Houston 70, LA Lakers 89
Lakers win series 4-3
I can only hope that’s true. What’s done is done. Because if it is, then we have a good chance at knocking off Denver in five or six. What’s done is done. If it’s not, then we’re stuck alternating good and bad performances – no, make that stupendous and horrendous performances – at home and away, and we’re more than likely going to need the full seven again. What’s done is done. Or so I pray.
This game seven at home in Staples Center went entirely according to plan and much like all the other games we won. We jumped on them early and held onto the lead for the remainder of the game. The few twists, however, were notable and deserve some explication. For one, did you see that final score? We didn’t even make it to 90 points, yet we still won. Why? Because we played defense. That’s “defense,” with a “D.” I know, as Lakers fans, many of us are unfamiliar with the concept, but it’s a complicated system in which you position your body in such a way as to prevent the other team from scoring. Believe it or not, many, many championships have been won in this fashion. If we are somehow able to win one this year, it will be because we catch up with the rest of the world on this concept.
But the important thing today was that we cared enough to play some D, and we were able to keep up the defensive intensity the whole way through. We held the Rockets to an absurdly low 70 points and under 37% shooting while we shot 47% and out-rebounded them by 22 (55-33).
The other crucial difference in this game was the continuous dominance we displayed. Houston took almost half a quarter to get its first points on the board, and they didn’t get their first field goal until the 4:43 mark of the first. All the things we were unable to do in games four and six came easily in front of the home fans. Most importantly, Pau and Bynum locked down Scola and finally made the Rockets pay for the yards of height differential between our front lines. I called out Pau in my last post – unfairly, I’ve been told – but he came through for the team today. He blazed the trail that the rest of the team followed with his 21 points and 18 rebounds, which allowed Kobe to slide by with a 14-point performance in 33 minutes. Pau once again led the team with his 41 minutes on the floor.
Some of the old swagger was back for Pau in this one, which was more than a little comforting. He had the full complement of skills working for him, from the hook in the lane to the face-up options to the pull-up from the elbow. More tellingly, he was fierce on the boards as well, which is always a sign as to how he’s feeling on a given day. His three blocks were yet another indication of his energy level in this game seven, especially the early one he got on a Scola jumper that sparked a Lakers fast break and helped set the tone.
To be honest, I’m not sure what to feel in the wake of this series, or even this game. I’m happy we won, sure, but there are more questions than answers as we make our way to the Western Conference Finals. Taking the short view, we played with the requisite playoff intensity in this game, and our big men lived up to their seven-foot stature. Auspiciously, Andrew Bynum worked himself into a nice aggressive groove in game seven, and hopefully he’ll be able to carry forward the positive momentum into the next series. Being more pragmatic, however, leads to a host of problems that I’d rather not deal with. Which team is going to show up on a given night? Why is effort even an issue in the playoffs for a team challenging for a title? What exactly can we expect from our bench? And what the fuck happened in games four and six? I don’t have any answers, other than that I believe there aren’t answers to many of these. The Lakers simply are who they are, which is an inconsistent, mentally ambivalent team with little to no killer instinct. The talent level of the team means that they may still have enough to win it all, even with such a weak constitution clearly in evidence, but they are certain to keep their fans on the edge of their seats and reaching for the blood pressure medication as they make their way toward the ultimate goal.
Kobe and Pau postgame:
No one will ever care if the Lakers go on to win it, but I have to agree with Bill Plaschke in his assessment of Phil’s hands-off approach being ill-suited to our young team. I’m curious to hear my two readers’ thoughts about the issue, because, much as I think PJ believes too much of his own hype, I’m usually loath to criticize his handling of the team. But he’s had on the kid gloves for a long time, much more than I’ve ever seen from him before, and he’s been protecting his players like a mother bird sheltering her babies under her wing. That’s not an image I usually associate with Phil Jackson, which indicates to me that he’s somewhat out of his element here and perhaps grasping for a working strategy for the group of players he has. And kudos to him for being willing and able to adjust his tactics midstream, but I feel like he’s not always adjusting the right ones. Call a friggin’ timeout now and then to calm the young guys down, but don’t shield them from all criticism. That does nothing but reinforce this team’s already overlarge ego and further the players’ belief that they’re impervious to everything, even when they’re in the thick of a winner-takes-all game seven. At least that’s my take on the matter. But maybe my zen is off. In either case, what’s done is done. I hope.