that many picked to go to the NBA Finals.
Flirting with tying the longest losing streak in the history of the Lakers' franchise, LA entered Thursday night's contest as a long shots not to lose its 10th game in a row. Miraculously playing with poise and purpose, the Lakers never trailed over 48 minutes of regulation play.
With 81 seconds on the clock, the Lakers led by nine points and the unfamiliar chant of "we want tacos" began to ring out. Almost immediately, the Lakers crumbled, committed turnovers and nearly gave away the game. After leading by as many as 15 points and never allowing the Bulls to even tie the game over 47 minutes and 49 seconds, Gasol's tip with 11 seconds remaining in regulation leveled the score at 98-98.
The Spaniard had not been especially lively, but he provided the heart breaking final touch that seemed destined to break the Lakers' hearts.
In the first overtime, the Chicago jumped out to a quick five-point lead. At that point, the Lakers seemed destined to extend their losing streak to 10 games, as momentum had shifted. Instead, Wayne Ellington came through with a crafty layup and a big time jump shot. With 16.2 seconds to play in the overtime, Jordan Hill would sink a 20-foot jump shot and tie the game at 106-106.
"Just very resilient tonight--our guys didn't quit, never stopped playing, continued to compete," Scott said after the game.
At 106-106, the game drew even for only the second time all night, and double overtime became a reality. On the night, Hill finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds, notching his 16th double-double of the season.
"We talked about Jordan [Hill] just coming out with energy, and tonight he just seemed to have that for the whole entire game," Scott said in front of a final box score that noted 41 minutes for Hill.
In the second overtime, Ellington proved his fitness and exhibited his finesse. Known primarily as a jump shooter, the Lakers' starting shooting guard found his way to the basket and to the free throw line. After the game, Ellington said he had worked on finished around the basket in the offseason, and that work appeared to be paying off. When all was said and done, the former North Carolina Tar Heel finished with 23 points in 46 minutes. Eight of those points came in the game-clinching second overtime.
"That's probably the most minutes I've ever played," Ellington said after the game. Asked if he felt tired, the 27-year-old laughed, "No, man, I'm feeling good. I'm feeling great. I'm ready to go right now."
Although Lakers rookie Jordan Clarkson struggled to keep hold of the ball and shouldered blame for the collapse at the end of regulation, the 22-year-old recovered to score six points in the extra periods, including a couple clutch free throws and a crucial jump shot in the second overtime. The rookie point guard finished with 18 points and four assists in 43 minutes and only had three turnovers on the night.
"[Clarkson's] progression is coming probably a lot quicker than we all thought," Scott said after the game. "He's playing against some great teams and some great point guards, and he hasn't backed down."
Next, the Lakers expect to practice on Friday before catching a flight to New York on Saturday. On Super Bowl Sunday, the Lakers play a matinee against the New York Knicks.
Notes: Kobe Bryant intended to address the crowd prior to the game and help honor Gasol, but only one day removed from surgery, Bryant did not feel up to speaking publicly. Instead, Bryant visited Gasol before the game. Nick Young missed his second game in a row with an ankle issue.