The Lakers Are Two Home Games Away from a Title

BOSTON - JUNE 13: (L-R) Kobe Bryant #24 and Ron Artest #37 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on against the Boston Celtics during Game Five of the 2010 NBA Finals on June 13, 2010 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics won 92-86. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

"Listen, if you told me at the beginning of the year that we've got two games at home to win a championship, yeah, I'll take that."

Those aren't my words. Those are the words of one Kobe Bean Bryant, four-time champion, surefire Hall-of-Famer, 12-time All-Star, one of the greatest players to ever set foot on the hardwood and damn sure one of the most competitive. Is Kobe being passive in saying this? Hell no. In fact, he's raising a good point. Ignore being on the brink of elimination for a second, and just think about this: we are two home games away from winning a championship. Ignore that if we lose even one game, we lose it all. If that happens, it happens, but thinking of it before that fact is just psychological strain. The Lakers have played 51 games at home this season across the regular season and playoffs. They've won 43 of them. That's a 0.843 winning mark. Think of this like a Kobe jump shot, for a second - the defender doesn't matter (in this case the opponent), it's just Kobe (the Lakers) and the basket (the end goal).

In fact, it's not even two home games. It's one. If the Lakers win Game Six (which I think they will, for reasons I will underline later in this piece), the Celtics are in the same boat. One game, upon which everything rests. Right now, it's not about winning two in a row. It's just winning that one game, in Game Six, and making the Celtics feel the pressure. Hell, it's not as if anything particularly unusual has happened. The Lakers have stolen one road game, and the Celtics have stolen one road game, thus home-court advantage is back to its initial position and essentially it's as if both teams just held serve. 2-3-2. So far, the 2-3 has occurred. Now, it's just the '-2'.

Sure, the Celtics are a great road team. But the Lakers are a great home team. These two wouldn't be playing off in the Finals if they weren't great. And forget the Celtics for a second, let's take a look at the Lakers. Which Lakers fan, who has followed this team all season, will say the Lakers have played to anywhere near their potential this series, on either the offensive or the defensive end?

Quite frankly, the Lakers' offense has been hideous. And the defense in the last two games has regressed to match. Is this the Lakers operating at their offensive or defensive peak? Hell no! The Lakers defensive peak looks something like this:

Remember that? That's when they held the Utah Jazz, one of the most efficient offenses in the league (certainly a far better offense than the Celtics, even with the C's increased level of play in the playoffs), to six points in the fourth quarter. Six. Freaking. Points. Compare that to the 36-point fourth the Lakers gave up in Game Four. See any similarities? Didn't think so.

And what's the Lakers' offensive potential? That's a bit harder to say, as the sum of team offensive input is yet to meet the total talent of all the composite parts. However, if you want to find the closest thing to it, you might want to look at Game One of the Western Conference Finals series, where the Lakers scored 128 points on 58% shooting (including 8-17 on threes and 18-22 on free throws). But even that seems under what this team's total potential is, considering its plethora of top-heavy offensive talent supplemented by bench players who have a propensity to occasionally light up. In that game, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest were widely ineffective, despite Ron being Los Angeles' third-leading scorer for the playoffs and Fish being one of the Lakers' keys; and Andrew Bynum was rendered near useless by his injury. That offense has been missing from this series, as well.

Two more home games

Now, obviously the Celtics are a far better defensive team than the Suns, and this series is being played at a slower pace, thus expecting the Lakers to drop 128 is rather ridiculous. But it's almost as likely as a well-functioning 2010 Laker squad only scoring 86 points in a game.

As for the defensive effort? There was a 30-point differential in points allowed between the game against the Utah Jazz and Game Four of this series. Now, the Lakers aren't going to hold the Boston Celtics, title contenders, to 24 points for a game - they'll be lucky to hold them to three times that amount; but that fateful December game against the Utah Jazz shows that the true Lakers are NOT a team that allows an offensively flawed Boston Celtics team to score 36 points on them in a fourth quarter.

What the Lakers need to do over the remainder of this season is NOT to worry about not being eliminated. It is NOT to stress about winning two games straight. All the Lakers need to do is to play to at least 90% of their potential, on the offensive and defensive end of the floor. Maybe the other 10% is currently impossible, due to injuries and exhaustion, but whatever number closest to one hundred that is humanly possible needs to be achieved. 

