April 29, 2008
As long as the Los Angeles Lakers survive through the 2008 NBA playoffs, Empty the Bench’s West Coast correspondent Christopher Thell will be submitting a local fan’s take on his beloved Lakers postseason trials, tribulations and successes. In this edition Kobe shows his MVP form and Luke Walton gets some respect.
This is what MVPs do.
On the road, when the chips are down, they will their teams to improbable victory.
On a night when another alleged competitor for the MVP crown couldn’t secure a W for his team over an eighth seed and the Celtics dropped a second game to Atlanta, Mr. Bryant took care of business like no one else can, ending the Denver Nuggets season in a stirring 107-101 Lakers’ victory.
The Lakers led by as many as thirteen points in the first half, and took a ten point lead (64-54) into halftime, thanks to 33 combined points from Bryant and Gasol. Things were running smoothly, and it looked as if the Lakers would run away with it in the second half – I was starting to lay odds on which Nugget would be ejected first when the Lakers opened up that 20 point lead late in the game.
But my odds making (I had Kenyon Martin at 3-1, Iverson at 2-1) was all for naught.
In the third quarter, the wheels fell off. The Lakers played as if they somehow harbored, in a deep corner of their hearts, a bit of pity for their Nugget brethren and wanted them to have at least one game as a parting gift.
Kobe Bean Bryant takes over after the jump…
After J.R. Smith was fouled by Kobe shooting a three, he made all three of his free throws to tie the game at 88 with 5:55 to go, and it looked as if momentum was on Denver’s side.
And it felt that way. This seemed like an appropriate time for the Lakers to fold – I mean, why not? They were up 3-0 and no one expected them to sweep; even if they dropped this game they were still up 3-1 – be happy with that, and just tidy things up at home on Wednesday, right?
Kobe simply willed the Lakers to victory, scoring 14 of the Lakers last 19 points of the game to finish with 31 (along with 7 rebounds and 6 assists).
And he did it every which way imaginable, from deep threes to acrobatic lay-ups – Kobe would not allow his team to lose.
That’s what MVPs do.
The only other points for the Lakers in the last six minutes of the game came on a Pau Gasol dunk and a clutch three pointer from, yes, after four consecutive quality games in the play-offs he’s earned it, Luke Walton.
That’s right, after a very disappointing regular season that saw him earn the nickname Fluke because he wasn’t living up to his big contract, I’m officially removing the F from Luke. True, Walton didn’t put up big numbers in game four (7 points, 4 rebounds), but his clutch 3-pointer with 2:37 left made the score 100-96, and the Lakers never looked back.
This was the Lakers’ first sweep of a playoff series since destroying New Jersey in the 2002 NBA finals – the last time the Lakers won it all.
But before the Lakers can hang another championship banner, I predict they’re going to need every ounce of Kobe’s immense talent and drive, and all of 7 games, to vanquish an excellent Utah team.
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