Lakers crush Orlando in Game 1: 25% down, 75% to go
That space between the end of the Conference Finals and the start of the big show for the Larry O is one where imagination can run wild. Everything, from the matchups to the rotations to the performances of individual players is completely hypothetical. Fans can picture greatness, they can worry about failure. You just don't know until a guy with a whistle tosses a ball in the air and things play themselves out.
Well, in Thursday night's 100-75 thrashing of the Orlando Magic in Game 1 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center, the Lakers delivered something very real and totally tangible. The home team was dominant across the board, starting with Kobe Bryant, who lit up Stan Van Gundy's bunch like the finest Cohiba. 40 points, eight boards, and eight dimes, making life miserable for Orlando in the post and the high screen and roll and, dominating from mid range against a defense caught between a need to play Kobe straight up and 24's demand that he be doubled. It was the first manifestation of nearly a week's worth of incredible focus and intensity, and a determination not to leave a third straight Finals empty-handed. Pity the Magic for stepping in between Bryant and his goal. Hikers who do that with mama bears and cubs tend to get mauled, too.
So after one game, it's fair to call Bryant the early favorite for Finals MVP.
Still, dominant as Kobe was (and he was), you can argue his wasn't the most impressive performance of the game, at least if you're willing to trade individual accomplishment for that of the team. The Lakers were outstanding defensively, putting a muzzle on Orlando's high quality, high efficiency offense. The Magic shot 30% for the night, and had only one quarter (the first) with more than 19 points. The Lakers were effective on Dwight Howard, limiting him to only one field goal. Chalk some of it up to a bad shooting night, but the Lakers held Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu to a combined 5-21. Orlando didn't crush from downtown, and was completely ineffective inside the arc, particularly in the paint.
These are good numbers.
More reaction from Game 1:
At 30, with a birthday coming up in August, his window to grab it won't last many more years.A new generation of stars waits patiently in the wings, waiting for him to lose a step or some swagger. LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard. All worthy heirs, but not worthy just yet.As much as his legacy needs an NBA title without Shaquille O'Neal, this year's pursuit is not about that. O'Neal is admittedly in his twilight years, twittering off into the sunset. When he resurfaced on the eve of the Finals, declaring that he'd be rooting for Bryant to win his fourth title, it was met with little more than a shrug. As large as O'Neal's footprints are in this series, it is all about Bryant now.The moment, the stage, set entirely for him.
Thursday night, he owned it.
"You just feel it once the game gets going," Lakers forward Luke Walton said. "There's really no way to truly stop him, it's just whether he's going to miss or not."
"You can't overrate experience or sometimes naivete that you don't know what to expect and you just go out and play. That works sometimes. But experience usually wins out, and I think that made a big difference tonight. The expressions on the Lakers' faces, especially Kobe's, those were a winner's look."
Phil Jackson mentioned Kobe's "drive" after the game, and I'm sure a lot of observers took it to mean his will, or his steely-eyed gaze, or the way he "wants it more." In the context of what Jackson was discussing at the time, and what we saw in Game 1, it's clear that this would be missing the point. Kobe's "drive" had nothing to do with that nebulous stuff, and it didn't have anything to do with him driving the middle. As it usually is, the answer is somewhere in the middle. Kobe's "drive" had to do with his insistence on penetrating the Magic defense quickly and without hesitation, all while not making too obvious a move. No dribble-dribble-dribble nonsense from Bryant, just immediate decisions that put the league's best defense on its heels, and allowed for spacing and execution from the Laker prime time players that improved considerably as the game went on.
That isn't to say Bryant wasn't focused like you wouldn't believe. But understand how this focus reveals itself, when he makes the right decisions. It's not about scowls and redemption and legacy to Bryant. He knows better, at this point. It's about quickly calling for a high screen and roll out of the sideline Triangle in order to take the Magic defense out of its comfort zone. It's about things that have to do with basketball, not sports talk radio fodder.
- Adrian Wojnorowski of Yahoo! Sports.
- Jeff Miller, OC Register.
- Bill Plaschke, LAT.
- Third Quarter Collapse.
- John Schuhmann, NBA.com.