LOS ANGELES On a day that saw Metta World Peace resurrect Ron Artest, the Lakers came back from the near-dead to grab a crucial win at STAPLES Center.
With Kobe Bryant hitting his usual array of clutch shots and an unexpected contribution from a seldom-used backup, L.A. beat the conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder 114-106 in a double-overtime session which lasted for 3 hours and 10 minutes.
For almost everyone involved.
Following a dunk at the 1:39 mark of the second quarter that brought the Lakers to within one point of the Thunder, 48-47, World Peace inexplicably threw a vicious elbow (he later said it was "an accident"), knocking James Harden to the ground and earning a Flagrant 2 foul. He was ejected, Harden missed the rest of the game with a concussion, and with OKC leading by 18 points with 26.6 seconds to go in the third quarter, the game looked to be a win for the Thunder. It would have completed the season sweep, three games to none, and put the Lakers in serious danger of losing the Pacific Division title to the Clippers.
However, it was Jordan to the rescue. Not THAT Jordan Jordan Hill long forgotten at the end of the Laker bench since he was acquired from Houston along with Christian Eyenga for Derek Fisher at the trade deadline. Showing why he was considered enough of a prospect to be drafted eighth overall by the New York Knicks in the 2009 draft, Hill had 14 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks to help the Lakers to the victory. The 6' 10" 235-pound center was also outstanding defensively, clogging up the middle and helping hold Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison to a combined 10 points. He ended up with a remarkable 27 in the - category, and kept starter Andrew Bynum glued to the bench for the entire fourth quarter and both overtimes.
In the quirky world of Bynum, you might have expected a verbal barrage about him missing the game's concluding periods, but Bynum said it was the right thing to do.
"I wasn't playing well," he said, "and (Jordan) was playing well. I think the coach made the right move keeping him in the game."
Hill was grateful to finally get his chance to shine, especially in a game with such huge consequences.
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy breaking into the rotation when I got here." Hill said, "I mean, this is the Lakers and team chemistry was already set, and it was definitely frustrating. Coming from Houston where I was playing a lot, to (hardly) playing at all was tough. But I tried to stay ready, stay humble and do the best I could.
"Today, I knew I could help the team win. I came out there with a lot of enthusiasm, energy, ran the floor and scored when needed. I also played defense when I needed to and I helped the team win."
With World Peace likely facing a multiple-game suspension and hefty fine for his attack on Harden, does Hill feel like he's earned a chance to fill World Peace's role?
"Oh, man, I don't know about that," said Hill," but whenever coach needs me, I'll go out there and do whatever I have to do.
"I'm sad that (Metta might be suspended); it was just a mistake. Things happen in an intense game, and you can definitely picture something (physical) happening in a game like that. But we just have to keep moving forward with it."
And the man leading the way, as always, will be the indomitable Bryant, who after going 3-14 in the first three quarters, scored 17 points in the fourth quarter and double-overtime, and hit two big three-pointers in the fourth, twice giving the Lakers a lead with less than a minute to play in regulation.
Kobe said it was critical for the Lakers to come up with a big come-from-behind win going into the playoffs.
"It was very important for us to have one like that," said the NBA's leading scorer at 27.9 points per game. "We really haven't had a (large) deficit that we've (overcome) successfully, especially against such a great team. You've got to keep chipping away and have the poise to get back in the game. Today (we did)."
NOTES: Steve Blake had an outstanding game, connecting on 3 of 5 three-pointers and scoring a total of 13 points. Starting point guard Ramon Sessions remained on the bench for all but 3:52 seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime due to Blake's effectiveness. "I felt really good out there," Blake said. "I've had trouble finding my rhythm at certain points this season, but it's back now at the right time."
The Lakers end their regular season Thursday night in Sacramento, and if things remain as they are, will open the playoffs as the Pacific Division champs and the number three seed in the West, likely playing Denver in the first round..Pau Gasol was one assist short of a triple double. He scored 20 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had nine assists.