June 16, 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: for better or worse, LA won.
Two nights after an epic collapse, the Lakers escaped with an arduous 103-98 victory that is either a curse or a blessing for Lakers faithful.
If The Lake Show no shows for the next game, or plays in any way similar to their putrid showings in Games 1 and 2 in Beantown, they’ll get blown out in Game 6 and one might well argue that it would be better if things had just ended in Game 5 — letting the healing process begin.
However, you might also argue that Kobe and company are due for a good game in Boston – and they’ll find a way to eke out a victory – setting up that most delicious of events, a Game 7 in the NBA Finals.
Now that would be fun. Nothing in sports is better than watching which great athletes are able to rise to the occasion and perform admirably under intense pressure on the grandest stage. Who among the stars and role players on each team possess the testicular fortitude to play well in a Game 7? Would it be Kobe? Pierce (by far the best player on the court in the Finals so far)? Maybe Cassell or Vujacic? And how would KG handle the pressure?
In order to force a Game 7, the Lakers are going to have to play better in Game 6 than they did in Game 5.
Putting the series in perspective, after the jump…
Once again LA jumped out to a commanding 1st quarter lead (39-21), shooting 65%, led by Kobe with 15 points on 5-8 from the floor (4-5 beyond the arc) and Pau Gasol with 9 points and 5 rebounds.
But in the 2nd quarter, after increasing their lead to 19 on a Sasha Vujucic jumper, the Lakers went almost 7 minutes without scoring and watched as Boston, behind 16 points from a dynamic Paul Pierce, went into halftime trailing only 55-52.
After notching those quick 15 in the first quarter, Kobe did not score in the 2nd quarter, and would finish the game with 25 points on 8-21 shooting. Meaning that the Black Mamba went 3-13 after the opening 12 minutes, another ho-hum night from the reigning MVP.
But despite not playing great again, Kobe made the play of the game. After having their lead crest at 14 points early in the 4th quarter on a 9-foot jumper by Fluke Walton that made the score 88-74, the Celtics came as close as 97-95 on two free throw by Pierce (38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists) with 1:14 to play. After Derek Fisher missed a deep 3-pointer on the following possession, the Celtics had a chance to tie, but Kobe made a nifty steal on Pierce, knocking the ball free from behind, and went in for the dunk that put the Lakers up 99-95 with 37 seconds to go, and The Lake Show hung on for the win, forcing the series back to Boston.
The Lakers were able to squeeze out the victory without Bryant at his best thanks to an appearance by The Brie Brothers. Pau Gasol looked downright feisty out there, and delivered with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. His sibling in softness, Lamar Odom, also had a swell game, contributing spirited play along with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Those type of numbers (combining for 40ish points and 20 plus boards) are exactly what the Lakers must have from The Brie Brothers going forward if they’re to complete the previously impossible – rally from a 3-1 series deficit in the Finals.
“In training camp if you told us, ‘We’ll give you two games that you have to win to win a world championship,’ we would have taken it in a heartbeat,” Bryant said. “This is a great opportunity for us.”
Kobe’s quote puts a bit of perspective on the Lakers season. It’s been disappointing watching the Lakers play so poorly in the Finals – they haven’t put a single quality game together. Some of which, of course, is due to playing their best opponent of the playoffs, but there’s no doubt to anyone who’s followed the Lakers this year that everyone, including Kobe, has looked like the pressure has bothered them, and not just at times, but for whole games. It’s one thing to be outplayed – it’s another to choke it away. So far, the Lakers have choked more than they’ve been outplayed in all of their losses.
But then, as Kobe said, no one, not even the players, expected the Lakers to be a participant in the Finals.
So, instead of focusing on their poor play thus far and bemoaning the fact that if the Lakers didn’t choke away a 24 point lead they would hold the 3-2 series advantage, the optimum way to view this situation is that the next two games are actually pure gravy, a gift from the basketball gods that allows the Lakers, who happen to employ the game’s best gunslinger, two do-or-die shots at basketball immortality.
Here’s hoping that Kobe and the Lakers, regardless of outcome, go down guns blazing in a heroic effort.
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