They say that pride comes before the fall. Had the Lakers shown any pride in this game, that saying might apply. Unfortunately, they showed very little to none of it in this game. For a 2-time defending championship team in the second round of the playoffs, in the year they can achieve a threepeat, that pride shouldn’t have to be summoned. It should be engrained into every thread of that purple and gold jersey. Tonight, however, the players in blue were the proud ones and who, honestly, can blame them?
It’s been the Lakers’ story all season long. They refuse to play with any type of effort unless they are challenged; unless they are forced; unless they are threatened. Well, they’re down 0-2 in the series and the next two games are in Dallas. NOW is this a big enough challenge? NOW do they feel threatened?
After losing a 16-point lead in Game 1 and then failing to come through in the closing minutes of that same game, the hope – no, the EXPECTATION – was for the Lakers to come into the second game with a sense of purpose and yes, that pride thing. Instead they came in and played like the harried, inexperienced underdogs, jacking up three-pointers (2-20) despite the strength of their game being on the inside; playing the weakest of defenses like it was their first game EVER; missing 9-20 free throws; failing to run any offense; and above all, seemingly thinking that defending champions could somehow get a free pass to the finals without working very hard. The difference between the last two Laker Championship teams and this season’s – HUNGER. And not just any hunger – a collective hunger.
Based on tonight’s performance, the only players who don’t appear fully satisfied with those two Championships were Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum. Bryant had 23 points on just 9-20 shooting, but with the majority of the team appearing so tentative in their offense, who could blame him for taking so many shots? And Bryant didn’t just score. He handed out three assists and took five steals. He guarded Jason Kidd and, with Derek Fisher’s aid, defended him into just 3-10 shooting and six assists – a relatively pedestrian night for the veteran guard. Derek Fisher was just 2-7 from the field for his four points, but he grabbed three rebounds, handed out five assists and took a pair of steals himself.
Andrew Bynum, after the Game 1 loss, promised he would be more aggressive in Game 2 and he was. He scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half, going 8-11 for the night and grabbed 13 rebounds. 14 points in the first half and just four in the second – that, in a nutshell, is part of what caused this second straight loss for the Lakers. After an efficient and aggressive first and second quarters, Bynum barely touched the ball in the next 24 minutes. The Lakers, for reasons unbeknownst to sensibility, went away from Bynum, even when Tyson Chandler had picked up his third foul in the third quarter. Chandler, by the way, finished the game with those three fouls. Talk about closing the door on opportunity.
Kobe Bryant may be the Lakers’ MVP, and Andrew Bynum may be the team’s defensive anchor, but the two most IMPORTANT players, the ones who undeniably set the bar for just how skilled and unbeatable this Lakers team can be are Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Tonight they were a combined 8-24 from the field for 19 points. There were countless missed layups and a number of blocked shots. Credit Dallas for defending the hoop, but still, 19 points from two ridiculously skilled power forwards who are absolute murder for opposing teams to check when they play their game – it’s not enough. Odom and Gasol have opted for too many outside shots and their lack of force and aggression when shooting near the rim are met with blocks each time. It wouldn’t hurt to be a little more forceful, knowing what the defense has in store. At least their rebounding has picked up. They combined for 19 boards today.
The play of the reserves, other than that Odom fellow, may never be won by the men in the purple and gold, but the effort and the sensible play – those would be welcomed. The Killer B’s don’t seem to have that same edge and confidence they did in the beginning of the season. Steve Blake’s 0-5 from the field was certainly no help, but neither were his two turnovers gained from trying no-look passes or passes in traffic. Shannon Brown, who may have lost his perimeter shot, can still drive-in and score at the hoop but doesn’t attempt to do so as much as he should. Matt Barnes was basically a non-factor tonight, and that is the reality faced by these Lakers. Phil Jackson mentioned how tired his players looked, and with the Laker reserves unable to produce on the floor, it’s not a mystery why fatigue has affected the starters and Odom.
The defense in this series is the most glaring liability of all. Dirk Nowitzki, 24 points on 9-16, is, frankly, indefensible, but the Lakers have to try to cut off the head of this snake somehow. Pau Gasol, still weak in the knees when it comes to defense, isn’t even an option for stopping or hindering Nowitzi. Lamar Odom tried. Even Ron Artest tried. But time and again, the Lakers got burned; and not only by the All-Star forward. They were embarrassed by J.J. Barea, who got to the hoop as easily as any guard could because the paint was a wide open field of opportunity. And Tyson Chandler caught the Lakers in so many moments of slumber, he got two or three lobs in this game. The Lakers’ defense tonight was as porous as we’ve ever seen it. In one (of many) possessions where the Mavericks scored on uncontested layups, Andrew Bynum made a talking motion with both his hands, as if to say, “no one’s talking on defense” and he was absolutely right. If the Lakers don’t shore up their defenses soon, no one will be talking in the off-season at all.
The Lakers are faced with the greatest uphill battle since being down 3-2 and going into Boston in the 2008 NBA finals. If they can’t channel the same, or perhaps greater, hunger for a Championship, they will be left starving much sooner than expected. This is the hole they’ve dug for themselves and it’s time to start climbing out of it.
“You kept playing w/ fire for the last 3 years,” Kobe Bryant said after the game, “dropping games on your home floor. We finally got what we deserved.”
If the Lakers played with their best efforts and that greater sense of pride, they’d certainly earn, and rightfully deserve another chance in these playoffs. But as they’ve’ proven over and over this season, there’s just no telling what they’ll decide to do.
Pre-game Thoughts: The Lakers literally gave Game 1 to the Mavericks. Tonight, they can’t be as generous. Andrew Bynum said he didn’t have the energy in that game, which is absolutely no excuse. What more did he need to energize himself than being in the 2nd round of the playoffs?
Half-time Thoughts: 51-49 – After missing out on winning that first game, you’d think the Lakers would come out firing today. They began well enough, then the energy disappeared. They’re down by just two points, but they’ve played so poorly on the defensive end that the tiny deficit is a fortunate one. Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum lead the Lakers with 14 points a piece, but Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, 10 points on a combined 4-12, need to check themselves into this game ASAP. Yes, Dirk Nowitzki has 15 points on 6-9, but maybe that’s because he’s barely working on the defensive end. Gasol and Odom need to wear Nowitzki out defensively. It’s been a clean game so far, with each time committing just four turnovers apiece and the Lakers outrebounding the Mavs 21-13, as it should be.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: See all of the above.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Thought-FILLED? From the little defense to lack of offensive efficiency, the only thought-filled players in the game tonight were ones wearing the blue jerseys.