May 19, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) scores as Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) and small forward Kevin Durant (35) defend in the first half of game four in the Western Conference semi finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
For the third time in the first four games of their 2nd round playoff series, the Los Angeles Lakers have been in prime position to be victorious, with a sizable lead in the final minutes. For the third time in the first four games of their 2nd round playoff series, the Los Angeles Lakers have been defeated.
The Lakers lost Game 2 because the Thunder scored the final 9 points in a game in which the Lakers led seven. They lost tonight because the Thunder outscored the Lakers 25-9 over the final eight minutes. They lost both games because the offensive strategy in the waning moments of tight basketball games is one that no longer works. That model used to suffice. It used to lead the Lakers to more close wins than close losses. But this series is putting into sharp focus how flawed the Lakers end game has become.
I care not for blame. Does it matter whether the Lakers play this way in the final moments because Kobe Bryant demands the ball and nobody is willing to stand up to him? Does it matter whether few other Lakers seem willing to answer the call, inevitably leading to the ball coming back to Kobe's hands with little time left on the clock? When Kobe chucked bad shots, the Lakers failed. When Kobe passed the ball into the Lakers bigs, only to find it back in his hands later (or worse), the Lakers failed. Blaming Kobe, or anybody else specifically, might acknowledge the problem indirectly, but the problem is the model itself.
Kobe Bryant is an amazing player, but the time in which he can be relied on to carry a team to victory time and time again is at an end. The sooner Kobe learns that, the better off the Lakers will be. The sooner the other Lakers learn that, the better off the Lakers will be. But, barring a miraculous comeback in this playoff series, sooner will not come soon enough. The Lakers are a broken model, and they will almost certainly be discarded momentarily.