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: The Lakers take a commanding 3-1 series lead after nearly blowing the game, and they aren’t out of the woods yet.
My feelings on the grand game of baseball have been duly documented in this space before, so you can imagine the utter shock and horror I felt when, upon showing up at my preferred place to watch the Lakers, I discovered that they were showing the Dodgers game on the lone big screen TV instead of Game 4 of the Lakers/Spurs series.
I mean, how can you possibly reconcile showing a crappy regular season Dodgers game over The Western Conference Finals? This was a mortal sporting sin, one that begs the heavens for vengeance.
After this bad omen, I was forced to switch venues on the fly, moving from the cozy hotel lobby bar I had adopted to a high-priced bowling alley in the Hollywood and Highland shopping monolith.
While grossly overpriced and emanating an unfortunate airport bar vibe, the bowling alley at least had their priorities in order, as every TV in the place was tuned to the Lakers game.
By the time I finally finagled a seat at the bar, the Lakers had jumped to a 22-8 lead, and it seemed like everything was going to work out just fine.
And it did. Barely.
The Lakers hung on by the skin of their teeth for a 93-91 triumph, giving them a commanding 3-1 series lead.
How the Lake Show nearly blew it and why a 3-1 lead isn’t safe after the jump…
The game should never, ever have been that close. With the Lakers up 93-86 and 50 seconds to play, Pau “Soft Serve” Gasol missed both free throws after being fouled by Fabricio Oberto, blowing a chance to ice the game.
Manu Ginobili, who had struggled all night (7 points, 6 assists, 2-8 from the field), then hit a three-pointer to bring the Spurs within four. After Kobe Bryant made a horrible decision and drove for a contested lay-up in traffic instead of milking the clock, Tony Parker scored on a fast break when Lamar Odom was called for goaltending (although replays showed it clearly was not), bringing the Spurs within 93-91 with 28 seconds to play.
On the Lakers next trip down the court, Derek Fisher airballed a tough jumper from the corner, but the ball went out of bounds off of Robert Horry and remained in the Lakers’ possession with 2 seconds on the shot clock.
But Bryant missed a contested 18-footer and the Spurs had 2.1 seconds left to purloin an improbable victory.
Fortunately for the Lakers, Brent Barry missed a three-pointer, and the game was over.
The keys to the Lakers’ victory were rebounding (the Lakers owned a 46-37 advantage on the boards, including 14 offensive rebounds), improved play from Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher (both of whom bounced back from poor showings in Game 3 to notch 16 and 9 points respectively), and the continued brilliance of Kobe Bryant (28 points, 10 rebounds) combined with a poor shooting night by the Spurs (only 40% from the field and 29% on threes).
However, before anyone gets too excited about the Lakers next appearance in the NBA Finals, I have one word for you:
That’s right, I’m referencing the still painful 2006 Lakers’ collapse against the Suns when they also held a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Suns became only the 8th team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit.
Of course, in this series, Game 7 would be played in LA, but let’s hope it doesn’t go that far.
The Lakers need to show their killer instinct and pounce on the Spurs now, closing them out at home on Thursday night, lest they give this proud and dangerous Spurs team even a glimmer of hope.
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