By the time their season finale tipped off at Staples Center on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Lakers already knew they'd clinched the West's final playoff berth thanks to the Memphis Grizzlies' 86-70 win over the Utah Jazz. But both the Lakers and their opponents, the Houston Rockets, still had something to play for — the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, which would earn the winner a date with the San Antonio Spurs ... and, perhaps more importantly, allow them to avoid the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 1.
Thanks to the scoring punch of James Harden and Chandler Parsons, poor Lakers transition D (natch) and sluggish shooting from an L.A. offense missing the injured Kobe Bryant, the Rockets had the upper hand late in the third quarter, holding an eight-point lead with 1:15 left in the frame. But five quick points from reserve Laker guard Darius Morris kept L.A. within hailing distance entering the fourth, setting the stage for a comeback sparked by the passing of Pau Gasol, the interior defense of Dwight Howard, and timely shotmaking by Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison.
With the iso-heavy late-game Rockets offense stalled, the Lakers held a 90-87 lead with 16.7 seconds remaining and a shot at the No. 7 seed in their grasp. And then, this:
A scrambling, desperate line-drive launched by Parsons with one second remaining that — in defiance of all we know about jumpshots and the properties of physics — banged right through. Just like Kevin McHale drew it up, no doubt.
Hit the jump for a slow-mo look at Parsons' deep triple, thanks to the NBA's Phantom cameras, plus more from Wednesday's season-ender between the Lakers and Rockets.
After the game, Parsons tried to describe what the heck happened to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
"It was just kind of a broken play and obviously we had to get a 3," Parsons said. "They were switching out on everything so it's difficult to get a shot off on the first action, so we moved the ball and tried multiple attempts at the shot."
And somehow, amazingly, that attempt was the one that found paydirt.
The official review showed that Parsons let it fly well before the red light came on, meaning the basket counted, the game was knotted at 90 and the final game of the 2012-13 NBA regular season was headed into overtime.
This, naturally, pleased Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whom TV cameras had shown earlier seated next to noted Houston-repping actor Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory." After Chandler's big shot, Morey reached into his CBS bag-o'-tricks to pull out what I am told is a Sheldon Cooper-appropriate goof:
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) April 18, 2013
Classic Sheldon (I guess?)!
Anyway, while Parsons' 3-pointer gave the Rockets an extra five minutes, the Rockets didn't really seem all that keen on using it. Houston went without a field goal for nearly four minutes, missing three jumpers and notching two turnovers before a driving Harden layup brought them within one point at 94-93.
But a loud (and, I'll be honest, somewhat surprising to me) baseline drive and jam by Meeks pushed the lead back to three, Harden missed a potential game-tying triple and had his follow-up layup try blocked by Howard (who seemed to be everywhere defensively in the fourth and OT) with 20 seconds left. From there, L.A. was able to keep Houston at arm's length in a free-throw shooting contest, holding on for a 99-95 win that vaulted the Lakers past the Rockets into seventh place in the Western Conference.
Blake (24 points on 6 for 20 shooting, 4 for 12 from 3-point land, 8 for 8 from the line) was the Lakers' high scorer, but it was the dual efforts from big men Gasol (17 points, 20 rebounds, 11 assists and two blocks, his seventh career triple-double and second in less than a week) and Howard (16 points, 18 rebounds, four blocks, stellar defense late) that propelled L.A. to its fifth straight win and a first-round matchup with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the second-seeded Spurs in San Antonio on Sunday afternoon.
Harden led all scorers with 30 points, but needed 25 shots to get there, and his backcourt partner Jeremy Lin had a rough go of it offensively (12 points on 4 for 14 shooting, including some awful late possessions). Parsons finished with 23 points on 10 for 18 shooting, four rebounds and three assists, but it just wasn't enough, and so the Rockets will move on to face Harden's old pals Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday night.