Saturday, May 7, 2011


With four minutes left in tonight's game in Dallas, the Lakers held a six point lead and the ball. They seemed to have the game in hand; just execute and be themselves, and the series would be back to 2-1, with all of the momentum back with the champions. And then Pau Gasol had Dirk Nowitzki in isolation, and fumbled it before forcing a miss. And that was when it all started to circle the drain for the visitors.

Peja Stojakovic drained a three. Kobe Bryant missed, then fouled Jason Kidd, who made both. Another force, a terrible shot at the end of the clock, as Bryant got erased by Kidd and didn't pass to open teammates. Dirk went into the low post and got fouled, and after the timeout, two made free throws took the lead, and quite likely, the series.

Derek Fisher stopped the bleeding with a bank shot, but the Mavs were patient in the half court, and Kidd found Jason Terry for another three. Just a massive shot. Lamar Odom in the post abused Peja to tie it up again, but at this point the Mavs were not going to be stopped on offense, and Dirk's hesitation and finish was pretty. Odom forced a miss in Hero Mode, with Stojakovic doing the job, and after a miss, the Mavs got a massive o-board. A bad foul by Fisher that Phl Jackson clearly could not believe was next, and the fact that the Lakers did not protest the call was telling, too. Telling because they admitted the foul, and telling because they were ready to lose.

Terry made both to make it a five point lead with 18.7 seconds left. After commerce, Fisher made a terrible pass to Odom, who couldn't control it for the killshot turnopver. How that happens, no one will ever know, but the idea that the two-time defending champs couldn't even execute the inbounds coming out of the timeout was sin writ large. Terry made two more free throws to make it a six point game. Bryant lost time on a ball denial, then forced a three into Kidd from 30 feet before Gasol got the board and made one with 9 seconds left; the second missed, Kidd boarded, and that, well, was theat. One more Kidd miss, followed by one more Kobe force, and the final was Dallas 98, Lakers 92

The Lakers shot 47.6% from the floor tonight. The Fisher-Odom mistake notwithstanding, they didn't turn ball over that much (10 for the game), and fought the board battle to a standstill. But they didn't make threes or stop the Mavs from firing up a mess of them (12 of 29), and Dallas got 42 massive points from the bench, nearly all of it from Terry and Peja. The idea that the defending NBA champions spent crunch time in Game 2 getting savaged by JJ Barea, and crunch time in Game 3 with the Peja punking, tells you all that you need to know about their focus. Great teams make the opposing teams bench bad, especially in the games they need to have. They also get stops from ferocious on the ball pressure, and don't lose critical o-boards. None of that describes the current Laker team, and the reason why they are dying in the fourth quarter is because their bench gets their starters good and wiped by then.

No NBA team has ever won a series after being down 0-3. Some team will, of course; it's a mathematical eventuality. Dallas has a long history of playoff problems, and if they whiff on the sweep, the whisper campaign will begin in earnest. There's always the sense with the Lakers that they are only comfortable with his back against the wall, and it's not as if they don't have the talent to turn it around. The post-game was all about Jackson getting into Gasol earlier in this game, as if it was all his fault, or if he's the guy guarding the three-point shooters, or that he's got a prayer against Dirk on defense. If LA isn't careful, they are going to wind up burying this guy for good.

But the important thing is that the team that I saw in the fourth quarter tonight... doesn't have the heart. And that's usually not something that shows up when you are about to get swept. Couldn't happen to nicer people, really.

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