June 11, 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: The Lake Show finally shows up with a Finals win.
The Lakers’ performance so far in the Finals reminds me of Cool Hand Luke – they’re bound and determined to make things hard on themselves and, as much as you’re rooting for them, you get the unmistakable feeling that they’re going to come up just short.
The Lakers took a 43-37 halftime lead thanks to 19 points from Kobe Bryant, who was his usual MVP self, and 12 points from Sasha Vujacic, who provided a huge spark off the bench, shooting 4-5 from the field in the first half.
The thing is, The Lake Show’s lead should have been at least fifteen. The Lakers shot a disgusting 12-22 from the charity stripe in the first half, with Bryant and Gasol being the prime culprits, going 7-12 and 2-6 respectively. Not only that, but Paul Pierce and KG combined for only 4 points on 2-16 shooting in the opening quarters.
If there ever was a game for the Lakers to win, it was this one. They were finally playing at home and getting the calls (not bogus ones, mind you – just a fair game), two thirds of Boston’s Big Three were playing terrible, and Kobe was having a marvelous evening.
But, instead of being up fifteen or so at the half, it was only six. And instead of having a comfortable second half where they easily put away the cold shooting Celtics (34% from the field for the game – Pierce and KG combined to go 8-35), the Lakers had to eke out an 87-81 victory.
Why Lakers are finished unless “The Brie Brothers” step up after the jump…
The Celtics came as close as 78-76 with 2:41 left in the 4th quarter on a 7-foot hook shot by Garnett. But Lamar Odom found an open Sasha Vujacic in the corner, and his clutch 3-pointer with 1:53 to play gave the Lakers an 81-76 cushion they never relinquished, as the Celtics were unable to get closer than four the rest of the way.
After the debacle of the first two games, I’m thankful that the Lakers at least came out and played reasonably well and got the W, and it was wonderful to see Kobe back in form, but this win was much harder than it should have been.
And once again, Lamar Odom disappeared, notching only 4 points and 9 rebounds on 2-9 shooting. Lamar is proving beyond a doubt that he is not a primetime player (not that I ever confused him for one, but this is getting ridiculous) – you can’t just stink it up for three consecutive Finals games. That’s not okay. If Andrew Bynum comes back healthy, the Lakers should seriously consider trading Odom (and throw in Fluke Walton, too – although who’d want the chokers?). Odom simply can’t be counted on in big games and when Bynum is healthy, they’re going to need a shooter at the 3 spot to be truly effective anyway.
Gasol also struggled in Game 3 – not to Lamar Odom levels – but it wasn’t pretty either. He shot 3-9 from the field and 3-8 from the line while continuing to look soft in the post, although he did manage to grab 12 rebounds, including two clutch offensive boards down the stretch that he converted into 4 of his 9 points.
That’s right, Odom and Gasol – The Brie Brothers – combined to score 13 points.
And that’s the problem. You get the feeling the Lakers are just a piece short of the title (that would be you, Andrew Bynum – get that knee right and be the All-Star center that I know you can be, for the love of all that is Purple and Gold). Because, not only is Lamar Odom not a #2 option, he’s not a #3 option when it counts. Not mentally tough enough. And Gasol is not physically strong enough to be a true #2 guy when it counts.
Tonight Vujacic stepped up and had the game of his life, finishing with 20 points on 7-10 shooting (including 3-5 from beyond the arc), and Kobe was Kobe, netting 36 points and 7 rebounds on 12-20 shooting. You can count on the Black Mamba doing that again (although, not missing that many free throws again), but you can’t expect that from Sasha on a regular basis. In order to win this series, the Lakers need Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol to play like true #2 and #3 options, and, from what I’ve witnessed so far, that’s not going to happen.
It seems the Best in the West isn’t quite tough enough to hang with the Beast from the East.
But then, you never know – perhaps Sasha or a different role player will step up and have the game of their life every night for the rest of the Finals?
Or maybe The Brie Brothers will suddenly find that proverbial can of spinach and morph into their uber basketball selves?
What are the chances of either of those scenarios happening?
Because those are the chances of the Lakers winning this series.
And like Cool Hand Luke’s chances of escaping the chain gang, they’re not good, but I’ll watch until the bitter end, hoping against good judgment that maybe, just maybe, The Lake Show can pull it off.
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