It was only fitting that the Los Angeles Lakers would win a game with playoff implications the same day they retired the jersey of Shaquille O'Neal.
Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson, Jeanie Buss and O'Neal spoke at halftime during the retirement of the legendary center's jersey on Tuesday at Staples Center, then the Lakers went on to a 101-81 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
The Lakers gradually opened up their lead throughout the course of the first half. They were up 24-18 before Mavericks rookie Jae Crowder knocked down a three-pointer at the end of the first quarter. The Lakers increased the lead to nine with 5:48 remaining in the first half. They went on a 15-9 run to close the half.
Bryant did it all in the first half. He posted 15 points, seven assists, five rebounds, one steal and one block in the first 24 minutes of action.
Dwight Howard added 13 points, six rebounds and one block in the first half, while Earl Clark posted 12 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and one steal off the bench.
The Lakers shot 53 percent from the floor in the first half, including 5-of-11 from downtown. They also out-rebounded the Mavericks, 26-17.
Chris Kaman led the Mavericks with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting at the half, while guards O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison combined to shoot 4-of-12 from the field.
It was a back-and-forth third quarter, but the Lakers went on a 9-3 run to head into the final 12 minutes with a 72-61 lead.
The Mavericks continued to hang around, though. They had trimmed the Lakers' lead down to seven points with just over four minutes remaining in the game. With the game slipping away, Dallas did what so many teams have done down the stretch this season: send Howard to the free-throw line.
In the end, it wasn't enough, as Howard made seven of his last 12 free-throw attempts and the Lakers emerged with the victory.
Bryant ended up playing just over 47 minutes, posting 23 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds, four steals and two blocks.
The Lakers shot 44 percent from the field while out-rebounding the Mavericks, 57-37 (including 19 offensive rebounds). Bryant registered a triple-double, while three other Lakers notched double-doubles (Howard, Clark, Pau Gasol).
Kurt Rambis of ESPN tweeted before the game:
Phil Jackson was in attendance. He apparently had a strategy going into the infamous "Kiss Cam" on Tuesday, per Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:
Phil standing up in clear attempt to avoid being put on Kiss Cam with Jeanie ... but now sitting down again.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) April 3, 2013
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wasn't impressed:
How could they not put Jeanie and Phil on the kiss cam?..guess the bossand her boyfriend said no...they're no fun...— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) April 3, 2013
@kobebryant's still better than all of us— Josh Martin (@Josh_E_Martin) April 3, 2013
Congrats to my man @shaq on getting his number retired with the Lakers! Well deserved and one of the best to ever play the game!— Reggie Bush (@ReggieBush) April 3, 2013
Lakers fan @DannyyOfficial posted a nice photo commemorating Shaq's jersey retirement ceremony and career:
Basketball writer Ethan Strauss wasn't exactly impressed with Dirk Nowitzki's defense early in the second half:
Dirk's playing a lot of "can't jump, guess I'll punch" defense at the rim.— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) April 3, 2013
Arash Markazi of ESPN LA tweeted down the stretch:
Another sign the playoffs started today for the Lakers: Kobe has played every single second of this game.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) April 3, 2013
The Mavericks resorted to the well-known game of "Hack-a-Dwight" in the final minutes. Reggie Miller had some harsh words for Howard during the TNT telecast, per Adam Kennedy of Hoopsworld.com:
Reggie Miller on Dwight Howard missing free throws: "Work on your game. Enough with the commercials, stop smiling. Work on your game."— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 3, 2013