Are the Lakers tough enough? Are the Lakers tough enough? Are the Lakers tough enough?
I heard that so much in the 48 hours leading up to Rockets-Lakers Game 2, I thought I was Bart Simpson writing it over and over again on the chalkboard there for a minute. Bill Plaschke. Inside the NBA. Pardon the Interruption. Four words and a question mark, repeated ad nauseum: are they tough enough?
No need to ask that question any more. If the Lakers don’t win it all this year, it will be because they were outplayed — not because they weren’t tough enough. This isn’t your 2007-08 Lakers.
Kobe Bryant came out and said “we aren’t losing tonight,” but Derek Fisher made a statement of his own: “nobody will question our toughness any longer.”
After a hot shooting start, Fisher leveled Luis Scola in what Plaschke labeled maybe “the single dumbest play in Fisher’s career.” If you ask me, the play could wind up being one of the smartest plays in Fisher’s career. If the Lakers go all the way and win a championship, Fisher’s decleeting (hey, it looked like an NFL crack block) will be remembered as the “we’re tough enough” moment. If Fish gets suspended for his Hulk Hogan crossbody block, so be it. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown might be better equipped to handle the Rockets’ young point guards.
Fisher wasn’t the only tough guy out there for the Lakers Wednesday night.
There was the Black Mamba, letting Shane Battier and the Rockets know that no amount of muscle would keep him from tying up the series. Then there was the Mamba battling in the box with Ron Artest for rebounding position. During that exchange he hit Artest with an inadvertent elbow. Artest freaked out and got ejected when he, not Bryant, was whistled for the foul. Artest then joked after the game that you don’t do that to Ron Artest. What’s a matter, Ron-Ron? Can’t the Tru Warier bang wiff wittle ol’ Kobe?
There was Pau Gasol, who came out as Kung Pau, not Passive Pau, and scored 13 first-quarter points.
There was Jordan Farmar outscrapping the league-leading-in-scrapiness Rockets on the ground for lose balls.
There was Lamar Odom trying to posterize the Great Wall of China.
There was Trevor Ariza, the one and only Venezuelan Vendetta, yanking down an offensive rebound and putting it back in with a strong follow-up attempt.
There was even Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic getting all up in Scola’s grill. Who cares if the Machine was just smack talking about how he has the prettier hair. He and the rest of the Lakers weren’t backing down. Not. One. Inch.
When the going got tough, Bryant wouldn’t let his Lakers back down from arguably the league’s toughest team. He simply broke the Rockets’ backs in what had to be one of the single most impressive 40-point performances I’ve ever seen. Considering the players who were guarding him and the constant double, triple, even quadruple teams, it was a masterpiece. Kobe’s self-assisted alley oop was the play of the playoffs so far if you ask me. And Eddie House thought he was “busting somebody’s ass.”
It was one of those nights you love to be a Kobe lover, and hate to be a Kobe hater. Bill Simmons probably threw the money he could have saved with Geico at his TV. Myself? I was up shadowboxing like Rubin Carter in his cell. Nobody gets me jacked like the Black Mamba when he’s hitting nothing but net with that “you can’t check me” face on. In the first quarter, he was so hot that if he were playing Operation there wouldn’t have been any buzzes. I don’t think his first six, seven shots hit any rim at all. Maybe one.
Speaking of Kobe haters, they love to talk smack. Kobe threw that elbow on purpose. Kobe didn’t have a sore throat. Kobe is in “Eagle, Colorado” mode. Kobe grossed me out kissing Vanessa in the tunnel after the game. Blah, blah, blah. Are these people on salary, because they sure do work hard? My Twitter feed was like the soap-in-the-socks scene from Full Metal Jacket, except KB24 was playing Gomer Pile. Didn’t matter. Like Leonard in FMJ, Kobe was the one who fired the last shot.
The Kobe haterism I hate the most is “his teammates don’t like him.” Really? Then why was D-Fish waiting in the hallway in his suit to give Kobe a pound after the game? People who say Kobe is a bad teammate and selfish player need to wake up. That Kobe died a long, long, long time ago.
Looking forward, the Lakers now have the momentum. Especially since I think Phil Jackson discovered a couple of things tonight. He discovered that Andrew Bynum, hopelessly outmatched by Yao Ming, might be worthless in this series. He learned that an aggressive Pau Gasol can get Yao in early foul trouble. He learned that a smallball bench line-up featuring Farmar at the point, Brown at the two and Vujacic at the small forward spot will force an uptempo game on the slow-it-down Rockets. Most of all, he learned that his team is tough enough to rebound from adversity and stand up for itself.
Good enough? That’s yet to be determined. Tough enough? The Lakers smacked that silly question in the back of its head like they were Rafer Alston.