Before Mike D’Antoni made his Lakers bench debut Tuesday night, he said that whatever happened against the Brooklyn Nets, he would have to take it sitting down because he was still in pain following recent knee-replacement surgery.
By the third quarter of the Lakers’ 95-90 victory at Staples Center, D’Antoni was up and barking at the officials several times. Apparently, what he was seeing on the court was more painful than what he was feeling in his knee.
In the end, after Deron Williams missed a potential game-tying three-point shot and Kobe Bryant hit a pair of free throws with two-tenths of a second left, D’Antoni and the crowd were on their feet and smiling to celebrate the Lakers’ ninth straight victory over the Nets (6-3).
“I’m really happy to get a win,” D’Antoni said, joking that he had about 15 minutes until his pain-killing medication wore off.
“It was great to be out there and great to be with the guys. That’s what you coach for.”
D’Antoni’s first game in full command was also the Lakers’ last of a 5-1 homestand. They were fortunate to have a relatively soft schedule during their transition from Mike Brown to interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff and, finally, to D’Antoni, but Tuesday’s game also began a stretch of four in five nights that will include the first real trip of the season for the Lakers (6-5).
Dwight Howard had 23 points despite hitting only seven of 19 free throws, part of a poor 19-for-37 team performance. Howard also pulled down 15 rebounds and was credited with four blocks. Bryant finished with 25 points. Brooklyn was led by Brook Lopez’s 23 points and Williams’ 22.
Unlike their previous two games against Phoenix and Houston, both relatively easy wins, the Lakers had to play some defense Tuesday and managed pretty well. They also cut down on their turnovers, finishing with 11.
“They shot 31% in the second half and we held them to 33 points. That’s a good offensive team,” D’Antoni said of the Nets, who brought a 6-2 record, second-best in the East, into Tuesday’s game.
“We weren’t clicking offensively and we didn’t play real well overall but good [in] spots and especially a win against a team that’s hot — they’d won five in a row — to outplay them, that means something.”
The Lakers had to rally in the fourth quarter, with Howard bringing them even at 89-86 and Bryant hitting a short runner to give them an 89-86 lead just as the clock ticked down to two minutes.
Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson finished off a fastbreak with a short jumper to cut the Lakers’ lead to 89-88 but Bryant hit two free throws with 17.1 seconds left to make it 91-88. Williams hit a pair of free throws to make it 91-90 but Bryant converted two more free throws with 4.8 seconds left.
“It was pretty good test,” Bryant said, adding when asked about the decline in turnovers, “we’re getting more in sync with each other.”
The Lakers started the game impressively, pulling off a 10-0 run as the Nets missed their first five shots. But Brooklyn came back on the strong shooting of Lopez, who had 17 points by halftime, and a dominant push by Williams, who overpowered Darius Morris.
The game stayed close in the third quarter. The crowd’s loudest roar was for a block by Howard on a shot by Williams, a rejection that sent the ball arching high over the Lakers’ bench and into the stands.
The Lakers fell behind, 79-77, early in the fourth quarter after a jumper by Lopez and a turnover by Morris became a dunk for Gerald Wallace. But they persevered to give D’Antoni his first win.
To Chris Duhon, winning with less than their best effort was a significant achievement.
“That’s the mark of a great team, a championship team,” he said. “A great team is able, when shots are not falling, to knock down the final one to win.”