June 18, 2008
If Phil Jackson is supposed to be the best coach in the NBA, then how come he didn't send Vladimir Radmanovic off to another continent to do some snowboarding this last week?
It's over, all right, the Celtics champs with an exclamation point Jackson outcoached, the Lakers outplayed, and as a group, your God-like heroes blew it.
They are an embarrassment. They went into the NBA Finals favored, the Celtics suffering injuries to several of their starters along the way, and still the Lakers could not measure up.
The Lakers had a 24-point lead at home, the best coach and player on their side, and they gagged.
Their greatest claim in the NBA Finals is the fact the Celtics didn't clinch the title in Staples Center, the Lakers' closing mantra: "Not in our house," and how pitiful is that?
They should have been going to Boston in Games 6 and 7 with the chance to win one game and win it all, but instead they only proved they aren't anywhere as good as the Celtics and certainly nowhere near as tough.
Those with purple blinders on, of course, will say, "good for the Lakers, it was a fine year and they overachieved."
Balderdash. If you want to go back to July, OK, but this is a team that had the good fortune to add Derek Fisher to its roster and later the highway robbery that is Pau Gasol.
They lost Andrew Bynum, and maybe there are better days ahead if Gasol and Lamar Odom ever track down the Wizard of Oz and acquire some courage and heart.
But even without Bynum, the Lakers still had their big three, including the MVP, and most everyone saying they were the team to beat. And then they whipped themselves.
They were one of two teams left standing with the chance to win it all, Jackson in position to pass Red Auerbach, and Kobe Bryant in position to have his preseason tantrum answered, and they blew a 24-point lead.
How can anyone be the very best, and explain that blunder?
The Celtics played this series like every possession meant something even when down by 24, Kevin Garnett as intense as Bryant, Paul Pierce just as good and Doc Rivers schooling the Zen Master.
The Lakers underachieved when it counted the most, Odom, Fisher and Radmanovic going belly up in the first half of Game 6, a contest the Lakers had to win.
They even had the referees on their side at the start, five years from now maybe everyone learning the league really wanted a Game 7, but even that wasn't enough to help these quitters.
They got steamrolled, everyone across America sitting in front of their TVs hoping for drama, and the Lakers acting as if they can't wait to go home, trailing by 26 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
The difference between the champs and chumps was striking, the Celtics up by 27 points with a pair of ex-Clippers playing for them, and then by 38 in the fourth until Odom exploded for a free throw.
Make all the excuses you want, and Lakers fans will, but the Lakers lacked the competitive drive the Celtics exhibited from start to finish in this series.
Some athletes live for opportunities like this, but several key performers in purple wilted when the going got tough.
And Lakers fans, while often too busy genuflecting, should have seen it coming. The Lakers spent too much time whining about the referees this season Gasol, Fisher, Odom and Bryant always mad at someone besides themselves.
Blow the whistle on Fisher, and maybe he deserves every good guy award off the court, but every time, he walks over to the ref to bellyache. Blow the whistle on Gasol, and he looks as if someone just swiped his lunch money.
Blow it on Odom, and it takes him right out of his game. Blow it on Bryant, and until the Finals, he was the picture of calm and poise, and then what happened?
The Celtics never played distracted, but the same cannot be said about the Lakers, too often taking the lead from their coach, who also spent time before the media delivering messages to the officials.
By way of startling contrast, Rivers never offered an excuse, his team responding in the same way even when some of their better performers were taken to the locker room for repairs.
This is more about the makeup of champions than one colossal collapse in a 39-point loss.
Disagree, if you like, but much of it is Bryant's fault, his teammates and even his coach never quite knowing which Bryant they are going to get from quarter to quarter sometimes the facilitator, sometimes the scorer.
He can talk all he wants about being a leader and working better with his teammates, but he still lives in his own world, and hot as he was to start Game 6, the others didn't bother coming along for the ride.
The Lakers have their role players, but Bryant's role always remains fluid, the uncertainty apparently too much for Odom & Co. at times.
And where do the Lakers go if it comes down to counting on Odom? All that talent, and how often has that been said, and going into the fourth quarter of the year's biggest game, he still didn't have a basket.
Two teams go for the title, and one of them has to lose, but that doesn't mean getting pulverized and exposed as big softies the Lakers laying down like whipped dogs.
The first half of this game set the tone, both teams tired from the travel and the Celtics stranded in L.A. with airplane troubles, but letting nothing stop them.
Ray Allen left early with an eye injury, but the Celtics remained gritty. The Lakers' response to opportunity? Only Bryant and Luke Walton scoring baskets in the first quarter, the moment too much for everyone else.
Lakers fans will spend the next few days offering excuses, rebuttals and sharp retorts while trying to ignore the obvious their heroes lack the heart and true grit to be champions.
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