The Lakers hate their moms, Laker fans' moms and everyone else's moms!
I'm not often one who jumps to conclusions, but how else can you explain the Lake Show's performance this afternoon, a Mother's Day crapfest that ended in a 99-87 Game 4 loss to the Houston Rockets? I'm sorry, but nobody prioritizing homage to the lovely women raising children worldwide would have come out as flat and disorganized as the Lakers did, much less stayed that way.
From the opening tip, the purple and gold were not only off their game, they flailed in every single aspect of it. Take the disastrous first quarter, one that ultimately laid the foundation for an unsuccessful effort.
- Three and a half minutes passed before getting on the board with a Kobe Bryant 18-footer, which put L.A. seven points behind Houston's pace. Nearly another three and a half minutes in the books, and we're sitting on seven total points, all courtesy of The Mamba. Moreover, the Lakers worked in a style most folks wouldn't label "advantageous." Way too little ball movement or attacks of a middle left vulnerable in Yao Ming's absence. Way too many arc-bound dribbles, quick J's, sloppy passes (when the ball did actually change hands) and generally flawed execution.
- In the meantime, the oft-offensively challenged Rockets notched 22 points during this same time period. The issue wasn't just Houston hitting shots (although that obviously created a problem). It was the Lakers apparently feeling indebted for Houston providing place to play, because they looked dead set on doing the hosts as many favors as possible. Thus, those same seven minutes produced seven Rockets points off turnovers. Over the entire quarter, the Rockets also scored seven points on possessions converted immediately upon a Laker miss. And considering how few shots the Lakers launched from within ten feet (a mere quartet), that only accentuated how the reluctance to play towards strengths bit the Lakers in the hindquarters.
- It wouldn't be fair to harp on the players without mentioning Phil Jackson's role in this mess. I've often said the "PJ refuses to call timeouts in lieu of letting players figure it out while he kicks back and does nothing" criticisms can be ridiculous. You can't call time out EVERY time an opponent goes on a run- as fans would seemingly expect- and more often than not, we've seen these Lakers overcome stumbles. And such achievements contain value.
But with Phil's technique comes judgment. This quarter was ridiculously botched on both sides of the ball, and the Lakers were getting lapped unusually fast. With struggles as extreme as I've seen all season, even I was jawdropped at Phil waiting until the 2:30 mark to call a time out. In my mind, big mistake, and one that certainly figured into a win falling out of reach.
From there, a lot more of the same.
To put it mildly, the Lakers spent this contest way the hell outta sync. With 5:40 left in the game, I happened to take a gander at the box score and noticed the Lakers was working on an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1:1. Ten assists. Ten turnovers. That's straight up horrendous, a far cry from what we've come to expect from a Laker team that's made such profitable hay moving the ball around.
Failing to execute not only stymied the offense, but the D as well. Those bad, often impatient shots put the Lakers on their heels in transition, where the lockdown effort is typically weakest. Even when points weren't surrendered on those possessions, various Lakers picked up fouls as a result. I've said it before and I'll say it again. This team's defense is largely dictated by their offense, and when shortcuts are taken with the latter, the former typically goes to pot with the bathwater. (Although make no mistake, when the Lakers defended from a set formation, they weren't always so hot, either.)
If there is a positive to be taken away from this loss, it's that pinning blame on any one player would be disingenuous. Save perhaps Shannon Brown, you're looking at a cavalcade of Lakers dropping the ball. Or at the very least, not until the fourth quarter mini-push, when Pau Gasol notched eighteen of this thirty points. Granted, some fault for just a dozen coming previous is due to teammates not eying him enough, but Gasol also missed five free throws and that same lack of focus at the stripe may have contributed to an undersized Houston winning the rebound battle 43-37 and snatching eleven offensive boards. It's obviously not all Pau's fault, but undoubtedly, when your seven foot center plays thirty-eight minutes, some of that onus must fall on his shoulders.
On down the line, it's a laundry list of Lakers failing to answer the bell. Trevor Ariza turned the ball over three times in one quarter. Luke Walton tied Ariza's mark during the second quarter, then added another for good measure. Sasha Vujacic's shot remains unreliable. Jordan Farmar came back down to earth after Game 3's playoff resuscitation. Ditto Andrew Bynum, who also showed signs of life during that contest. Time off serving a suspension resulted in zero step pep for Derek Fisher, outscored 34-2 by Aaron Brooks and notching a team-worst +/- of negative twenty-six in under twenty minutes of run. It would be a vast understatement to say Fish brought little to the table.
And Kobe may have gotten off to a hot start with nine first quarter points, but that also represented his day's high point, as he finished the day with fifteen. Shane Battier did a considerably better job guarding Bryant than the other way around and 24's "center field" style continually left the Dukie wide open behind the arc.
As for Lamar Odom, his sub-par performance turned quite literally painful after he landed hard on his back while driving the lane and colliding with Shane Battier. That he drew an offensive foul on the sequence added insult to an injury that prevented more run. It's unknown as of yet whether he'll be available for Tuesday's Game 5.
So that's what went wrong, which begs the natural follow up... Why?
Was this a matter of underestimating an already less talented opponent down their best player? Overconfidence? Underestimating the fight Houston had left in them?
The K Brothers won't travel with the team until the Finals- knock on wood- so I can't talk intelligently about how cocky the vibe was or wasn't before tip off. I'd like to think the patient didn't die from an overdose of "We got this." After all, this Rockets squad has made it perfectly clear that backing down or packing it in ain't part of the agenda. Undermanned or over-matched, everything will be left on the floor, which renders cakewalk expectations pretty much ridiculous. If this lackluster production came courtesy of phoning it in, then the entire roster deserves a slap in the face beyond simply the metaphorical one provided by this loss. Honestly, that's just inexcusable.
In any event, if there's anything the trio of postseason losses have made crystal clear, it's the following. When the Lakers play their brand of basketball, one that features a flurry of passes, movement off ball and smart shot selection to complement energetic team/help-oriented defense, they're pretty much unbeatable. When they stray from the program, however, chinks in the armor grow glaringly exposed. I don't doubt this team's talent and ability are up to snuff for a title chase. But I do sometimes question their ability to display common sense over 48 minutes. They often make life much harder than need be, and like this afternoon, they sometimes pay a price.