We waited…and waited…and waited some more, but the miracles never came.
We truly believed that Kobe Bryant’s hot start could shoulder this heavy burden, but inside we all knew that those back to back championships weren’t one-man shows.
We had faith that despite his struggles in these playoffs, and whatever was going on inside of him, that Pau Gasol would somehow, some way, find it in himself to unleash a little fury, but there he was, apathetic as ever – neither scoring, nor rebounding, nor trying very hard to do much of anything.
We figured that if there were anyone else other than Andrew Bynum who could help get this win, Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom probably could. Yet there he went, getting ejected in the fourth quarter for a hard foul on Dirk Nowitzki, and then followed soon after by Bynum who needlessly elbowed an airborne J.J. Barea.
And now here we are, left with a longer summer ahead than we’ve had in four seasons, having flashbacks of a night in Boston that we thought we’d already left behind. The shock will remain for awhile. The hope will recover surely but slowly. The disappointment and sting of getting swept in the second round in the year we could have attained a threepeat, however – that will linger for years, at least until another championship can cloud our memories.
“It was a challenge bigger than we could meet this year,” Phil Jackson said about the Lakers quest for a fourth finals appearance in a row and then winning a third title in a row.
And they were challenged this season, undoubtedly, with teams around the league stacking up to compete with their size, their talent and their drive. Add to that an ultimately veteran squad that had to nurse a slew of injuries (and the chicken pox of all things), and the mountain became increasingly more difficult to climb.
Getting swept was an embarrassing and disappointing way to end a season, especially when, as defenders of a championship, the Lakers were given every benefit of the doubt to come through when it counted. Today, however, they looked like a shell of their former, title-bearing selves.
Kobe Bryant looked like he would score 60 points after he went off for 13 of the Lakers’ 23 first quarter points, but all execution fell out the window when the second quarter began. That, Phil Jackson said, is when the roof seemed to collapse on the team. Bryant finished the game with 17 points on 7-18, but the next closest scorer after him on the team was Shannon Brown, who put in 15 points of his own.
The supposed advantages in the form of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom – disadvantages in this game. With the greatest opportunity to play big, the Lakers’ Big Three came up very small, chipping in just 26 points on 10-22 and grabbing just 16 rebounds combined. Gasol had already been such a question mark since this Dallas series started, but we expected Bynum and Odom to exercise so much more of their skills and exert their wills than they displayed today.
Ball movement – absent. The Dallas Mavericks assisted on 32 of their 44 made field goals. The Lakers handed out half as many. That they shot just 38% from the field is proof of how essential ball movement is to the success of the Laker offense. Actually, it’s not only essential, it’s absolutely critical, but credit the Dallas defense for closing all the passing lanes and collapsing the interior when the Lakers had opportunities so close to the basket. Sadly, even when the Lakers got close to the rim for what appeared to be a sure two-points, they missed layups, finger rolls, and darn near any other shot they could muster from the paint.
The Laker defense – scattered. Never, since 2008, have the Lakers looked so unsure of their defense. One of the best defenders of the three in the last few seasons, they allowed Dallas to shoot 20-32 from behind the arc. That three point shot and the Lakers’ inability to close-in on it, is what inevitably cost the defending champions this series.
“They played better than us,” Bryant said of the Mavericks.” We made too many mistakes defensively and they didn’t miss any of it.”
The Dallas Reserves – amazing. Dirk Nowtizki, who’s been the star in this series, had a pedestrian 17 points on 7-11 from the field because that is all he needed to do today. It was the Mavericks’ bench that blew this game out of reach for the Lakers. The Mavs reserves scored 86 points, the same number scored by the entire Lakers team. Jason Terry led the team with his 32 points on 11-14 (9-10 from 3PT), a possible nudge to Sixth Man of the Year Award, Lamar Odom, that he was the one who truly deserved that honor.
A 36-point loss in the final game of a sweep seems just as bad as a 39-point loss in Game 6 in 2008, but to Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, it’s all the same.
“The score is immaterial,” Jackson said.
“Losing is losing,” Bryant seconded. “It doesn’t matter the magnitude.”
The magnitude of this game, however, was a heavy one for a coach like Phil Jackson who pegged this season as his last.
“All my hopes and aspirations are that this is my final game,” he said.
And what a sad way to send off a coach who Kobe Bryant said he grew up under; a coach who he credits for how he has learned to think. Phil Jackson brought more to this Lakers organization than five championship banners. He brought with him a philosophy of living in the moment, and what countless moments he’s provided for us all, even keeping the media laughing in what could be his last playoff post-game presser. It was a disappointing way to bid farewell to one of the greatest coaches of all time, but we hope his words and lessons are not lost in the uncertainty of the following seasons in Lakerland.
It was a long season, filled with so many aspirations and all levels of excitement that ebbed and flowed just as often as the team did. It’s true, we can’t win them all, but it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking to say that when you don’t.
Pre-game Thoughts: After 91 games played, the only thoughts Laker fans have today are those that could provide any sort of hope.
Half-time Thoughts: 39-63 – Kobe Bryant went to work early, scoring 13 of the Lakers’ 23 first quarter points. He scored only two more points in the second quarter, maybe hoping that his teammates would help out, but the closest is Andrew Bynum with six points on 2-6 from the field. The Dallas Mavericks are absolutely killing the Lakers with not only their three-point shooting (11-15), not only with their bench scoring (DAL reserves = 40, LAL = 39), but with a collective will that these defending champions just don’t have anything to counter with. Other than Bryant, no one else on this Lakers team appears to care that their season could end today. And the other glaring stat – 20-5 assists. Dallas has assisted on 20 of its 25 made field goals. That ball movement and their inside game is at the core of this Lakers team, it’s no wonder they’re down 24 points.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Defending Champs for looking as defenseless as we’ve ever seen them. And moreso Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum for committing senseless hard fouls on Dirk Nowtizki and J.J. Barea.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Dallas Mavericks, for closing on the first try and giving this Lakers team a lot to think about.