I was going to write a lengthy piece regarding Steve Nash and the Utah Jazz, but that’ll have to wait.
We’re neck deep in the playoffs and, for my money, each game gets better and better.
Case in point: the Boston/Philly series, which took a turn for the surreal when the 76ers, down by 15 at the half, launched an impressive comeback and stunned Boston 92-83. That series is now tied at two apiece. Not too shabby.
The Lakers/OKC match-up was just as fun. The Lakers brought their A-game tonight (and shot a remarkable 41-of-42 from the free throw line – thanks refs) and seized an important Game 3 victory, ousting the Thunder 99-96.
As it stands, I don’t see OKC losing that series. The Lakers played a remarkable game tonight, but they also had a lot of friggin’ luck – especially during that sequence when, with less than a minute remaining, Bryant missed two jumpers in a row but managed to hit his third attempt thanks to Gasol’s and Blake’s offensive rebounding … oh wait, I forgot. It’s all Kobe.
Durant and Westbrook went cold down the stretch, but even despite their team’s atrocious outside shooting the dynamic duo (along with Harden) put themselves in a great position to take the ballgame. This despite the Lakers’ go-for-broke performance (which will undoubtedly haunt them come the fourth quarter of tomorrow’s game … yes, I said TOMORROW’S game. The NBA saw fit to force the Lakers/OKC and Spurs/Clippers to play back-to-back games in Round 2 of the playoffs, which is about as stupid as it sounds. Oh well. This now concludes the longest statement ever written within a parenthesis). Don’t get me wrong. The Lakers are no run-of-the-mill squad. And even though I would just as soon drop an anvil on Kobe’s dome before I’d shake his hand, even I understand the man’s ferocious determination. I dog Kobe because he pouts and blames his teammates when the Lakers lose, but hogs the glory when they win. But Jordan did the same thing, and so does LBJ. And so did D-Will when he played with Utah, and Malone … etc.
Oklahoma City better be careful, though. Fatigue will play a factor in tomorrow’s game, but Durant and co. cannot depend on it. They are not a team capable of simply flipping a switch (at least not yet) during various parts of the game, nor can they play from behind like they did tonight. Oh sure the Thunder managed to clobber Dallas in late game situations when trailing by as many as seven points, but that was a squad comprised of Dirk, Kidd, Terry and the league’s leftovers. This Lakers squad features a similar package, but said package features a tad more athleticism and determination on Kobe’s part.
Nowitzki learned how to lose years ago. He takes his losses like a champ, walks off the court and immediately begins prepping for next season. Kobe’s still getting accustomed to losing, having gone to the NBA Finals seven out of the last 12 years. Sure he felt the crushing sting of defeat in the waning seasons after Shaq’s departure, but somehow he managed to again surround himself with bigger and better talent in the form of Odom and Gasol (not to mention D-Fish). But that squad got swept last year by the Mavs. And then this season the NBA spoiled a golden opportunity (for Lakers fans anyway) to bring Bryant and Chris Paul together via a trade that would’ve nixed (surprisingly) Odom AND Gasol. After that trade debacle, Odom fled for Dallas and then subsequently disappeared from the face of the earth. OKC and San Antonio took over, and now LA must play near-perfect basketball in order to beat an injury-ridden Denver Nuggets team.
What’s my point, you ask?
OKC cannot afford to go back home 2-2. They MUST win Game 4. Kobe does NOT want to lose and will do everything in his power to nab that sixth NBA title. The Thunder played OK tonight, but they could’ve, nay, should’ve played better. Now they’re facing a must-win situation … If they go home tied with LA, Kobe will find a way to win. Game 4 will prove once and for all whether or not OKC deserves a ring … whether they’ve truly matured over the past few years.
I know, I know. A bit too dramatic. But come on, does OKC really want to get into a seven game series with LA? Especially since San Antonio will likely finish the Clippers off in five or less? I didn’t think so.
Tonight’s game proved Kobe still has what it takes to carry his team in the playoffs. He can’t do IT alone, obviously, but he shouldn’t get the chance to do IT either.
OKC, finish them! (Yeah, I’ve watched The Karate Kid quite a bit these past few days … I’m going to bed now.)