Two more home games

Now, to be fair, the Celtics  certainly haven't played to their potential this Finals series, either. Some players have gone off in individual games, but offensively as a whole the Celtics have been well below their potential all series. Their defense has been close to impeccable, if not '08 level, but their offense leaves much wanting. Maybe the Celtics play to their potential over the remainder of this series, simultaneously with the Lakers. That has the potential to be the greatest Finals finish ever. And maybe, when both teams play as close to their potential as logically possible, the Celtics still beat the Lakers. If that happens, there is no shame in losing. No regrets. If the Lakers play to their absolute peak, and still lose, I guarantee you that walking away from the series, you will not be disappointed in the Lakers' play from Game Six onwards, even if they did lose. In that case, it would be a true sense of 'there was nothing else the Lakers could do, the better team won', and the series finish will surely be replayed on ESPN Classic decades from now.

Two more home games

If the Lakers lose again in the manner they did in Game Five, there's plenty to be ashamed of (except Kobe). Game Five was despicable, as has been most of the rest of this series. As I said here, it's just been bad basketball. However, if the Lakers play to their potential, they certainly annihilate the Celtics if the Celtics play at the level they have been throughout this series. If the Celtics also play their best basketball, who knows, they may still win. And if they beat the Lakers, even when the Lakers play at their absolute best, there's nothing more to be said.

Personally, I doubt that happens. If the Lakers play to their utmost potential, no team in the league today can compete with them. The Lakers have a collection of talent that if fully healthy and properly synched, could take it to the Celtics of the '60s, or the '96 Bulls (conversely, if the Big Three + Rasheed of this Celtics team was even three years younger, they could rightfully join that list). Unfortunately, the Lakers have never fully synched. They aren't going to be fully healthy, there's nothing to be done about that now (hell, Kobe hurt his ankle again last game), but the Lakers still have an opportunity to sync.

Two more home games

As for Game Six, guys? Provided the Lakers bring any semblance of the defensive skill and effort they possessed for much of these playoffs and many parts of the season, and Kobe's supporting cast hits a few shots, I don't think there's any reason to worry about that game. Why? Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba. You all saw him in the third quarter of Game Five. 19 points on 7/9 shooting in a ridiculously low-paced game. At one point, he hit the first seven Laker shots of the quarter without a single miss. He scored 23 straight points for the Lakers, from the end of the second quarter to the end of the third. He scored these points on jump shots. Damned indefensible jumpshots. As I said before, when Kobe's shooting like that, the defender doesn't matter, it's just Kobe and the rim. At the other points of the game, he was trying to penetrate and break down the Boston defense, getting blocked, missing bad shots and turning the ball over in the process. He was trying to get his teammates going. Both avenues didn't work.

Kobe couldn't break the defense, couldn't get his teammates involved, no matter how much he tried. But, here's the thing with Kobe. It's something he does better than any player to ever play this game. He can score, and score efficiently, whilst doing exactly what the defense wants him to do. You can defend him absolutely perfectly, but it doesn't matter. If the ball needs to go in the basket, it's going in the basket. Just ask Alvin Gentry.

Last game, Kobe tried scoring to keep the Lakers in the game, but the Lakers' inability to get any stops whatsoever cost them. So in the fourth, Kobe went back to trying to get his teammates going. And to an extent, it worked. In conjunction with getting a few stops, the Lakers made some baskets up to the point where Ron Artest was sent to the line with a chance to make it a single-possession game (of course, he missed both freebies). If the Lakers as a whole are ready to play on both ends next game, that's what'll happen.

If not... Michael Jordan, you might have company. Kobe is one of the few players in history to have a determination to win, essentially an addiction, bordering on insane, that is comparable to Jordan's. And while Kobe may not have the superior athleticism, slight size advantage or far bigger hands that Jordan had and that make Jordan better than Kobe; he does have that determination. And he does have one (two?) clear advantages over Michael. His jumpshot, though streaky, is better than Mike's. And his ability to create a shot from the midrange out is unparalleled in the history of the league.

Now, Michael lost that game. But those Celtics were a far better team than Michael's Bulls of the time. Here, has any team been outplaying the other by a clear margin through the entirety of the series?

The Celtics of today are a good team. However, their closers, the Big Three (Rondo may be their best player, but he is not their closer), are old. And to win this Game Six, they will all need to step up in the face of Kobe's potential onslaught. Can they win three games in a row? Can they step up, after only one days' rest, on the road? 

Kobe will do whatever it takes to win Game Six, you can count on that. And me, I trust him.

I mean, look at what the guy can do:


Two more home games

In the end, while you may doubt the Lakers' mentality, their toughness, their mental fortitude, the one thing you cannot doubt is their talent. The talent that has the potential to win any given game, any given night. The talent that has the potential to dominate in the way few teams in NBA history ever could. All we fans can do is trust that talent.

