Who says the NBA isn’t scripted? In a dark, murky cave somewhere in Boston, David Stern and his round table of WB writers likely had this conversation:
David Stern: I want the Lakers to win, but I want people to watch. Make it happen.
Josh Schwartz: What if we let them build a big lead, only to have Utah come storming back?
Mark Schwahn: Yes, it could appear to be close, but everyone knows Utah won’t actually win.
Marketing Guy: Our sponsor TNT will love this; it fits perfectly with there we know drama slogan.
David Stern: Great, what about the rest of the series?
Jeff Judah: I was thinking we could do the same thing for all five games…
David Stern: What? How can that possibly be interesting?
Mark Schwahn: The same script over and over again has worked for six seasons of One Tree Hill.
Josh Schwartz: … And all four seasons of the O.C.
Jeff Judah: … And people are still watching 90210, even though we technically don’t even have a script.
David Stern: Done. Now get back to thinking of more ways we can make Lebron look better than Kobe.
Excluding Kobe’s arctic performance in game 4, the same storyline was present in each game of this series:
Lakers build giant lead.
Jazz come storming back.
Lakers get it together just in time to hang on.
In just five playoff games, the Lakers have shown us an array of potential for greatness, and an equal capability for disaster. From the good to the awful, here’s what we can gauge from the Lakers first round victory over the Utah Jazz.
Building Leads. While the rest of the NBA media harps on the Lakers’ inability to hold a lead, we can’t forget that we are an elite team talented enough to build a commanding lead to begin with.
Game 1, 22 point lead.
Game 2, 20 point lead.
Game 3, 13 point lead.
Game 4, 19 point lead.
Game 5, 22 point lead.
If we can find a way to put 48 minutes of this kind of basketball together, it’s over.
Lamar Odom. L.O. is always the X-factor for this Lakers team. In the first round, he was exactly the player we have always hoped he would be. Against the Jazz, he averaged 17 points on 62% shooting, and 11 rebounds per game. If he can continue this kind of surge, you have to like the Lakers chances to be playing in June.
Kobe Bryant. As quietly as ever, Kobe elevated his game during the first round. If you throw out his miserable shooting performance in game 3, he averaged right at 30 points on 54% shooting, just under 5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. I expect he’ll continue to elevate his act as the games get more and more important.
Blowing Leads. While the Lakers essentially took care of business, they left the door open for a Jazz comeback in each of the five games they played. While it only cost them the game once (game 3), it’s a pressing and highly publicized issue for this Lakers team. It may have lost us the championship last season (game 4 against Boston), and if they don’t correct it in the games to come, we could be in for a long off-season of what if’s.
Andrew Bynum. Aside from an okay performance in game 2 (10 points, 4 boards, 4 blocks), Bynum has been a no-show. It’s hard to say whether its jitters from being in his first playoff series, discomfort in his knee, or as Kobe alluded to, the fact that he hasn’t been back in the lineup very long. No matter the case, we’re going to need Bynum’s presence as the road to Figueroa gets a whole lot bigger. With the likely possibility of facing Yao Ming in the next round, and a potential match up with Big Z if we were to meet the Cavs in the Finals, Bynumite could end up being the difference.
The Rosie O’Donnell.
Closing minutes of Game 3. If there were ever a blueprint for beating this Lakers’ team, it was written by the Utah Jazz down the stretch of the 4th quarter of game 3. With the game tied at 76 with about 5 minutes to go, take a look at how the Jazz took control of the game and eventually won it in the end:
Williams gets into the lane, kicks to a wide-open Korver who buries a 3.
Brewer gets into the lane, is fouled by Odom, and makes 1 of 2 from the line.
Boozer backs down Gasol in the lane, gets fouled, and knocks down both free throws.
Boozer gets a layup.
Boozer gets a dunk.
Williams drives, loses Fisher, knocks down an open 12 footer.
This recap doesn’t include the fact that Boozer missed a layup and Korver missed a wide-open three in the clutch moments of the 4th quarter. During the biggest possessions of the game, Utah carved up the Lakers’ defense with penetration. They got exactly the shots they wanted to. Boozer out muscled Gasol, pushed him under the basket and the Jazz thoroughly out-rebounded the Lakers. More than the propensity to blow leads, or Bynum’s performance, or any other negative thing we can scrutinize during this series, the last five minutes of game 3 concerned me the most.
In the end, no matter how they got it done, the Lakers imperfectly moved on to the second round to once again face the only team that has any chance to beat them:
All is well that ends well, right?
Bring on Round 2.
Jason Riley is a columnist for the Lakers Nation. In addition to this column, he writes on an array of topics that you can check out by visiting J-Ri.com. You can email him by clicking here, or look him up on Facebook.