Lakers migration to finals turns into a bloody last stand.
Posted by: SPQR on May 11, 2012 - 03:43 PM
The NBA playoffs are a migration. At the end of the season, 16 fortunate teams start that hard, brutal trek though the playoffs all them trying to reach the game location: the NBA Finals and spot in history as the champions of all of basketball.|
It is an anthropomorphic replica of the great migrations of the African plains where thousands of water buffalo migrate during the dry season in search of food and water.
And just like those migration, the teams of the NBA are judged along the way. The best, the strongest, the most capable continue through time and peril, while the weak, the incapable, are culled away from the vast herds by the predators and elements they must face. In both migrations, only the fittest survive and reach sanctuary.
A few years ago, the Lakers were the dominant bull of the migrating herds. Strong, fast, tough and capable, it trampled everything in its path to win the NBA finals. Last year, the journey ended shockingly, quickly at the hands of Dallas, a surprise predator that knocked the Lakers out on its own journey of greatness and survival.
This year, after an up and down season, the Lakers began their journey anew. After last year, questions remained: Was last year’s failure a sign of a permanently weakened team? A bull no longer able to survive the harsh tests of playoff migration? Or was it just a single aberration of team that would bounce back yet again to lead the others in glory?
The long march started out well this year. The Lakers looked big and tough and healthy in taking a 3-1 series lead against Denver, a team that was only a sixth seed and was expected to fall aside to stronger foes. But something went wrong during the fifth game at home, the supposed closeout game.
The Lakers showed all the signs of vulnerability that plagued them against Dallas last year and were still apparent at times during the regular season. And these signs were amplified in the horrific bloodletting Denver drew in game six back at their home floor.
Suddenly the Lakers, who for a brief moment looked to have the capability to journey far, are now severely wounded, staggering, losing blood and equilibrium as they search for an answer they must find in the seventh game. Because if they don’t, they will just be another sun bleached carcass to be fed on by predators and scavengers while the strong leave them behind.
I posed the question at the end of the regular season: Can a team with no identity win an NBA title? I also asked the question, could the Lakers accrue an identity in the Denver series, before the opponents became even tougher? In both cases, the answer seems to be a definitive NO.
After the game, Coach Brown brought up the reasons we are no fighting for your lives against one of the lesser NBA teams: the bigs are not running with Denver’s bigs. The bigs are not executing the pick and roll defense leaving Denver shooters open. We are not hitting shots. We are not cutting to the basket. Our savior point guard made Ty Lawson look lke Oscar Roberton. Our "bench" outscored by Denvers 246-112 during the series. We are not moving the ball. All the things that made us what we were during the regular season and contributed to a very bad road record. In essence, we are exactly what we were all year. A team that really can’t do any one thing well, a team even unable to take advantage of your mismatches to the degree it should, a team not good enough to complete the NBA championship migration.
When you look at the roster of this team, you see a talented big three: Kobe, Drew and Pau. But when you look deeper, at those so important ancillary parts, you start to see why this team has no identity. All the secondary players are jacks of all trades. Ok at most things, special at nothing. There is no great defensive stopper, except perhaps the aging Metta. There is no great passer. There is no sure scorer. There is no individual great skill we can call on from any of them. Nor is there an overall team ethos to rely on. Contrast this to the other top teams, where you can see one player as instant offense. Or another as a top flight defender, or terrific passer. Or as teams, they rely on top defense, or speed, or running, or shooting or ball movement. Where they have that team métier, that one team skill that they always can rely on to win against other good teams.
This is a team that relies on the greatness of Kobe Bryant, the mismatch problems caused by Pau and Drew…with nothing else special to call on to buttress its fortunes. This is a team without an identity, a skill, a method to fall back on when things get rough. They can’t take full advantage of the low post because they have no shooters. They are not a running team, not a defensive team, not a ball movement team. They are a team lacking in the essential so needed to complete this trip.
Each of our ancillary players would fit in, on their own, with other teams that have identities. They could use their all around skills to provide nice minutes. But the Lakers have too many of these types of players and not enough who offer something strong and unique to the mix. A Michael Cooper to provide that hard defense on a problem player. A Byron Scott to put in one jumper after another. A Vinnie Johnson on offense, a Shane Battier on defense. This is a team that has some great parts, even some good role players. But there is more a championship than that. There is chemistry, a vital synergy of parts that mesh and work together to build a great whole, a greater method that it imposes on its foes. And this team does not have it. And because of it, we are in a blood fight, at the very start of our journey.
And so here we are; a team that has found itself in a fight for its life, right at the start of the long journey. Now we must stop our flight, turn, stand our ground and live or die in one last stand against our tormentor. We are bloody and weakened, our flaws fully on display. We have been bitten and clawed and our blood stains the ground and high grass. We are gasping for breath as we prepare to ward off Denver’s last pounce.
I do believe the Lakers will find the way to win. If only because it is almost impossible to beat a team three straight games, especially when that third game is at home. In the NBA’s entire history, only 8 teams have come back from 1-3 to turn that improbable trick.
But even if we do, if after the last gaping wounds are inflicted on each other, the final blood from both teams is spilled then dried, after the ground stops shuddering from the pounding footsteps of the death match struggle, after the screams of the battle finally fall still and the loser whose journey ends falls silent, if we move on, what then?
What does a team with no identity have waiting down the road, if it staggers away, suffused with deep wounds, from one of the lesser predators, knowing full well, the real killers of the NBA, who have watched our struggle, lay crouched hungerly in wait, hidden in the high grass, just a short distance up the road?