The biggest danger is giving up, as Game Six in 2008. Kobe won't give up. Ron won't give up, though his idea of 'helping' may hurt us even more than if he gave up. Derek Fisher won't give up. But, the rest of the team, might they?

Two more home games

Hey, anybody notice how in TD Garden, they played the same songs in the arena for every single game in the pre-game? Same order, too. Anybody remember the song they played during Laker introductions?

'Till I Collapse' by Eminem (profanity warning).

Listen to it. Really, it's an apt song for the mentality these Lakers need to convey. It's got some choice lyrics.

Cause, sometimes you feel tired,
You feel weak, and when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up.
But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength,
And just pull that shit out of you, and get that motivation to not give up,
And not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face, and collapse.

That's the intro. Now, the chorus:

Till the roof comes off, till the lights go out
Till my legs give out, can’t shut my mouth.
Till the smoke clears out - am I high? Perhaps.
I'ma rip this shit till my bone collapse.
Till the roof comes off, till the lights go out
Till my legs give out, can’t shut my mouth.
Till the smoke clears out and my high burn out
I'ma rip this shit till my bone collapse.

Now, let's hear the outro, shall we?

Until the roof
The roof comes off
Until my legs
give out from underneath me
I will not fall,
I will stand tall,
Feels like no one could beat me.

This is actually one of my favourite songs, and I loved it that the Garden staff used it to introduce the Lakers, while using some mediocre cocky D-12 track ('You Don't Know') to introduce the Celtics. The lyrics of 'Till I Collapse' are pretty self-explanatory, and those three sections together perfectly fit with the Lakers right now. Hell, there are some more Eminem lyrics to the same effect. How about 'Lose Yourself'? Or 'Not Afraid'? In fact, when I buy the Lakers (any day now), I'm going to make it an executive order that their pregame playlist has to consist solely of Eminem joints.

But I digress. The song doesn't matter. What matters is the mentality the song conveys, the mentality the Lakers need to seize and adapt as their own.

You just gotta lose yourself, in the music; the moment, you want it, you gotta never let it go. You only got one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.

Two more home games

Hey, who's watched Coach Carter? It's a decent movie. There are two scenes from it that apply pretty aptly here. One is Cruse's speech when he returns to the team for the second time (the speech is quoted from a poem by Marianne Williamson).

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

That's my signature on this website, as many of the regulars reading this will have noticed. And with good reason. That quote has so much truth to it, it is indescribable. 'Know ye not that ye are gods!?' Same deal there, just more of a religious undercurrent. While it applies to humans in general, it also applies to these Lakers, particularly Kobe, who is sometimes reluctant to completely take over a game for concern of taking his teammates out of it and possibly concern of being crucified by the media. But Kobe needs to bear in mind that 'as we shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do so'. Do whatever it takes, Kobe. Don't worry about your teammates or the media. They've both let you down. If your teammates don't come out ready to play, do whatever it takes.

Two more home games

Also, isn't it apt? Are the Lakers truly worried that they are worse than the Celtics, or is it that they possess the talent to destroy them, but cannot unlock it, that worries them so? Lamar Odom. Is his greatest fear that he is simply not that good, or is he afraid of how good he can be, and of the great responsibility that comes with that great power?

And then the other part. I can't find a YouTube clip of it, but for those of you who have seen the movie the scene I am referring to is when the Oilers are down double-digits in the state tournament, and Coach Carter calls a timeout. What does he tell the team in that timeout? 'We're playing their ball! We're not playing Richmond Oiler ball! We push the ball, we run the ball, we press the ball! We need to make them play OUR game!' That goes for the Lakers, too.

Many on the team seem to be getting too caught up in trying to match the Celtics' 'toughness', instead of just playing Laker basketball. The Celtics' 'toughness' is a strategy devised by Tom Thibodeau where the Celtics foul on essentially every play, but have been trained to do so in a way that is unlikely to be called. The Lakers haven't done this training, nobody has asides from Boston. Hence, when the Lakers try defending like the Celtics do, they get called for touch fouls out on the perimeter. That's why Ray Allen and Derek Fisher can be consistently shoving each other through the game, and Fish gets called for multiple off-ball personals while Allen doesn't get called for one off-ball offensive foul.

And then there's the issue of pace. The Lakers have been walking the ball up the court, slowing the pace as much as possible to avoid Rondo getting out in transition on the other end. They've been trying to play slow-down, grind-it-out, physical games. And the Lakers are talented and versatile enough to pull if off. But it's not their core nature. Asidefrom Ron Artest (and probably DJ Mbenga), no player on the Lakers' roster is truly 100% comfortable in that type of game. It's just not Laker basketball. Mix it up a bit, bring back a bit of the 'finesse' Laker flair.

