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If you must lose, I guess it's best to lose in a total team effort

June 17, 2008 | 11:20 pm

Which is fortunate, since that's exactly what the Lakers did during a 131-92 Finals ending bloodbath at the hands of the Celtics.  A complete and utter collapse was witnessed as the Celtics took home the gold for a 17th time.  From top to bottom, from Kobe Bryant to Trevor Ariza (who logged the least amount of court time at just over nine minutes), every Laker who stepped on the court played a sizable role in not getting the job done.  "We got our ass kicked together," said Lamar Odom in both succinct and accurate fashion.  What began as a reasonably competitive (if not always competent) 24-20 first quarter deficit spiraled way out of control in no time flat.  Down 23 at the half thanks to a brutally stagnant offense (3-13 in the second quarter) with five turnovers to compliment the first quarter's sextet.  Four second frame rebounds, rounding out a 26-14 first half discrepancy not favorable towards the Lakers. 


From there, it stayed exactly the same, whether you're talking about carelessness with the ball (the night ended with 19, which explains both Boston's eighteen steals and their 32 points purely off turnovers), continuing to get pounded on the boards (48-29, with a pitiful pair of the offensive variety), shaky defense (50% allowed from behind the arc) and the plethora of ill-advised shots.  By the time the game was officially over (it was figuratively over before the starting lineups were announced), the box score revealed a night the Lakers would just as soon forget, even if that's basically impossible.  "As a team tonight, we didn't execute or play team defense like they did," admitted Odom.  "Scrap it out like they did. Therefore, we got beat... up." 

Or, as Derek Fisher put it, "Tonight's game speaks for itself."

I'm going to spare us all the traditional "good/bad" breakdown, as the former would include way too little and the latter would include waaaaaaaaayyyy too much.   Instead, I just wanted to share what people said and felt afterward. It took a while to wiggle my way through the maze of reporters, and by the time I got to the Laker locker room, a lot of guys were already gone.  But those still around were obviously bummed by the outcome.  "We lost that game and it's even more painful thinking about it right now," lamented Sasha Vujacic. "It's going to be painful tonight and the day after and the day after."  Odom noted how there are no trophies for second place, a finish Kobe reminded us is the first loser. When asked if he felt "hurt, anger, disappointment or disbelief," Fisher couldn't narrow the emotion down to just one adjective and opted for all of the above.

But at the same time, the room wasn't quite as melancholy as I expected.  Now don't get me wrong.  Folks weren't taking this lightly by any stretch, nor do I expect that bus ride back to the team hotel to resemble anything along the lines of a laugh riot.  But a fair amount of optimism was mixed into the sadness, as this team remains fully aware of what they've done (without Andrew Bynum to boot) and are capable of doing.  Even taking into account how difficult it is to remain cognizant of 2008's good at this exact moment, Vujacic hasn't lost sight of it.  "To be completely honest with you, I think we achieved a lot.  We did a lot throughout the season.  We knocked out the champions of the NBA."  No argument from Pau Gasol, who sees a Finals repeat, only improved upon, as a real possibility.  "We know how great of a team e have and how big of a potential we have.  We definitely believe that we can get here again and do better."  Even arguably the most competitive man on the planet acknowledged the positive nature of the proverbial "journey," even when coming up short.  "I'm proud," said Bryant.  I'm proud of the way we performed all year.  I'm proud of my guys.  We did a good job."

The Lakers have every right to feel ashamed of how they played tonight (and perhaps during the series as a whole), but they have nothing to be ashamed about over the season.  All sunshine and "happy, happy, joy, joy" sentiments aside, think about how this season began.  Kobe demanding his ticket out of Dodge.  Uncertainty as to whether he'd show up at camp.  Trade rumors.  A team on eggshells to begin the season.  A 7-6 start to the season.  Kwame Brown at center.  And now look where we're at. 

Andrew Bynum, the same youngster Kobe wished would transform into Jason Kidd, blossoming into one of the best big men in the game (much less of his age group).  Pau Gasol picking up where Kwame left off (and I think we can all agree, doing a considerably better job of it).  Lamar Odom finally able to do what he does best (a little bit of everything that doesn't include being a designated #2 scorer).  A bench featuring guys like Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf (both free agents who said they want to return), Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza, all of whom let their crucial inexperience show during this series but help round out a promising core.  A rotation that, save Derek Fisher, includes nobody currently over 30.  And Kobe Bryant, playing not only the best ball of his career, but finally becoming a leader by more than just terse example.  All of this is hardly a substitute for an O'Brien, but it's nice to know the window to snag one has hardly been shut.

The immediate future (as in "the next several days spent thinking about getting smacked around like a rag doll in Boston") will obviously feel none too good.  Nor should it.  But when that sting eventually subsides, there's a lot to be pleased about with these Lakers.  Try to remember that during this very dark hour (and believe me, I'm as unhappy as the next cat).