There was never much hope. Just a fool's hope.
Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers face the Oklahoma City Thunder in game two of the Western Conference Semifinals in OKC. Based on results, many many results, you might be forgiven for thinking the Lakers have no chance of winning this contest. For evidence, you could look to Game One, in which the younger, faster Thunder made the Lakers look every bit as weary as you might expect them to be after a grueling first round series. The Lakers lost that game by 29 points, but even more troubling is that the Lakers were down 15 at the end of a first half that saw them play OK. The Thunder were just that unstoppable, going over under and through whatever token resistance the Lakers were able to put up. It was a demoralizing loss for anybody that had any morale left.
You could look at the results in the first round, too. Save for one magical stretch in the 4th quarter of Game 5 in the 1st round, Monday's contest marked the third time in four games that the Lakers have failed even to look competitive. Or the regular season, in which the Lakers consistently appeared second best, both against the team they are currently playing, and against all the other teams that are considered worthy of championship aspiration. There is plenty of evidence out there in the world, and just about all of it points to the same conclusion: The Los Angeles Lakers cannot defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a seven game series.
So that's it then. Game over, series over, season over, right? Well, not exactly. The Lakers, and their loving followers, do have hope.
There is a world in which the Los Angeles Lakers can compete with and get the best of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I've documented the specifics of this world enough that I don't need to repeat myself here, but the concepts are the same. This world involves energy, and passion, and size, and physicality, and wisdom, and discipline, and execution. In this world, Kobe Bryant is masterful, Andrew Bynum is the sum of his vast potential, Pau Gasol is the bully, and everyone else simply does their job. This world exists, and we have seen visions of it in the past.
Sadly, realistically, there is also reason to believe that this world will not coincide with our world, for reasons both in and out of the Lakers' control. The Lakers may not have the energy required to win this series because their stars have played big minutes all season long and have not had a break at any point in the playoffs. They may not have the wisdom because wisdom comes from the head coach, and it has not been made clear that the Lakers' head man has the knowledge (or ability to communicate that knowledge) required. The Lakers may not have the passion, because two of their three stars have various issues weighing on their minds and their play. The Lakers may not have the execution, because they may simply not be good enough to execute. And the Lakers may not have the discipline, because theirs is a team filled with folks who cannot list self control as a strength.
In order to win tonight's game, and to have a chance at winning this 2nd round playoff series, they will need Kobe to be able to punish a single defender on his own, and help his teammates punish more defenders. They will need Andrew Bynum to be an offensive force and not be taken advantage of on defense. They will need Pau Gasol to play like a warrior and not a professor. They will need Metta World Peace to limit Kevin Durant, and they will need Russell Westbrook to struggle with the open mid range shots that he can create any time he wants. But mostly, they will need those qualities: energy, passion, size, physicality, wisdom, discipline, and execution. If they are not capable of said qualities, than history has already been written and we are just running out the clock. Most of the evidence suggests just such a case.
But not all of the evidence. We've seen all the qualities needed for the Lakers to win this series at one time or another. We've even seen most of them at the same time. The marriage between capability and performance has never been a strength for this roster, but only because the capability is quite a bit to live up to.
There was never much hope the Lakers would choose right now, in this game and in this series, to put the pieces together to become excellent. The writing has been on the wall all season long, that the team simply wasn't up to the task. But there is hope, just a fool's hope, that tonight will be the first step in the Lakers putting together an epic run to culminate their long journey.
It's not much, but if you know what happens after the above quote, as fictional as it may be, you'll know that a fool's hope can be more than enough.