Note: due to continued f*** ups with their much-advertised, little-supported International League Pass broadband system (which has pretty much shut down since the playoffs arrived, happily), I’ve only watched the two ESPN games so far. So frustrating. I can heartily recommend not giving the NBA any of your money next year, no matter how tempting it might be. The system just doesn’t work.
Anyway, so the Kobe Bryant show did a really nice job on the Thunder last night, in what was one of the strangest games I’ve seen in a while. The Thunder were just manic, as their 17 (!!!) blocked shots/17 turnover performance will attest. And even though KD was able to make it happen a bunch more than in the first game, there was always the sense that LA were going to take this one home.
And, grudgingly, I’m coming round to the idea that this is an LA team you have to respect on some level (the same way you respect the IRD, I guess), and being a straight up Laker Hater is just a bit too easy. They won smart, dirty, tough and fair, hit shots when they needed to, got stops when they needed to, and generally played like NBA champions. The kind who might be banged up and aging, but still know how to break the hearts of a group of young men when their minds are focused.
And they did it all despite having both Ron Artest and Derek Fisher in their starting five. Which kinda boggles the mind. It’s like Phil Jackson’s playing chess against himself at this juncture, putting himself in ever more desperate situations just to keep himself interested. Because that pair are just awful.
Because Artest doesn’t just have crazy hair. He’s a properly crazy player right now. Sure, he’s often playing excellent defence against Durant, but he’s also looking for the steal way too frequently, in a showy way (like Rondo does), which often leaves the kind of holes that a real serious veteran team (Mavs/Spurs) will stroll right through. Plus he’s attempting seven 3s a game thus far this series, and hitting only one of them. Crazy.
Fisher, meanwhile, is frighteningly sane. He seems entirely aware of his borderline obsolescence as an NBA point guard, which manifests itself in things like his becoming the go-to foul guy that you normally bring off the bench. There can’t be many worse starting points in the league, right? Our Yahoo! fantasy ranked him the 40th player to log minutes at PG this season, behind such household names as Wesley Matthews and CJ Watson. Crazy. (though that ‘foul’ he had put on Westbrook to take the latter out of the game in the 3rd – where he sprawled clumsily to the floor looking aghast – that was a HUGE play).
Regardless, the Lakers won the game with old-fashioned stuff like offensive rebounds (where they were up 19-7), assists (20-13) and Kobe Bean Bryant (39 points on 12-28 shooting). As a result my pre-series conviction that they would lose to the team spirit and enthusiasm of the Thunder looks unlikely to pass. I still think the OKC team will take a game or two (incl the next one for sure), but ultimately will fall to smart, gnarly dudes. It’s the established order. This Thunder team will win at least one title, I’m pretty confident, so long as the off-court and on-court cores are retained, but not this year.
They just don’t know how to deal with the panic that comes in the post-season, not the way LA do. So, for all my cursing the name, the better team will progress and face… Utah? Denver? I have a feeling like Deron Williams is ready to have a monster, defining post-season, and since George Karl went down Denver haven’t seemed themselves. But Utah are missing two of their top four too. Which makes winning difficult. Either way, I feel like its Mavs-Lakers in the conference finals, with Cleveland inflicting 1000 agonies on Mark Cuban in the finals. But I’m loving watching us get there.