CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS DON'T LOSE GAMES LIKE THE ONE LAST NIGHT!!!!!!
Actually, they do. And more than you probably think.
Let me preface this piece by stating clearly for the record that I am in no way attempting to "excuse" last night's loss to Indiana. Save a brilliant 17-0 run in the third quarter sparked by Trevor Ariza, the Lakers played halfhearted defense, got outboarded 50-41 overall and 19-8 on the offensive glass (albeit against
a team nipping their heels as the NBA's rebound kings) and hit only 33 of 45 free throws, nullifying some considerable stripe generosity while in enemy territory. While it's naive to think such deficiencies won't resurface from time to time, they can't be justified, thus I won't attempt to.
What I wanted to address, however, was the flurry of comments during and after the loss along the lines of this game providing irrefutable proof that the Lakers "aren't ready to take that next step." That they're not in possession of a "championship mentality." That "championship caliber teams don't let up, lose focus, or generally do anything other than operate as a hardwood killing machine." And that, as they say, is nothing but malarky. Often cliched malarky. Sometimes fan panicked malarky. Even malarky rooted in unquestionably (and deservedly) high expectations. But malarky nonetheless.
When criticisms like these are lobbied, they often accompany comparisons to the Boston Celtics, a roster considered by many the benchmark for intensity, tigered eyes and general blood thirst. They've taken cues from Kevin Garnett- who's possibly crossed the line between "dialed in" and "the NBA needs to stage an intervention"- and hold a reputation for never taking a possession off, much less entire quarters that could lead to losses or squeaked wins against crummy teams. Peruse the game log from Boston's hardware season, however, and you find a history somewhat conflicting...
- Three losses to the Wizards, all three with Agent Zero in street clothes, and one in Beantown.
- A loss to the Sixers that put AI's ex-mates over .500 for the first time that season.
- Golden State squeaking past them- the Warriors may have been decent, but nowhere near the Celtics- in a loss book ended by falls to Denver and Phoenix, which I'm willing to bet was followed by "Sure, they're good in the weaker east, but can the Celts beat Western Conference teams" yap. Clearly, they could.
For that matter, some of Boston's wins provided little chest thumping (similar to grumbles coming after Laker wins by a margin under 20)...
- One point wins over a hosted Miami, the Bobcats, and the Wolves.
- More shoddy play against Minny, this time resulting in a two point skate. Sure, KG didn't play, but is The Big Ticket really needed to beat a squad sitting on 10 wins?
- OT needed to beat a Mo Williams-less Milwaukee.
- A four point squeaker over Memphis that sparked "lack of focus" criticism from Doc Rivers. But he was surely mistaken, since, as we all know, the Celtics "never" lack focus.
Call me a cynic, but I'm willing to bet these losses and unimpressive weren't always a case of inferior teams playing their season's best game to overcome a Celtics squad also playing at peak form. I'll go out on a limb and bet these were contests where Boston played concentration-free and either got burnt or survived by their
chinny chin hairs. The same could perhaps be said about the Celts requiring seven playoff games to down an athletic but mostly inexperienced Atlanta Hawks or a Cavs crew that started and ended with LeBron James. I imagine many a nervous greenie also declared those contests as hard proof that Beantown's warriors couldn't bring home an O'Brien. As we learned, not the case.
Does this mean I'm crowning the Lakers in December? Of course not. That would be silly. Kinda like burying them after a SECOND loss in sixteen attempts. Obviously, things could become problematic if the Lakers make a habit of dropping winnable games. But at least wait for things to hit that point before declaring DEFCON 1. And no, focus lost during possessions or even quarters does not an emergency signal. It's simply part of reality, whether you accept the terms or not. Keeping one's eyes on the prize doesn't necessarily mean (or require) 24/7 three mile stares or pedals on metal.
And speaking of intensity, were I a Celts fan, I'd be growing alarmed at my team's collecting of T's like they were the one commodity worth a buy on Wall Street. Their 39 techs lead the league by a sizable margin and Kendrick Perkins has already collected nearly two-third's of his allotment before a one-game suspension. Dude, nine in freakin' early December? That's not "intense." That's not "focused." It's just stupid, and it's a team-wide issue worth a kibosh.