The Lakers had everything going there way in the 2nd half against the Thunder. Then, Kobe Bryant fell apart. In the Eastern Conference, the Celtics sent a resounding message to the surging 76ers. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Lakers, Kobe Bryant choke
Choke. It sounds harsh, but that’s the only way to describe the final minutes of Game 2 on Wednesday night. With just under two minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, the Los Angeles Lakers had a five point lead and possession. Then the wheels came off.
First, Kobe Bryant carelessly lobbed a pass right into Kevin Durant’s hands. Easy layup for Durant. Right after that, Kobe allowed a Steve Blake pass to sail right through his hands and out of bounds. Thunder ball again. After getting a stop, the Lakers foolishly went to Kobe again (0-3 in the quarter and missing badly, too). This time, Kobe took an off-balance fade away that was tightly contested and partially blocked by James Harden. Thunder ball. Harden attacked the rim for an easy lay in to put the Thunder down one. 56 seconds to go.
On the Lakers ensuing possession, it became painfully clear why Mike Brown has never been known for his offensive schemes. The Lakers were fumbling over themselves as Metta World Peace clumsily charged into the lane and lost the ball. On a fortunate bounce (or roll) the ball ended up in Kobe’s hands with six seconds on the shot clock. Drive to the rim and force a foul? Nah. Dribble drive and pull up for a 12 footer? No thanks. Rush a three even though there’s enough time to create a better opportunity? Sure, why not? Brick. Durant would then give the Thunder the lead on a sweet runner over Bynum. Finally, came the Lakers dumbest possession of all.
If you have the two biggest, most talented big men in the series who dominated the offensive glass for most of the night, wouldn’t it make sense to take the potential game-winning shot with enough time on the clock to allow for a potential tip-in or second opportunity? I understand not scoring too early and giving OKC another chance, but having Kobe dribble around until only six seconds remained while knowing OKC had a foul to give was beyond stupid. You have to force the Thunder to use that final foul before there’s only five seconds left.
Instead of Kobe attacking and breaking down the defense to free up Gasol or Bynum on the offensive boards, Kobe got fouled on the floor with five seconds left. On the ensuing inbounds play, the Lakers found Steve Blake open for three. He promptly bricked it and the Lakers lost. 0 points over the final two minutes. Outscored 8-0. Two ugly turnovers. And Bynum and Gasol didn’t touch the ball once on the offensive end. I don’t know who to blame more: Kobe Bryant for his horrible play/decisions or Mike Brown for allowing it to happen. Either way, the Lakers won’t win this series. You can’t blow opportunities like that in the playoffs and hope to survive. Just ask the Memphis Grizzlies.
My favorite part of those closing minutes was Kobe Bryant’s angered look that Steve Blake took the Lakers final shot. Listen, I love Kobe as a competitor. He’s truly special. But come on, Blake’s corner three was the best shot the Lakers had seen in the last two minutes. We always criticize LeBron for deferring to open teammates in these situations but is it any better to dominate the ball and force shots like Kobe did Wednesday night? Sure, you could make the “at least you lose with your best player taking the shots” argument, but that argument is fatally flawed when most of those shots never had a chance of going in. We rip LeBron for the dumbest things sometimes and let Kobe off easy because he has rings.
As for the Thunder, this is what makes them so beatable. In Game 1, the Thunder couldn’t miss. They were on fire and therefore unstoppable. But, as Charles Barkley loves to say, “You live by the jumper you die by the jumper.” Game 2 was evidence of that. The Thunder struggled immensely from the field, scoring only 29 2nd half points. When the Thunder’s shots are not falling, they can’t do anything offensively. There’s no inside force to throw the ball to for an easy bucket. Transition baskets are few and far between in the postseason. That leaves the Thunder with only one option; keep shooting. While that strategy worked against the equally inept Laker offense, it’ll be hard for the Thunder offense to keep pace with a team like the San Antonio Spurs if the two were to meet in the conference finals.
Celtics crush 76ers
Wednesday night’s thumping was a big brother win. It reestablished the pecking order in the series and reminded the younger, spryer 76ers that winning one game doesn’t make you a champion.
The 76ers received a lot of attention and hype following their Game 2 victory in Boston. On Tuesday alone, I encountered Andre Iquodala on a podcast and two TV shows, including PTI. Iquodala didn’t say anything outrageous, but he did mention how confident the young 76ers were and he didn’t shy away from his success in shutting down Paul Pierce. If the Celtics were looking for some motivation, the excessive attention surrounding the 76ers the last two days certainly provided it. In fact, Game 3 was more of what I expected from the Celtics all along. Their overall lack of effort/interest/urgency in the first two games of this series was almost shameful, but that all changed Wednesday night.
From the opening tip the Celtics were aggressive. Rajon Rondo continually attacked the rim, finishing with 13 points in the opening quarter. Pierce also torched the 76ers early, including two thunderous dunks from the hobbled star. Yet, despite Boston’s hot start, the 76ers still led after one quarter. I thought we might have ourselves a nice game. I was wrong. Boston went on to outscore the 76ers 61-33 over the next two quarters. Kevin Garnett went into beast mode and completely decimated the Philadelphia defense. They simply couldn’t stop him. Rondo continued his aggressive play in attacking the paint and finding open teammates when the defense collapsed. It was a vintage Celtics performance.
If one were to simply look at the box score, they’d naturally assume the 76ers came out flat and took their Game 2 victory for granted. While the 76ers were far from perfect, they weren’t awful. The Celtics were just better. Philadelphia can only compete in this series if it’s a dogfight. When clicking, the Celtics offense is too much for the 76ers to match. It’s no secret Philadelphia struggles to score. It’ll be nearly impossible for the young 76ers to win any postseason game that requires them to score 90+ points.
Although Boston is known for its defense, its greatest advantage in this series is its offense. If the Celtics assert themselves offensively and force the 76ers to keep up, the 76ers will take themselves out of the game due to their inability to consistently score. Not that it really matters, though. Game 3 was a statement game by the Celtics. The younger brother got a little too confident after stealing a victory when big brother lost focus. Wednesday night’s drubbing re-established the Celtics as the alpha male in this series. If Boston keeps that mentality, there’s nothing the 76ers can do except watch and learn.