Friday, June 13, 2008

R.I.P. Lakers

It was an enjoyable ride. The Lakers exceeded expectations and played themselves into the first seed in what was universally thought as the best conference in basketball. They rolled through the playoffs and took on the ESPN media darlings in the Boston Celtics. Everyone expected an epic series.

Instead, Boston leads 3-1.

Sure, it ain't over til it's over, and everyone has a chance until they're eliminated, but this isn't hockey, folks. There are no rabbits in the hat that can be pulled out Copperfield-style; this series is over. The only suspense is whether or not Boston will be celebrating in L.A. or at home.

How do you explain blowing a 24 point lead? How do you explain being up by 21 points at the end of the first quarter, a Finals record, and then going on to lose? Simple, really: the Lakers quit playing about halfway through the third quarter. Boston kept going because, you know, you get paid to play 48 minutes so you play 48 minutes. The Lakers eased up, Boston made a run, and then L.A. got tight. The last half of the fourth quarter was absolutely excruciating to watch if you were a Lakers fan: every player on the court was simply terrified to shoot or do anything with the ball, Kobe Bryant included. One trip down the floor, Kobe dribbled for a few seconds and then threw the ball to Sasha Vujacic. Kobe then stood alone at half court until someone threw up an off-balance shot as the shot clock wound down.


After the game, Kobe said that the Lakers wet the bed. Hmm. Now, I am a big Lakers fan. There is no doubt. But one way to look at it is this: Kobe shot 4 times in the first half and the Lakers led by 18; all the other Lakers were involved, everyone was playing within the flow of the game, and all were getting open looks. In the second half, Kobe shot 15 times. The rest of the Lakers seized up, and look what happened.

I'm not saying that Kobe doesn't need the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game; there is no doubt that he's a hell of a closer in those situations. But last night you almost got the feel that Kobe decided "Well, this one's over; now I got to get mine." And in the process of getting his, he disrupted what up until then had been a fantastic basketball game.

Kobe doesn't really deserve all of the blame, of course; the rest of the Lakers became automatronic robots that couldn't move, dribble or shoot, so frankly it didn't matter if Kobe had been facilitating the offense or not.

All I can take out of this is that hopefully this will be a tremendous learning experience for the younger players on the Lakers. As I've said to friends before, my fear for this team was that it had no heart. You punch the Lakers in the gut, and oftentimes they don't punch you back; rather, they just roll over and take it. And that's exactly what happened last night in the second half.

The only silver lining I can take away from last night is that, as always, there is next year. I hope that the Lakers discover a bit of heart and moxie in the off season and make sure that a collapse like the one that happened last night never happens again.

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