When dynasties fall, it isn’t pretty. Frankly speaking, they “die nasty.”
With their backs against the wall facing a four-game sweep, the Los Angeles Lakers were expected to come out and fight and keep perhaps the greatest coach in professional sports history from going out in an embarrassing manner.
But instead of fighting to stay alive, L.A. resorted to “bush league” tactics meant to hurt the other team’s players. The Lakers not only lost Game 4 by the ridiculous margin of 122-86, they lost in the most classless way possible. Phil Jackson deserved better.
“The Lakers embarrassed the organization by getting blown out by the Dallas Mavericks,” said Magic Johnson. “Classless acts on physical and hard fouls by Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, that should never happen.”
Sure, the Mavericks were embarrassing the Lakers with their barrage of three-point shots—Jason Terry tied the postseason record connecting on 9-10 from behind the arc—and unrelenting bench play, but there was no reason for Lamar Odom to cheap shot Dirk Nowitzki or Andrew Bynum to elbow chop JJ Barea in mid-air to the ground.
“I wasn’t happy with the way our players exited the game on Lamar and Andrew’s part, it was unnecessary, but I know they were frustrated and Barea was one of the guys that really frustrated us today,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
Both Odom and Bynum were ejected and will certainly face retribution by the league in the form of fines and suspensions, but the real damage was to Jackson’s legacy and the Lakers organization. Simply put, champions win with class and they lose with class.
“You don’t want to see that happen,” said Kobe Bryant. “You definitely don’t want to see that happen. You don’t want any of their players getting hurt. They played better than we did, so, to make the game ugly like that where players could potentially get hurt, you don’t want to see that happen ever. It’s not something that you want to see happen in the game of basketball, ever.”
Of course, it was par for the course for a team facing a sweep in its quest for a three-peat, to well up with frustration in a must-win game that got out of hand early in the first half when Dallas raced off to a 63-39 advantage at the half.
The Mavs’ spacing on the floor was too much for L.A. to handle. On each of Terry’s and Peja Stojakovic’s combined 15-16 from deep, there wasn’t a player in purple in gold closing out on the shooter. Not one hand in either face. They were all wide-open looks. Let’s face it: you don’t leave “lights-out” shooters like Jet and Stojakovic open. You just don’t.
But the Lakers did. And they were roasted like chicken for it. Terry led all scorers with 32 points on 11-14 shooting, while Stojakovic added 22 points on a perfect 6-6 from three-point land and Barea chipped in 21 points in his usual “Mighty Mouse” fashion.
All told, Dallas’ 86 points off the bench matched the Lakers’ total points for the entire game. There’s no way you can win a game in the NBA when that happens.
Perhaps the best imagery to sum up this game, and perhaps the Lakers’ entire second round in the postseason is this: Ron Artest, streaking down the court for a fast break layup that could have swung the momentum in L.A.’s favor and gotten them to within 17, was denied by a humbling combination of gravity and the rim.
It was a bloodbath from that point on. The Mavs went on yet another run and didn’t just sweep the Lakers, they buried them.
Now as Dallas waits for the winner of the OKC/Grizzlies series to begin the Western Conference Finals, L.A. must enter a summer filled with questions, unknowns and “what went wrongs?” Rumors continue to build steam about Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, causing a rift between Bryant and Gasol, and those rumors may be substantiated in the coming days.
“I have to learn from this,” Pau Gasol said in the L.A. Times. “I have to learn that when something happens off the court, you have to keep it off the court.”
But what we do know as Phil Jackson rides off in the sunset to Montana, presumably not smoking peyote, is that the Lakers must retool, refocus and somehow get younger and faster.
Take a bow, Dallas, you showed us all how to play like a team…with class.
“We’re here and we’re locked in,” said Terry. “Guys are buying in. But it’s more to come.” —Maurice Bobb (@ReeseReport)
Give credit to the Atlanta Hawks. In a game that was back-and-forth and was close all night, the Hawks closed the Bulls out with a very impressive 16-4 run to pull the series even at two games apiece. It was the type of performance that shows just how dangerous Atlanta can be when they’re focused and locked in.
Josh Smith followed up a great Game 3 with an even more impressive Game 4 in which he tallied 23 points, 16 rebounds and 8 assists, his first such stat line in his career. He seemed determined to do whatever it took to make sure his team didn’t fall even further behind in the series and his teammates were happy to meet his level of intensity.
After being virtually invisible in the the fist three games, Al Horford decided to finally show up. Even though his rebound total was much lower than it has been, Big Al dropped 20 points in the game which was much higher than his scoring has been. Atlanta also got a solid, yet quiet contribution from Joe Johnson with 24 points and Jeff Teague didn’t have the same kind of stellar game that he’s had in the first three games, but all of his scores seemed to come at the right time and they made a huge impact in the game.
For Chicago, Derrick Rose fell beck into mere mortal status after an otherworldly Game 3 performance where he dropped a Playoff career-high, 44 points. Credit the defense of the Hawks, especially at the end of the game for slowing Rose down as he appeared to be gearing up for the kind of late-game takeover that we all know he’s capable of. His 34 points on 32 shots, however, caused the “efficiency snobs” and the “Derrick Rose is selfish” crew to come out of the woodwork last night, but for those who have been watching this team all season, they know that there’s no need to panic after a game like this, and they know that nobody can be harder on DRose after a bad game than he is on himself.
On a more positive note, Bulls fans have to thrilled at what appears to be the reemergence of Carlos Boozer. He’s been bothered by turf toe of late, but even prior to that injury he hadn’t played well in the Playoffs at all thus far. His 18 points and his energy on the offensive end of the ball was a welcome sight for fans who have become increasingly tired and frustrated with his level of play.
Atlanta won Game 4 by outplaying Chicago when it mattered most, the last five minutes of the game. There is a contingent of fans who may like to pass the blame off on the referees for blown calls and swallowed whistles (specifically Bennett Salvatore), but the refs didn’t lose the game for the Bulls, the Hawks just beat them. The series shifts back to the United Center on Tuesday night and Chicago will look to try and put some more distance between themselves and the Atlanta. —Bryan Crawford (@_bryancrawford)