Yesterday afternoon, Dallas Mavericks completed their 4-0 sweep on LA Lakers in 2011 NBA Playoff Western Conference semi-final. It wasn’t the first time a defending champion with great players on the team got swept, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time. Lakers with Magic and Kareem, Bulls with MJ and Pippen, Pistons with Isaiah and Dumas, and Rockets with Dream and Clyde, they were all swept in playoffs before.
Yesterday was a sad day in Lakers’ history, not because they were swept, but rather because how they were swept, more specially, how they quitted game 4. The series was over after game 3. Despite the lip service paying to the media, I don’t think anyone really thought Lakers had a chance to come back. But there was always hope that they could lose in a more face-saving manner, or even extend the series for a game or two. But that remote hope faded away quickly. Midway through the 2nd quarter, Dallas rained in 3-pointer after 3-pointer, everyone has stuck a fork in them – Lakers is done. In the 3rd quarter, LA made a last semi-hearted push after being down for 20+ points. That push fainted quickly as well, after a pathetically failed dunk/layup confusing attempt by Artest in a breakaway, and 2 consecutive 3-pointers by Jason Terry. Afterwards, no Lakers starters seem to be interested in playing or better to say, further embarrassing themselves. I feel for the players – in a sure losing event, playing 20 minutes of garbage time. But they are professionals, and that’s the least thing they are supposed to be committed to – finishing each game.
After some trash talk between Odom and Dirk, Odom decided to “show his toughness” by pushing Dirk from blindside. Officials stepped in right away, to prevent further escalation and players from injury in meaningless minutes, they set the tone clear by sending Odom out, rightfully so. It was poor action, unprofessional and disgraceful. Out of frustration/embarrassment, it was definitely wrong, but somewhat understandable. However, what happened in the next few minutes, was unprecedentedly shocking and equally disgusting. Andrew Bynum, once next-big-man-future/hope of LA, apparently was too “proud” to stay on the court, took a calculated move to get himself tossed out. He, the biggest player on the court, chose the smallest guy in Barea, elbowed him while he was in the air for a layup. To his satisfaction, Bynum was ejected immediately, so that he did not need to endure the embarrassment any more, as a “proud” good basketball player. Oh, boy, what a shameful moment. It had nothing to do with toughness, pride, and it wasn’t even thuggish or gangster-like, it was just a self-centered spoiled child, has no respect to the game and opponent, willing to do anything harmful to others for a moment of self-satisfaction.
It was sad for Bynum, and sad for LA. No matter how much fans of other teams might hate on the Lakers, they all dream of having successes like LA. The titles, the HOFs, the organization, legendary players and coach, it’s a unique branding, and it’s a proud society. Nobody would remember/care about a questionable call or even a cheap shot/dirty play in a particular game, after a while. Nobody demands players to be saints or even likeable. But there is some borderline for players, fans, and teams. IMHO, Bynum certainly crossed that line yesterday, because after Odom’s incident, his elbow was delivered in a very calculated way – not wanting to stay in the game. I am sure the league will exam the incident and take actions. But I think there should be more to it, maybe a civil charge or anything to prevent such things from happening again, because unlike other cheap shots in the heat of moment or retaliation act or even frustration outburst, that was a calculated move to “save face”. How disgusting could that be?
When you are swept in the playoffs, there is no luck or questionable officiating involved, because that would have not mattered, and it was simply because the other team was better and played better in 4 games in a row. From last year’s playoffs, we could all see that Kobe was no longer the most explosive player he was. But including myself, still believed/hoped he had 2 or 3 more years to play near his highest level, in the beginning of the year or last year. Kobe has been relying more and more on his jump shots, and sometimes on foul calls on defense. He’s lost his explosiveness and his ability to finish around the rim has been digressing. As a result, he’s getting less bailout calls too. The locker room rumor, whatever it may be, wasn’t the main cause of the loss, but rather the result of reduced ability to win at ease, aged players, and fading chemistry. It certainly didn’t help, with all the talks of getting Howard and sending any big man to Orlando, or Phil’s retirement etc etc before the playoffs.
Lakers were the 2-times defending champions, and they were complacent and arrogant. Lots of games in regular season, we saw them playing lazy, and then “turned it on” with sheer talents. It’s the playoffs, and it’s the semi-final. You are playing a deep team with formidable offensive players. If you are lazy and missing defensive assignments, you are going to be punished. And you know what, you can’t turn it on at will any more, and Kobe isn’t the same Kobe any more. Gasol’s fiancée dumping him isn’t going to help, but that’s like the last straw.
There is no question this Lakers team will be blown up in the offseason. It remains interesting what direction they are going. However, Lakers will still be a contender no matter how, and they are still going to be a great organization making fans around the league envy. But yesterday, was still a sad day of Lakers’ glorious history.