Posted by hiphopmama on January 14, 2009
LA Lakers 111, San Antonio 112
That’s all I can say about this one. Damn. We shouldn’t have even been in a position to win it after going down by eleven midway through the fourth. With the Spurs’ touted defense, that should have been game, set, and match. But somehow, with Kobe pulling all the strings and Josh Powell draining jumpers, we chipped away and eventually took the lead.
It finished just like all our other big match-ups with this team, with one incredible shot after another. With the Spurs down one, Tim Duncan drives to the basket, encounters a few defenders, and appears to lose the ball, which flies up out of his hands and rattles through. Spurs up one. No time out, of course, because Phil doesn’t play that game, so Kobe dribbles up, waits for the plan to crystallize in his perfect mind, sees Mason sagging off him, and fires a three, knowing it’s going in. And it does. Lakers up two. There are 10 seconds left and the Lakers have a foul to give. San Antonio is out of timeouts. If we can just execute here, the worst we leave with is overtime. Can you guess what happens? An almost steal, Fisher ends up behind Mason, who steps just inside the three point line, gets nailed from behind by Fish, and drains the shot. Tie game, Mason going to the line. He makes the free throw, but there are still more than nine seconds left. Once again, no time out, and this time I disagree. The first time, there was no dead ball in between, no chance for Pop to sub players in or out for defensive purposes. This time, with the free throw, the Spurs got to reset and prepare defensively. So instead of drawing up a play to make sure Kobe is the deciding factor, on either the pass or the shot, he dribbles up court and of course the Spurs trap him at half court to get the ball out of his hands. He finds Ariza at the top of the key, which doesn’t seem so bad at first. But then he traveled. 0.8 seconds left. Game over.
It would have been sickening if it wasn’t so damn much fun to watch. I’m glad I’m a little older, although not much wiser, because this is the kind of game that would have had me sulking for a week in the past. Now, though, I just sit in awe after watching an incredible game of basketball. Would I have liked to see us win it? Absolutely, especially because we earned it down the stretch. When it matters, we are excellent late in fourth quarters, except for one critical moment: that last defensive possession. No matter what we do, that one always kills us. Teams don’t always make us pay – like Houston didn’t last night, like the Heat didn’t – but the better teams will, as San Antonio proved. I don’t know what can be done to remedy the problem, considering what quality and experience we have on the court in those situations, but it has to be fixed, because we have a troubling tendency to make games closer than they need to be and closing out is crucial.
It’s a tough one, to be sure, but I’m slowly coming around to Phil’s long-term view on the season. We aren’t even at the All-Star break and we’re in a dead heat with three other teams – all from the Eastern Conference – for the best record in the NBA. This was the second game of a road back-to-back and we had not one single guard available to come off the bench (unless you count Sun Yue, which I don’t). We’ve been without a back-up point guard for a while now, and we just got our true sixth man back. I’m not whining – and I’m certainly not going to act a Kings fan and discredit the Spurs’ win because of it (still bitter – can you tell?) – but it helps lessen the blow somewhat. I still don’t think that, at the end of a grueling season, in a seven game series, the Spurs or any other Western Conference team can take us. How we hold up against the East in the Finals is another story, but I’m not counting anybody out at this point.
The talk after the game from a number of corners was about whether or not Ariza actually traveled or was tripped, and how the Lakers reacted to the ref’s call. Even before that last play, I had been thinking about how well officiating is handled in the NBA. I’ve always complained about how the NFL can be both so precise and so lax in its officiating – with all those rules about who can be on the line of scrimmage and where and eligible this and that, you would think that they would be able to properly call a delay of game penalty when it occurs or stop the clock as soon as a team calls a timeout. Yet these things routinely go awry. Soccer has its own set of problems with, I believe, not enough officials to cover such a huge pitch and squabbles over potentially allowing replay for key situations. And I’m not even going to talk about baseball, because that’s a joke – both the sport itself and the way it’s run. (Tell me we still need the umpire system we currently have when ESPN can tell me definitively if it’s a strike or a ball.) The NBA, though, has an effective, streamlined system that works so often that we are able to pick out the bad moments so easily and belabor them. I’m not gonna lie – there’s a good argument to be made that Ariza was tripped, but it’s not something I get bitter over because I know everything else has been done to ensure that the game is called correctly and, more often than not, it is. When tennis first started its replay system, everyone was amazed to see just how often calls were missed. As it turned out, the lines were called correctly the vast majority of the time, with player challenges being held up around 30% of the time and often less. And that’s only when players choose to challenge, not even including the other calls that everyone accepts as correct. All I’m trying to say is that, while it’s easy to bash the refs (and they should be held accountable when they eff it up), I gotta give credit where it’s due, and the NBA has been easily the most judicious in keeping its officiating house in order. I love NBA refs, even Joey Crawford’s punk ass, and I have a personal affinity for a lot of them, including Danny Crawford and Violet Palmer. So whether or not they got it right tonight, it still sits well with me because, Tim Donaghy aside, I’m not worried about some sort of Calciopoli-type scandal going on. Keep up the good work, dudes.