The slow-down has had many negative consequences. As mentioned all over the place, the Lakers' walking the ball up so slowly has led to them only having 14 seconds a possession to run their offense, and the Celtics defense is not one that can be cracked in 14 seconds on a consistent basis, certainly not by an offense as complex as the Triangle. This is resulting in a lot of end-of-shot-clock possessions ending in absolutely terrible shots or Kobe bailouts. For God's sake, bring the ball up a bit faster, have some more time to run the offense.

And don't be afraid to push the ball, either. Sure, Rondo is deadly in transition. Sure, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Nate Robinson and Rasheed Wallace can spot up for threes, and Kevin Garnett and Tony Allen can finish. But the Celtics' core is old. Older than the Lakers'. Attempting to tire them out is worth a shot.

Just play Lakers basketball.

Two more home games

IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ THIS SECTION, EVEN IF YOU SKIM THROUGH THE REST:

I've been a Laker fan for years. Kobe brought me here, not because of his play, but because he was hated. I've been a member of this site since early January, and a writer since early February. I don't do it for any personal gain, I just do it out of my passion for the team, a passion I know all of you share. And thus, I have one request to make of you all, particularly the regulars, that I know many of you will be more than willing to acquiesce to: spread this following message. Facebook, Twitter, email, word-of-mouth. Spread it through the whole city of Los Angeles. Doesn't matter if you send people this article, or if you just relay to them this following passage. 

Staples Center need to ignite. The place needs to friggin' go off.

We all saw TD Garden. We all saw US Airways Center before that. We all saw EnergySolutions before that. We all saw the Ford Center. Oh God, we saw the Ford Center. Every single one of them embarrassed the Staples Center crowd. For those of you lucky enough to have tickets, I hope you'll do your part in making the place go crazy. (Including you, C.A. I expect you to have the media section rioting.) If you know people who have tickets, make it known to them you'll never talk to them again unless they're so loud you hear them from your TV at home. 

Even if you can't directly contact someone who's going, just spread the word of mouth. I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of Laker fans having this label as arrogant bandwagoners who don't care about their team. And I'm sick of the perception it's always been this way. Remember the memorable Kobe-Shaq alley-oop? Remember the crowd's reaction? It's below.

Where's that crowd gone? A lot of the people in the crowd are the same. They've just forgotten. Forgotten how it is to be a true fan. They need to be reminded. Obviously, everything starts from the upper and mid-lower levels. So get the word on the streets, over the interwebz, on the phone lines, everywhere: 'If you've purchased a ticket to the game, paying currency for the ticket is not enough, you have to earn it. If you have any voice left after the game, you're a disappointment'. 

As for the courtside and close lower level fans? Well, if you've got the Facebook or Twitter of a celeb going to the game, spam their official page requesting, nay, demanding, that they represent Laker fans with pride. Other than that, if everyone else in the crowd are going beserk, the scene fans will be embarrassed into action and have to cheer themselves. They wouldn't want to seem as if they're outsiders, after all.

Get the word out. I want every single one of the 19,079 attendees of the game to be off their heads.

Scare these Boston Celtics f--kers back to where they came from.

Oh, and what was that Paul Pierce said about Laker fans 'not being as intelligent as Celtic fans'? Oh, yeah, because Laker fans don't chant 'MVP' for Kobe as much as the Boston fans at the Garden did in 2007? Yeah, I suppose he's got a bit of a point there in that his own supposed 'fans' cheered more for Kobe than they did for Pierce - hell, they cheered more for Kobe than the Lakers' own fans did back then.

It's ironic that Paul grew up in Inglewood, CA, as a Lakers fan. Such a faker, such a poser. Everybody in Staples Center tomorrow who's reppin' Inglewood better let Pierce hear it, that he ain't no son of LA.

Spread the word, Silver Screen and Rollers. Lakers fans in Staples are expected to be tearin' this place up. It's all the marbles, now. Two more home games. Everybody who has anything to do with the Lakers, from fans, to players, to coaches, to athletic trainers, to journalists, to bloggers, to radio and TV guys, to ball boys. Everybody who supports this organisation has to give it their all until this series is over. Leave nothing in the tank. That includes losing your voice cheering at Staples Center, folks.

Two more home games

I'll finish with one more speech that reflects upon the Laker scenario perfectly (once again, profanity warning).

Oh, and everybody? Don't forget, the Lakers are the defending champions, and until another team is lifting the Larry O'Brien, that remains the same.

Two more home games

At the risk of sounding like Phil, this could be the last time I'm writing a post here for the '09-10 season. This BETTER not be the last time I'm writing a post here for the '09-10 season.

Two more home games.

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