Los Angeles Lakers beat the Detroit Pistons: A tale of two lobs
The Los Angeles Lakers were able to scrape out a victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday thanks to two key lob plays at the end of each half.
With 1.2 seconds left, the Pistons were inbounding the ball in their own half court while trailing 98-97. Having one of the best lob catchers in rookie Andre Drummond made it seem las if he could be a likely option for sealing a victory over the Lakers. Unfortunately, they had Kyle Singler inbounding the ball. Singler missed a chance to get the lob to Drummond at the right time, barely avoided a five-second violation, and eventually tossed a pass that was partially tipped by Pau Gasol.
The Lakers escaped with the victory while the Pistons dropped another close game (4-7 in games decided by three points or fewer).
One of the interesting points about this game is that there were two successful last-second, inbound alley-oop plays (one by each team) that ended up impacting the final outcome. The first inbound alley-oop play came with 0.4 seconds left on the clock in the first half.
Kobe Bryant is inbounding the ball and knows the Lakers really only have one chance at getting a score with 0.4 seconds left. And that chance is at the rim on a lob play. However, to start the play, he's looking in Steve Blake's direction to make the Pistons think he's just looking for the easiest pass. As it looks like he's settling for the pass to Blake, Earl Clark cuts backdoor on Jonas Jerebko.
As soon as Clark gets a step behind Jerebko, Kobe is looking that way and starting to throw the lob pass. The key to tricking the Pistons on this play is the Lakers never set a back screen for Clark that could throw off the defense. They post Gasol at the free throw line as a decoy, but never use him in the action to tip off Detroit.
The ball is halfway to its intended target as Clark is launching himself into the air. Jerebko is closing but there's little he can do at this point to stop the play without risking a foul and a three-point opportunity for the Lakers. By the time Clark has the ball, the Pistons are cooked.
Compare that with how the Pistons tried to win the game at the end of regulation and you can see a lot less creativity in the play call and very little awareness by Singler on the inbound pass.
As soon as Drummond sets the screen to free up Charlie Villanueva, he has a clear path to the basket. Bryant is chasing Will Bynum and doesn't really stay in position to take away the lob. Nash is denying Brandon Knight in the corner and Gasol is paying all of his attention to the action at the top of the key.
Once Singler sees he can't get the ball to Villanueva (that can't really be the play, can it?), he goes through his next check down option of Knight in the corner. The problem with this is Knight is completely covered by Nash and Singler doesn't notice Gasol moving toward the inbounder as Drummond rolls to the basket. It's at this moment Singler should have lobbed the pass to the rim, but he doesn't even see this developing.
Here's another angle of the frame you just saw. Gasol isn't balanced at all at this moment and has to make up the width of the lane and the height of the lob in the blink of an eye if Singler is aware of Drummond at the hoop.
Once Pau notices the only play is behind him, he starts retreating and Bryant sees the same thing happening. Singler is just now noticing he needs to release the ball to Drummond but a majority of the space between Drummond and Gasol has already been cut down.
Here's that same shot but from the different angle again. Gasol has probably cut the distance between him and his man in half already and is preparing to leap for the ball. Even with knee tendinitis, this is a much easier play than it was a split-second ago. By now, Bryant also sees where the play is headed and can provide a little annoyance from behind Drummond.
This was a 48-minute game full of mistakes and great plays by both teams, so you can't really say it came down to the execution of these two lobs. And despite the Pistons' announcers thinking out loud about the possibility of a foul, Gasol never committed one against Drummond.
Instead, you had a young player panicking on an inbound pass to win the game juxtaposed with one of the all-time greats being able to trick the defense into relaxing before delivering a perfect inbound lob pass for an easy bucket. These are simply the little things that helped add up to the Lakers' 98-97 victory at Detroit.
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