I don't want to talk about Kobe Bryant's ridiculous, miraculous, and incredible game winning bank shot, mainly because words can't do it justice. Words can't explain it. Words probably cheapen it. You've either seen it, or you haven't. And if you haven't, you shouldn't be reading words right now any way. Check it out right now. The words will be here when you get back.
It's what led up to that shot I want to talk about. What made that shot necessary. Because, in theory, such events shouldn't have been required to pull out a victory in what appeared to be, at least on paper, a highly favorable scenario for a Lakers victory. After all, the Lakers were on a 7 game win streak, with each of those wins coming by double digits. Over the streak, they were winning by an average margin of 17 ppg. Miami is a decent team, but had only won 3 of their last 9 games. Miami played the night before, in Denver (and as Laker fans know, a back to back involving that journey is particularly arduous), and Denver smacked them around. All signs pointed to another relatively comfortable Lakers victory.
So, once the elation and hysteria of witnessing what will almost certainly be a top 5 moment in the NBA this season have passed, we're left with a question: Was this a "good" victory for the Lakers? Or was it "disappointing", in the sense that such heroics should never have been necessary?
This was not a good victory. This was a GREAT victory. The Lakers stole this game last night, but they didn't steal it from the Heat. They stole it from the gods. The hands of destiny decided the Lakers should lose, and Kobe Bryant decided to make his own destiny.
All talk of deities and "forces beyond our control" aside, the Lakers were supposed to lose last night's game. Not because the Heat deserved it and the Lakers didn't. To steal a quote from last night's post-game (previously stolen from the great movie Unforgiven) "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." You might read that quote and think it's true because the Lakers won a game they didn't deserve to win, so "deserve" doesn't matter. What I'm trying to say is that the Lakers didn't do anything worthy of "deserving" to lose, and the Heat didn't do anything "deserving" to win. The term implies justice and fairness were at stake. And I don't think fairness had anything to do with what happened last night.
NBA players are not robots, they are human beings. And because they are human, they are subject to inconsistency, both in effort and performance. I certainly can't make the claim that I'm at peek effectiveness whenever I'm at work. I can't make that claim when I'm having fun, playing video games or sports or whatever. We have ups and downs. Its the fatal flaw of humanity, what results when the brain decides to delve past pure instinct and get into the realm of emotion and thought.
And since NBA players are inconsistent human beings, they will have good and bad games. It's not determined by anything so mundane as a coin flip, but there is an inherent percentage chance that an individual player will play well, or poorly, or somewhere in between, in any given game. It normally balances out to establish a consistency of play across an entire team on any given night. This is why the Lakers or Celtics routinely play well enough to win, and the Nets and Grizzlies routinely play well enough to get destroyed.
But every once in while, you get an outlier. A game in which, for whatever reason, most of the team is playing above or below their average performance. Even rarer, you get an outlier for both teams, a game in which one team is playing well above their average performance, and one team is playing well below. When that happens, the result is easy to figure, no matter the opponents. This is what I speak of when I say the sports gods intended the Lakers to lose. It's not really an act of the divine, its a combination of circumstances. But the feeling, and the result, are the same.
And last night definitely had some outlier characteristics to it. The Heat shot the ball well from the outside. Not crazy good, but good. 7-13 from behind the arc, and they were also 9-17 in long two point shots. These were shots that the Lakers wanted Miami to take, and the Heat obliged. Really, the only Heat player who played poorly by his own standards was Dwyane Wade.
The Lakers, by comparison, shot the ball horribly. 5-17 from long range (and keep in mind that includes the last two, so L.A. was 3-15 before that) and a lot of them were wide open shots. Ron Artest in particular had perhaps his worst game as a Laker, with 9 points on 17 shots, and he was missing a lot of wide open threes, shots he definitely has been hitting with success this season. Bynum and Gasol didn't play poorly by any stretch of the imagination, but I think both would say they could do better, combining to shoot 50% when they both average closer to 60%. And two of the three bench players put up terrible games. Shannon Brown provided nothing last night, and Odom managed to get himself kicked out of a game at a time in which Gasol was still groggy from having been poked in the eye ... by Odom. Not Lamar's finest hour. The only Lakers who played a good game (once again, by their standards) were Kobe and Jordan Farmar.
Don't get me wrong, there were issues with the way the Lakers played. Their pick and roll defense in the 4th quarter was like watching a horror movie(perhaps because their most athletic big defender was thrown out of the game). There were some really bad decisions on the offensive execution. But, for a good chunk of the game at least, the effort was there. The Heat killed the Lakers on the offensive glass, which shouldn't happen. But the Lakers did the same to the Heat. The best sign of an unfocused team is turnovers, and the Lakers only turned it over on 9% of their possessions. This is why I don't think fairness played a role last night. The Lakers did not play without effort. Their effort simply wasn't very effective.
And it happens to everyone. At some point, every team will collectively have a game in which their individual performances all aren't up to snuff. Games like tonight are what makes 72-10 so spectacular. Games like tonight put a 33 game win streak in perspective. These games happen to every team, no matter how good they are. It's why New York decimated Phoenix a couple nights back, why Denver can lose to Minnesota at home. It's why the Nets were able to finally win a game.
Which brings me back to my point. This is a GREAT victory for the Lakers. To be able to win games that you have no business winning is the sign of a champion. Sure, tonight they got a victory because of a play so lucky, not even the superstar player who made the shot could deny it. But they were still in position. They fought through their struggles. They kept pushing, on a night when they didn't really have "it". They didn't give up. Down 4 with 9 seconds left to play, they still believed in their ability to win the game.
They got dealt a hand full of outliers, all pointing towards a loss, but instead of folding, they bluffed their way to a runner-runner Flush. Off glass.
[Author's Note: I take it all back. There clearly were gods involved in last night's game. You might think there's no way in hell anything could possibly top last night's shot by Kobe Bryant, but I think I've found something that does. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the greatest box score in the history of basketball.
|Sasha Vujacic, SG||0||0-0||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||6||0|
Zero minutes. Zero Shots. Zero statistics of any kind. +6. I'm not sure how you can look at something like that and think to yourself that anything other than God could have created something so awesome.]