It’s easy to bash the Lakers for another lackluster postseason but let’s not forget they took drastic measures to improve the team before the NBA stepped in. In Boston, Doug Collins and the 76ers tank in the 2nd half. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Thunder send Lakers packing
The Lakers had their chances to make this series interesting but blowing Games 2 and 4 ultimately led to their demise. There’s too much talent on the Thunder to give away easy victories. As I said a few days ago, you can’t blow games in the NBA Playoffs and live to tell about it. Would it have been interesting to see how the Thunder responded in a tight series? Absolutely. But unfortunately, the Lakers weren’t completely up to the task.
Let’s be honest, outside of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers were an underachieving bunch in 2012. Andrew Bynum came and went whenever he saw fit. Pau Gasol seems to have permanently lost his mojo, or at the very least, his desire to compete for the Lakers. Los Angeles’ bench was awful all year. Ramon Sessions was ultimately a worthless addition and even the hard-nosed Metta World Peace struggled until the spring. Kobe carried this mediocre team for the entire year. Sure, he’s mainly responsible for the Lakers inability to close out Games 2 and 4, but let’s not forget he was the only reason the Lakers were competitive in those games, and this series, too.
Los Angeles was eliminated by a better and devastatingly explosive team. There’s no shame in that. There’s a reason the Thunder could be the Western Conference’s representative in the NBA Finals. However, it’s hard not to be disappointed with the combined effort of Gasol and Bynum. While Gasol played decent in Game 5, he essentially disappeared in the 2nd half. For the most part, he was a complementary player throughout the series instead of the dominant big man he’s been in the past. (I guarantee you Gasol will be outstanding in the Olympics. Not because he’ll have something to prove, but because his heart will be in it. I’m pretty sure Gasol hates the Lakers.)
In addition to Gasol’s struggles, Bynum’s postseason performance proved he still isn’t a franchise center. He takes nights off and lacks the desire to take over a game. Bynum needed to win this series for the Lakers. He didn’t come anywhere close to that level.
What I find entertaining is how everyone is declaring the Lakers need to blow things up and bring in different players to surround Kobe in his twilight years. Fans and media alike have “boldly” stated the Lakers can’t compete as currently constructed. No duh. The Lakers knew this 12 months ago after the Mavericks manhandled them in the 2nd round. The Lakers front office took action to improve the team and acquired the NBA’s best point guard in Chris Paul. Only, David Stern decided he didn’t want the Lakers to gain another superstar so the trade was inexplicably vetoed. As a result, instead of entering the 2012 season with a nucleus of Kobe, Paul, and Bynum, the Lakers were forced to salvage the season by trading away the disgruntled Lamar Odom for peanuts and making the best of a “my feelings are hurt” Gasol. As you well know, I don’t hesitate from dishing out blame, but this was not the Lakers fault. They took all the proper steps to improve their team. Stern just had other plans.
As for the Thunder, whoa. What an impressive series by Russell Westbrook. If he can continue to protect the ball while still being aggressive offensively, the Thunder will be very tough to beat, even for a dynamic Spurs team. What was also impressive about the Thunder was their poise. Even in tight games, they never panicked. They played smart, took good shots, and made stops on the defensive end. Whether or not they can find easy buckets against a better team defense will determine how successful they’ll be against San Antonio.
Same old story for Celtics
Is it just me, or do the 76ers and Celtics take turns dominating for 48 minutes at a time? Even weirder, those 48 minutes usually stretch over two games. The Celtics dominated the 2nd half of Game 3 and the 1st half of Game 4. The 76ers then controlled the 2nd half of Game 4 and the first half of Monday’s Game 5. Then, the Celtics took over and steamrolled Philadelphia.
Once again, Boston proved the 76ers don’t belong on the same floor when the Celtics are on top of their game. Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass took over in the 3rd quarter as Boston outscored Philadelphia by 17 in the 2nd half. I thought the Celtics would cruise and never look back after Game 3, so we’ll see if Game 5 was simply another flash in the pan or the Celtics finally taking the 76ers seriously. If the Celtics know what’s best for them, they’ll close this series out on Wednesday. Not only will the extra days of rest benefit the ailing Celtics, but a Game 7 against a younger, fearless and totally unpredictable team is never a good idea, regardless if it’s at home.
One more thing, did anyone else have a problem with Doug Collins’ speech during a timeout in the 3rd quarter? The 76ers had just blown a huge opportunity to stretch their six point lead to double digits after a clear path foul. Andre Iquodala bricked both free throws (Bulls fans are wondering where that was two weeks ago) and the 76ers then turned the ball over on the possession. Collins responded by telling his team they just blew an enormous opportunity. “We can’t do that,” scolded Collins. Obviously, Collins was right. The 76ers not only wet the bed there but they gave the Celtics life and momentum swung completely to Boston’s side.
My problem is this: It happened. It’s over. It wasn’t as if someone blew a defensive assignment or forgot to box out. It was simply a lousy string of events, none of which could be changed now. Dwelling on it seemed counter-productive. If the young 76ers didn’t know what a huge opportunity they let slip through their fingers, they certainly did now. Focusing on it only lowered the team’s energy and confidence.
This is a young team with limited playoff experience. Coaching young players midgame is all about keeping energy and confidence up. The 76ers greatest assets in this series have been their energy and confidence. Collins took that away in the middle of a contested game that likely swung the series for good. Was it the reason the 76ers lost? Of course not, but it certainly didn’t improve their chances of winning.