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Landry and Wanting That Last Shot

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The Lakers and Rockets played a fanastic game on Tuesday night in Houston, complete with lead-changing threes from Shane Battier and Kobe Bryant, some very odd decision-making from Yao Ming and Rafer Alston doing, um, Rafer Alston things.  But among the several other noteworthy occurrences of the last minute of a 105-100 Lakers victory, Carl Landry made a curious play of his own.

Disclaimer: There isn't a ton to complain about with Landry in the first place, and that was especially true on Tuesday night.  Normally, he's an undersized power forward who uses his shots quite efficiently, spends some time dunking over bigger guys, crashes the boards hard, doesn't back down from anybody and gives the Rockets aggressive play all over the court.  On Tuesday, he gave a shorthanded Rockets team (no Tracy McGrady, no Ron Artest) 21 points (8-of-12 from the field, 5-of-5 from the line) and eight rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench.  He even banged a few jumpers from 15 to 20 feet.

All that said, in the interest of not being unappreciative, this piece isn't so much of a complaint on my end as it is a question about Landry's mentality was in the final 20 seconds of the contest.

With the Rockets down two points and a minute to play, Derek Fisher poked the ball away from Rafer Alston.  But Kobe Bryant couldn't save it to a Laker, and the Rockets capitalized on the ensuing broken play, getting an open look for Shane Battier in the left corner.  The three was Battier's only made basket of the game, and it gave the Rockets a one-point lead.  That Bryant fellow answered back with a deep three of his own over Battier to put the Lakers back up two with 27 ticks to play.

That set up the confusing sequence.  After the Rockets burned a few seconds off the clock on the next possession, Rafer Alston got the ball to Landry on the right side of the basket from roughly 15 feet out.  Landry hesitated, realized he had a wide-open look, started to square to shoot, pulled the ball down, hesitated again, looked to pass despite still having no Lakers anywhere near him and finally gave the ball back to Alston at the top.  Alston went to the rim, got fouled and promptly missed two freebies.  A few LA foul shots and another Houston miss later, it was over.

Though Landry's part in the whole thing took only a few seconds, it's the part that makes me wonder.  Watching it in real time, my first reaction was disbelief: Here's a guy who has the hot hand shooting the ball tonight and has a comfortable look clearly within his range, and he doesn't want to take this shot?  Landry looked like he simply didn't want the ball in his hands in that situation.  He looked toward the rim not once but twice on the play and both times couldn't bring himself to shoot the basketball.  Even though it's a shot he can hit.  Even though it's a shot he did hit on multiple occasions that night.  Even though the team was unlikely to get a better look at the basket than an open 15-footer with barely 15 seconds to play.

But on the other hand, thinking about it deep into the night afterward made me reconsider if I was being fair to Landry.  While he shot the ball well last night, he shoots just 42.6 percent on jump shots for the season.  As my colleague Tom from The Dream Shake suggested to me via e-mail Tuesday, Landry may have been reversing the ball to Alston with the expectation that it would be dropped off to Yao Ming on the other side of the floor.  So maybe the young power forward was trying to make what he saw as the right play for the team. 

But as a player at this level, the look Landry had is a shot he needs to be able to hit when wide open, and again, it's a shot he can and did hit.  At a level where just about everyone seems to want the ball in his hands, does it say something about Landry that he didn't seem to want any part of being responsible for a potential final shot?

Maybe I'm over-thinking this one.  It was one split-second decision on one play of one game of one regular season of what should be many to come for Carl Landry.  But the apparent lack of interest in taking that big shot with the game on the line sure makes me wonder a bit.