LA-Denver game 7: If the knife doesn’t work, choke em dead.
Posted by: SPQR on May 13, 2012 - 02:35 AM
The Lakers fought with pride and passion tonight, and they had to, or the season would be over.|
Many analysts said before tonights game that LA needed to come out fast, with the stiletto, slide it in fast and deep, gut Denver and take them out fast. Remove their confidence, don’t let them hang in, because if they did, the tide would turn on the Lakers in there desperate struggle to get a grip on the Nuggets.
Well, it didn’t happen that way. The Lakers didn’t get an early blowout and you knew at that point they would have to earn a trip to Oklahoma the hard way. And boy did they ever play hard. And wasn’t it a pleasant switch to see?
The Lakers one chance to put it away was when they extended to a 16 point lead in the second half. They had the knife pressed to Denver’s throat, but couldn’t slide it across the jugular. The gritty, gutsy Nuggets came back to take a four point lead and you could hear a pin drop as Ty Lawson was running through, around and over the Lakers and singlehandedly tearing our defense apart.
But unlike the last two games, the Lakers showed the heart and desire. No moping, no laziness, which seemed to seep into the team’s body and soul as before when the Nuggets turned up the heat. The Lakers didn’t, couldn’t use the knife for the easy kill; so instead, they got Denver in a choke hold and smothered the breath out of them. Sometimes, there is another way to kill off an enemy. Sometimes, you kill them bit by bit, taking away all the things that worked for them, one piece at a time till there is no avenue of escape left, no breath left to take.
Some moments, some players, some plays that keep playing over in my mind? The seminal turning points that paid off in victory, which slowly choked the life out of Denver’s paths to a potential upset victory:
Can a man win a series MVP for playing in only one game? I have never seen it, but man, tonight would be that time. Metta World Peace was back and just in the nick of time. He returned like he had never left, wrapping his own brand of manic defensive intensity and immovable body and strong quick hands around Andre Miller like a bear embracing a fawn. Miller literally was stopped in his track, in everything he wanted to do, all the things he did the entire Mettaless series to hurt us over and over again. Metta turned Miller from an all star into a has been. And with Lawson going off yet again, this was crucial in stopping Denver from gaining that second path to opening the Lakers defense up to an effective attack. By negating Miller, Metta took away much of what Denver needed to win in Staples. Add to this 15 very badly needed points to an offense that was sputtering so badly and you see where this guy just did it all to put us over the top in his long awaited return.
If a man can ever win a series MVP by playing in one game, we just saw it happen tonight.
Andrew Bynum with 16 points, 18 rebounds and 6 blocks. Pau Gasol with 23 points, 17 boards and 6 assists, 4 blocks. When you combine what Metta did with the ferocity of our inside game, Denver’s avenue to victory was strangled even further. Who can forget Pau Gasol, soft as can be in game six, jumping again, and again, and again, and again, looking all the world like Moses Malone, on that one play that was microcosm of the whole game, till he finally tipped the ball in. That play, exemplified the difference in commitment, energy and effort that was so different this night for LA. It was a message, to Denver and more importantly, to his teammates. No going gently into that good night this evening. This night, the Lakers would fight till lungs screamed and blood vessels burst.
Another Denver road to victory, so well traveled the last two games was LA’s abysmal outside shooting. But tonight, the Lakers put up a dead end sign for that avenue as well. Hitting outside shoots including 11 of 24 threes, Denver could find no hope treading that old ground either. This time, the Nuggets did pay for doubling Drew and staying so close to basket. Steve Blake was a maestro of the shot tonight, playing with confidence and verve, like a veteran of clutch playoff shooting. His shooting cut off even more breath from a team that was turning blue in the face from lack of oxygen.
And Kobe, the recipient of double teams tonight as well, played like veteran who wanted to win a game regardless of his personal stats. He drew the defense and passed off again and again, not forcing shots, not challenging a defense that so badly wanted him to play for Kobe Bryant and not for a crucial seventh game team win.
And so all these players combined, each in their own way, to deny the Nuggets attempt to become just the 9th team to come back from a 1-3 deficit in a best of seven series. When it was over, as the final seconds ticked off, the Lakers were standing because they cut off the all the ways Denver had breathed life into the last two games. And in the end, it is LA that will move on while the Nuggets were metaphorically, strategically, physically asphyxiated of their avenues of victory and playoff hopes.
After a game, during the player press conferences, you usually get the same old banal platitudes. But this time around, perhaps befitting such a tight, some remarks were made that certainly were a cut above the usual in the interest department.
Pau Gasol said after the game, in the flush of his physical performance, “I can’t worry about whether I am getting enough touches. No matter what, I have to get my *ss in there (the low post) and play.”
When was the last time you heard the quiet, introspective, introverted Pau Gasol use language like that? When was the last time Pau played like that? I liked the Pau I saw on the court and I loved the Pau I heard in the interview.
George Karl said in his post game press conference, “I hate Steve Blake tonight. Just as much as I loved him when he played for me. What a player he is.” You could see the respect Karl had, both in his face, his words and timber of his voice.
And Karl wasn’t the only one who mentioned his respect for Blake. Kobe Bryant said, “People don’t understand what an insane competitor this guy is. Not just on the court, but off.” From Kobe Bryant, the ultimate competitor, this is the ultimate compliment
Finally, without question, the most arresting comment that caught my attention above all else, with good reason, was Coach Brown’s remark about instructions he gave Pau: “If Kobe waves you off again on the pick and roll defense this game, don’t listen to him. Just go out and play it and I will handle the situation.”
Not the remarks or instructions of a yes-man. Nor someone cowed or threatened by Magic Johnson’s ridiculous remarks earlier in the week concerning Brown losing his job if the Lakers lost. It was the remarks of a confident man, sure of his position both in the front office, on the team, and regarding its legendary best player. It was a comment of extreme honesty and clarity, both regarding strategy, his own feelings about who is coaching and giving the direction that one rarely hears in the cloistered, protected and hidden atmosphere of athletics.
And so we move on.
Our reward for winning a tough, seven game series? Playing an even tougher Thunder team, only without the home court advantage that was so enjoyable tonight. Doesn’t seem like much of a reward, does it? But at this time of the year, rewards only mean you get another chance to move on up, one more chance to fight again in that torture test that is the NBA playoffs. At this point, the rewards are nothing less than exquisite torture. And Monday, the exquisite torture starts up all over again.
Kobe was asked in his press conferance: Will the team have to play better to beat the Thunder? He kind of smirked, laughed a little, then replied, "Yeah, a little." Meaning a lot.
So buckle up and get ready for the ride. It doesn’t get any easier from here. It just gets harder.