June 19, 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 devastating loss sinks in.
“Gasol was great (36 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 blocks), Kobe superb when he needed to be in the fourth (scoring 18 of his 32 in the last eight minutes), and Odom extremely solid (17 points, 14 rebounds).”
That’s what I wrote in Volume 1 of this adventure after the Lakers polished off the Denver Nuggets 128-114 in Game 1 of their first round series almost two months ago. I had no idea how far The Lake Show would go in the playoffs then – anything seemed possible with this team; an ugly first round exit or a rousing run to a title.
That Sunday afternoon in late April, after playing a splendid offensive game (but little defense – a sign of things to come), everything seemed possible, and it looked like Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were finally going to shed their soft, not-clutch-player labels and take their place next to Kobe as consistent stars – Kobe, of course, always doing the heavy lifting, closing out games and such.
Sadly, as beautiful as it started, the Lakers postseason journey came to an equally ugly end, a 131-92 drubbing that was truly fucking awful to behold.
There’s simply no way to sugarcoat it – profanity is required. Even a day removed from the embarrassment it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth. The Lakers simply did not show up in the first half and looked like they wanted to be anywhere but on the court. Their dispirited and tentative play was truly painful to witness.
LA shot just 30% from the field in the first half and coughed up 11 turnovers which led to 19 Celtics points and Boston, behind 17 points from an energetic KG and 10 points and 9 assists from Paul Pierce, closed the first half on a 26-6 run for a 58-35 halftime advantage.
Game and series over.
Diminished expectations for the franchise after the jump…
While the Celtics are obviously the better team – better overall Big Three, better defense, and better bench, the truth is that the Lakers blew a legitimate chance to steal this series had they simply played well. But say this for them, at least they were consistent; they started off with a shitty effort in Game 1 where they looked tentative and tight, and they played that way the entire series – never once stringing more than one quarter of really good basketball together, save for the first half of Game 4. Of course, that was before then choking away the 24 point lead they had accrued in those two brilliant quarters and losing the game in one of the biggest collapses in playoff history.
As beautiful as the Lakers surge through the Western Conference was and as much hope as it generated, this dispassionate loss at the hands of the East’s best should raise serious questions about this Lakers team.
The Lakers’ softness and lack of defensive intensity is something that permeates the entire roster. It’s not which players are soft, but rather, which aren’t? Outside of Kobe and Fisher, the Lakers are a bunch of Twinkies who play mediocre defense – and that’s not going to change. The Lakers out shoot and out finesse people and rely on Kobe to carry them through every clutch stretch. Just adding Bynum back into the mix next year isn’t going to get the Lakers over the hump – they’re either going to have to retool their entire approach to defense and Odom is going to have to hit outside shots, or they’re going to have to retool their bench and trade Odom for a 3 who can hit the three and be a lockdown defender.
Neither scenario seems very likely.
Which means expect a run of great, 55-60 win regular seasons followed by disappointing losses in the Western Conference Finals or Finals for the next few years until Kobe’s window at a title sans Shaq finally closes.
After these disheartening Finals, those are now my expectations.
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