On to the Finals: The reactions
Why does that classic exchange from "National Lampoon's Animal House" remind me of last night's 119-92 series-clinching Game 6 win over the Denver Nuggets. Because whenever a person, team or entity is describe as "rolling," I always think of Bluto's speech. But unlike the pre-med student now dealing with "seven years of college down the drain" and a sarcastic urge to "join the ^*@# peace corps," the Lakers had their facts straight while on a roll.
As BK noted in his game summary, precision and the L.A. Lakers were a tandem as copacetic as peanut butter and jelly. The Nuggets took the floor looking tentative and tight over their do or die situation. Even during the game's initially competitive moments, they appeared anything but the spirited group conquering professional and personal demons. The Lakers, on the other hand, were as cool as a cucumber that just arrived in town after a month's vacation in Siberia. They worked an offensive game plan to perfection and used that blueprint to remain free of their opponent's grasp. Defensively, whether you're talking paint protection or Trevor Ariza and Luke Walton's success making Carmelo Anthony work, Lakers didn't just appear on the same page. They all seemed to be reading the same word in the same sentence of the same paragraph.
Even better, they improved as the game progressed. Perhaps the only
negative during the first half were the eleven turnovers, certainly a
tally higher than preferable. Heading into the fourth quarter, know
what number the Lakers were sitting on in that section of the box
score? Eleven. A squeaky clean third frame not only reflected exemplary precision and patience, but help offset any
damage that could have resulted from the Denver's 8-0 run and brief push.
The purple and gold offered their foe no extra chances to capitalize, a large reason Denver never did.
What impressed me most about the performance, beyond simply how well the Lakers played, was how workmanlike and methodical it remained. Even while up a 20-spot late in the game, purposeful ball movement remained intact, the clock was allowed to tick away, and any exuberance over their good fortune didn't devolve into spirited but sloppy playground ball. Similar to their reaction upon receiving hats and T-shirts, The Lakers were a group maintaining a discipline to carry forward. Some would call that a "kiler instinct." I just think of it as remaining focused. Tomato or tomathto, this was the exact opposite of the mentality from Denver, a team Silver Screen and Roll thinks was hung up on the recent past.
This is just one man's opinion, but I think a big part of the Nuggets' poor performance derived from their reaction to the officiating in game 5. In Game 4, the Lakers felt the officiating was unfair, but only Phil made a point of talking about it after the game (to my knowledge, I could be wrong). After Game 5, Karl was working the refs angle just like PJ did, and that's fine. That's a coach's job. But the Nuggets players were also complaining about it. The unidentified player (which was absolutely, definitively either JR Smith or NeNe) quote is the biggest example, but K-Mart indicated what he thought about the refs indirectly, and to a lesser extent, so did Billups. (Ed. Note: Really, Chauncey? I thought expected more from you...) I thought then that it was in their heads, and the carry over to Game 6 seemed clear to me.
One of the pivotal moments of tonight's game, for me, was towards the end of the 3rd. The Nuggets were on an 8-0 run, cutting a 20 point lead to 12. The Nuggets were looking potent on offense, and Kobe was off the floor. The game was still very much in doubt. Then, K-mart tries to get a ridiculous charge call on Sasha (as if Sasha would be capable of knocking him down under any circumstances), doesn't get the call, and proceeds to pull his holding-on-to-the appendage routine for the second time in two games. 2 free throws for Sasha. Next possession, Nuggets turn the ball over, and JR reaches out and grabs Sasha for no reason. Two more free throws, 16 point game, never in doubt again. Everyone would agree the Nuggets have grown considerably this season, but they still have a lot to learn about keeping their cool.
As I noted during the live blog, Martin's intentional grabs on Sasha and Pau (during Game 5), both as subtle as a chainsaw, solidifies his standing in my mind as the NBA's single dumbest player. As I've said many times in the past, K-Mart often seems to prioritize intimidating opponents above basketball success. I don't care if he's no longer locker room poison. The chip will never leave his shoulder, and any dude obsessed with proving his manhood while on company time is one I'd never want on my team under any circumstances. 710 ESPN's Steve Mason would also take a skilled finesse player any day of the week.
Carmelo Anthony, however, I'd bring on board and having just turned 25, he's got plenty of years left for another shot at the hardware. Unfortunately for Melo, that shot may not happen under a Kobe-still-in-his-prime's watch, as CBS Sports' Ken Berger notes...
Bryant keeps saying these kids coming after him don't motivate him. I don't believe him. He is standing at the gate, and all of them have to pay admission. The way Bryant performed in the conference finals, he is still a bouncer who charges an exorbitant price. The idea that LeBron, 'Melo or Dwight Howard could use Kobe to usher in a new era by stepping over him on the way to their first title ignores the fact that Bryant is still standing there. Dwyane Wade has one title, but it didn't come against Bryant. Wade's on vacation, anyway. 'Melo is on his way, and either LeBron or Dwight will be sent packing no later than Monday. And guess who's still standing?
"He knows that nothing lasts forever," Ariza said. "It's your mark that you leave on the game, and he's leaving a crazy mark on the game. I don't think there's anybody out there that's better than him still. I don't think he has anything to prove. He just has the killer instinct in him that nobody can take it from him, no matter what."
In any event, The Mamba is guaranteed to square up next round against an A-list pup. Either Superman or The King, the latter under serious pressure to prove worthy of a puppet advertisement barrage. But whether Cleveland or Orlando moving forward, ESPN's J.A. Adande thinks the Laker opponent could very well haveits hands full against a squad that appears to be clicking at the right time.
Eighteen games into the playoffs, at the point where results matter
more than style, the Lakers finally managed to combine the two. At this late stage it doesn't really matter how the Lakers got
to the NBA Finals; it would be enough to say they're playing in the
championship round in back-to-back seasons and making the trip for the
30th time in franchise history.
Yet they chose to arrive in grand fashion, rolling in the Maybach. This was their most complete team effort of the postseason, a 119-92 road victory to close out what had been a formidable Denver team, making the blown leads against Utah and the blowout losses to a depleted Houston team seem like distant memories.
Hopefully, visions of Lamar Odom gritting his teeth through a sore back will also remain part of the past. While no Laker needs the downtime more than LO, the hopeful effect of that relaxation is a matter that affects the squad on an equal basis. You don't need SI's Arash Markazi to point out how much better the Lakers (and in particular, the bench) perform with Lamar Odom able to do his thing.
Odom, who had 12 points and three rebounds in the fourth quarter, put together two great performances (he had 19 points and 14 rebounds Wednesday) for the first time in these playoffs, and not surprisingly, the Lakers put together their best back-to-back games this postseason.
tired old theory about the Lakers is that when and if Odom can find a
way to string together a run of great games the Lakers are an
unstoppable force. Nuggets coach George Karl has often said that Odom is one of his favorite players in the league and that the Lakers are a better team when Odom and not Andrew Bynum,
who had two points and one rebound in 21 minutes, is starting. The
problem is that Odom has failed to show he can be the kind of player
everyone expects him to be on a consistent basis.
Hopefully, "the kind of player everyone expects him to be on a consistent basis" will be a sentenced used to describe every Laker 1-12 over the next couple of weeks.
And on a completely non-Finals related note, BK and I used to love this cat when he was an NBA 12th man. Go Yuta Tabuse!!!