It’s been about a good three days since the Los Angeles Lakers’ epic win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples. The defeat of the once-invulnerable Thunder was typical of the Lakers’ culture over the past few years: Optimism, then despair, then hope and, finally, euphoria. Personally, I’ve yet to overcome the elation I felt on Sunday afternoon; I write this at 8:30 p.m. on the following Wednesday.
Over the course of three hours on Sunday, I managed to see all narratives that dominated the Lakers’ up-and-down, 66-game regular season.
Let’s summarize all the storylines that have ever been associated with Los Angeles:
- Andrew Bynum completely checked out on defense;
- Mike Brown consistently put on the floor a group of players that looked like it belonged with
the ClippersL.A. D-Fenders;
- Kobe Bryant shot. A lot;
- The defense, in general, was useless;
- Andrew Bynum has some serious talent;
- Kobe is still a huge troll and will miss every shot ever known to man except when the makes/misses become magnified;
- Our bench is awful;
- Our bench is “coming together”
- The Clippers are the more exciting team because they “dunk a couple times” (thanks, Andrew Bynum);
- The Lakers are still big brother in L.A.
- Seriously, what’s wrong with the Lakers?
- Mike Brown is a really terrible coach;
- Mike Brown is a genius
All those storylines — situation be damned — were probably being talked about by the talking heads on T.V. (if not on the four-letter network, then elsewhere) during the Lakers’ miraculous win over OKC.
And, if we’re being honest, nearly all of those ran through my head, too. Because, as L.A. is wont to do over the past month or so, the team stayed competitive in the first half and fell apart as soon as the third quarter commenced.
And then they did something different: They didn’t give up and rallied from a huge deficit against arguably the best team in the NBA.
They’ve beaten the Heat, though, you think to yourself. And they’ve beaten the Clippers and the Spurs. Why is this win any different?
It’s different for a lot of reasons. It’s different because this team didn’t play 48 minutes of good basketball, as they had to do with the Heat, the Spurs or our little sisters across town. It’s different because they were faced with a huge deficit midway through the fourth quarter against a team that had all the rest it needed to beat what is supposed to be a middling (by L.A. standards) Laker team. It was different because Andrew Bynum didn’t assert himself (and you can argue that the Lakers just don’t win at all against half-decent teams unless Bynum is dominant). And it was different because it was done in a way that we hadn’t seen, not just all season, but in the past four years: By riding the hot hands.
An explanation of that last point: During the Phil Jackson era, we’re sure there were a ton of frustrated Laker fans who hated when PJ put in his reserves during what looked like a blowout loss, only to have his reserves tighten the deficit and bring in his starters as soon as the game seemed at least marginally winnable.
Mike Brown deviated from Phil (much to the delight of Jimmy Buss, we’re sure); down 17, he put in the rarely-used Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks along with Steve Blake, a player who nearly all Laker fans have wanted to choke out at some point in the season. When that team of unlikely heroes (led by Steve Blake’s 3-point barrage) cut the lead to single digits, Andrew Bynum was still on the bench, as was Ramon Sessions. When the lead was down to three, Hill and Ebanks were still on the floor. When the game went into double overtime, Brown kept in Hill, Blake and Ebanks, and the Twitter explosion that would normally chastise Brown for silly rotations was hailing Brown a genius.
A new concept out here in LA: Trust the hot hands, no matter if they belong to young journeyman who seemingly have no business in any rotation.
(Granted, we’ve wanted Hill on the floor for the longest time in place of Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy, but no one reads Laker blogs these days, so you know…)
And of course, that was an incredibly small factor in the Lakers’ upset over the Thunder. Include the reserves’ resolve (say that ten times fast) and Kobe’s Kobe-ness with Mike Brown’s trust in his bench players in the reasons we beat OKC (aside from incredible perimeter defense on Russell Westbrook — my favorite Bruin — and Kevin Durant, and all that other technical, basketball-y stuff).
It seems very cliche and very stupid to base a team’s success in the playoffs on one game, especially for a team that has one of the richest histories in professional sports.
And the objective Laker fan in me says, “There’s no way this team beats San Antonio in a seven-game series; they move the ball ten times faster than we can rotate. And there’s no way we can keep up with the Thunder; they’re too long, too fast, and far too disciplined.” But the optimistic Laker fan in me — the one blindsided by miraculous wins, and the one writing this post right now — doesn’t think this team will be just a “tough out” come this weekend.
This team’s intangibles, based off of one game, has convinced me L.A. could still be the last team standing.
Hi, my name is Carlos, and I bleed purple and gold.