Just got done with the most anticlimactic 3 hours of back-and-forth basketball I've ever been exposed to. I'm a Laker fan, the Lakers won an overtime game, and there were something like 21 lead changes in the fourth quarter & overtime combined. That's the type of stuff instant classics are made of, right? Not so much. Despite all of the makings of a thriller, I walked away from the television feeling empty.
Maybe it was the style of the game, with both teams struggling to reach 90 without the overtime period. Maybe it was the continuation of strange officiating that detracted from the drama within the matchup (the phantom foul calls in Kobe's favor in the fourth quarter, the failure to call goaltending when Howard reached through the rim to block Gasol's layup, Turkoglu initiating contact every time he touched the ball and rarely getting called for a foul, etc.). I can't put my finger on exactly why I wasn't nervous during the game or elated after the game, but all of the feelings that I had during the Rockets-Lakers & Nuggets-Lakers series' were no-shows. I don't think there was one moment during the game that I felt nervous or sat on the edge of my seat, which is really odd considering all that transpired.
With that off my plate, I'd like to bid farewell to Orlando's 2009 title hopes. The Lakers are bound to have at least one of their dominating performances (where they are focused & unbeatable) sprinkled amongst the three-game set in Orlando, and there is virtually no way the Magic will win two straight in L.A. if it comes to that. Under no circumstances do I see Orlando winning four of five, with two of those games in Staples. Not with their lack of consistent point guard play, not with their failure to effectively utilize Dwight Howard, not with Tony Battie and J.J. Redick playing key minutes, not with their severe handicap in the coaching matchup, and certainly not with Kobe Bryant on the other team.
Before signing out, a few observations I took away from game two:
- Orlando's players do not respect Stan Van Gundy or what he has to say to them. As if Shaq's vocal criticism in '06 wasn't enough, this probably should have been obvious to me after a normally reserved Dwight Howard disrespected him in front of the national media during these playoffs. But until tonight, I thought the criticism directed toward SVG was somewhat unwarranted, as he has a pretty good track record in terms of wins & losses. Tonight, I saw ESPN's cameras pan in on multiple huddles where players were taking part in side conversations or appeared to be completely tuning out what he had to say. This was also evident during his halftime speech ("mic'd up" by ESPN), where not a single player was making eye contact with the coach and as a whole looked indifferent.
- Kobe is much more difficult to analyze now than he was even a few rounds ago. At one moment he appears to be on a violent mission, shooting death stares at his teammates and hitting impossible shots in cold blood. The next minute he is jovial, sharing laughs with said teammates and perfectly content in the decoy role. It used to be that Kobe would enter a game with a predetermined approach. He would carry out this approach to a flaw, either by forcing up shots in his "scoring Kobe" mode or passing up wide open looks in his "passing Kobe" mode. Now, his approach is changing from quarter-to-quarter or even possession-to-possession. I still haven't fully embraced the notion that his behavior on the offensive end is entirely reactive (as opposed to predetermined), but he has recently made a point to tell us that he is "taking what the defense gives him" in every interview. Really? Not only do I see nobody in pinstripes (individually, or collectively) who is capable of dictating his approach to the game through their defense, but I also think Kobe is entirely too analytical and stubborn to be patient in his strategic decisions. I still think that on certain possessions he decides that he is going to shoot regardless of the defensive front, or that he is going to get others involved regardless of whether or not he has an open look. I will probably write another post addressing these opinions separately in the near future.
- Hedo Turkoglu is more physical than his reputation. I never noticed, but Turkoglu initiates contact almost every time he touches the ball and is very crafty in getting defenders in the air. He was called for a push-off on one critical possession late in the game, but overall his initiation of contact paid dividends via free-throws. As much as the Lakers claim to be a tough team, I still see them struggle when the game becomes more physical. Physicality was the only reason an injury-plagued Houston team made round two a series, and Denver pushed the Lakers around in the paint all series long in the WCF.
Until next time...