If there is one advantage the Lakers should have over every team in the league it’s supposed to be in the clutch. When you’ve got the best closer in the game and a battle tested roster you’re not supposed to be worried when it comes down to the wire.
Well, like most of the problems with this quest to three-peat, how the Lake Show has suddenly become a team that can’t finish is a mystery.
Forget about the tendency to be too laid back. That wasn’t the case in Game 1 against the Mavs. Tonight the Lakers played with a sense of urgency from the opening tip.
This wasn’t about a lack of effort.
Tonight’s gut-wrenching 96-94 loss was all about another maddening meltdown.
Of all the disturbing trends that have emerged in the late season swoon, the inability to close is the most troubling.
Kobe Bryant was unstoppable in the second half. Mamba was playing like this was Game 1 of the Finals. It was all there. The scowl. The wet jumper. The ‘you can’t guard me’ mentality. But when his team needed him most the king snake committed a costly turnover, tripped over his own feet and failed to hit a big shot late.
But this embarrassing loss isn’t all on KB24.
Phil Jackson shares a heavy burden for failing to put his team in a position to win.
Pau Gasol has no chance to check Dirk on the perimeter. Yet there he was chasing after a ball he could have never reached, committing a costly foul that sent the sharp shooting German to the line.
Why Phil allows his team to settle for jumpers when they have a large lead is another mystery.
Sometimes you just wish PJ would call a timeout just to chew out any man that takes a 25-foot jumper when his team has a double-digit lead.
One thing is very clear. These aren’t the same Mavs of old. This Dallas team has a much different mentality and that was very apparent tonight.
From Jason Terry’s idiotic foul 60-feet from the hoop to Dirk’s last second elbow, the first half couldn’t have ended any worse. And for good measure the second have couldn’t half began any better for the Lakers.
Dallas looked like they were going to get into the fetal position and take their stomping as the Laker lead swelled to 16.
But that’s when the guys in gold start standing around watching Kobe. And that’s when this game pretty much ended.
Dallas didn’t take the lead in the second half until there were 20 seconds left. That they played that hard until the very end says it all.
I’m not even going to mention that panic button. It’s still not time. But how Phil fixes the continued problematic execution down the stretch is the biggest challenge to date.
Kobe doesn’t practice anymore so forget about rehearsing late game situations. Pau was aggressive on the boards but is clearly bothered by Tyson Chandler in the post. Jason Kidd isn’t afraid of pressuring Kobe a good 40-feet from the basket.
These aren’t Avery Johnson’s Mavs. These Mavs don’t quit and don’t blame the refs. They dig deep and keep coming back for more. If the Lakers want to win this series then they’re going to have to make their big leads hold up. If this is how it’s going to go down the stretch then a close contest is the last thing the Lakers want.
How that became a reality is as frightening as it is mysterious.