A few seasons back, NBA writer Ross Siler, then of the Los Angeles Daily News, now in Utah covering the Jazz for the Salt Lake Tribune, described the experience of writing about the Lakers as "82 Super Bowls a year."Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant with one of his nine turnovers, part of L.A.'s 24 giveaway basketball fire sale Monday night in Oakland.
Plus playoffs, of course.
Every game, big or small, is generally treated like Game 7 of the Finals by the faithful. But in my nearly five seasons covering the team, I've taken some amount of pride in keeping a level head. In not freaking out, or losing perspective, remembering always on any given night in the NBA one team can beat another. Especially on the road.
Monday night in Oakland, the Lakers chose to test my calm demeanor in a serious way. Quite frankly, against an undermanned, undersized Golden State Warriors team, one with about 35 percent of the D-League on its roster, only an act of God- I'm talking a genuine, Lord Almighty-touching-the-Warriors-during-the-anthem act of God- should have allowed the game to be close. This is a Golden State team so small, the sign at the amusement park noting how tall you have to be to ride this ride could post up half their lineup.
This was one in which the Lakers should have handled business, right? Particularly now that they're prepping themselves for the playoff run, ready to end a season of inconsistencies and buckle down. Since they've learned lessons about focus?
Yet there we all were, watching Golden State inbound the ball with 8.6 seconds to play, down by three after Kobe Bryant split a pair of freebies at the other end. We watched Stephen Curry inbound the ball to Corey Maggette then cut hard to the top of the arc, as if to get a handoff from the former Clipper. Instead, Curry stopped his run and cut back above the three-point line along the right wing, losing Derek Fisher, who was trying to deny him the ball on the initial move- this was a very slickly drawn play, actually- and catching a nice bounce pass from Maggette.
Wide open, Curry rose for the tying three.
He had 29 points, and was nine-of-13 in the second half, with nine assists to boot. The kid was brilliant. The release on the last shot looked pure, the ball rotating tightly en route to the rim. It was dead on line... but an inch or two too long. Curry drew back iron.
The Lakers, probably figuring the shot would go in- I certainly did- were caught ball-watching as Monta Ellis charged the rim from the right corner, just in case. Perhaps the shortest guy on the court (he and Curry both list at 6'3", and I don't know who's actually taller), Ellis grabbed the offensive board, and streaked to the top of the key for one last heave. His wild shot hit the rim three times before bouncing harmlessly to the Oracle Arena floor.
The Lakers won, barely. Final score 124-121.
Give the Warriors credit: They fought hard, made big shots, and didn't concede the game even after the Lakers held a 12-point lead with 2:38 to play. Bad teams don't always stick it out. Had Ellis simply had a normal, run of the mill off night instead of a 5-23 debacle, the Warriors likely would have won.
But make no mistake, the Warriors were close at the end because the Lakers allowed them to be. They turned the ball over 24 times, leading to 29 points for Golden State (who didn't necessarily take great advantage, but had so many chances they couldn't help but score a few points off the giveaways). Kobe led the way with nine, and it could have been more had a few errant passes not found friendly hands. Andrew Bynum gave it up eight times, including four times in one brutal 1:14 stretch near the end of the second quarter.
As a team, the Lakers shot 56 percent from the floor and went to the line 42 times. They were dominant in the paint, finding easy looks for Bynum (19 points) and Pau Gasol (26 on 10-of-13 from the floor). Kobe owned Ellis in the post, taking him down and scoring seemingly at will. They out-rebounded Golden State 56-25, and got a big 17/12 off the bench from Lamar Odom. L.A. played some outstanding defense over the final eight minutes or so of the third quarter. They did some good things.
But this win will be noted, rightly, far more for what the Lakers didn't do, and how they once again were careless with what should have been an easy win, scrappy opponent notwithstanding. It wasn't simply a question of turnovers, but a sprinkling of unwise shots (including some from Kobe and Fish, and one from LO so egregious it prompted a timeout from Phil Jackson) serving as just the sort of fuel Golden State needs to spark their attack. The Lakers should know better. When they pushed the ball to the bucket, they almost always scored, and slowed down the Warriors in the process.
But what fun is the path of least resistance?
Yes, it's one game, but tonight the Lakers made it hard not to overreact.
At this point, is that even the right word for it?