On June 7, 2009, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Orlando Magic 101-96 in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, which gave them a 2-0 lead in the series. Following the game, Kobe Bryant took the podium for his media availability, and during his press conference, someone in the pool of reporters asked him why he looked so serious.
“We’re waiting for a big smile out of you,” the reporter said. “You’re up 2-0. What’s the story? Are you not happy? You’re only half happy?
“What’s there to be happy about?” Bryant responded “Job’s not finished. Job finished? I don’t think so.”
Bryant was right. As good of a position as the Lakers were in, Bryant knew how quickly a serious a could change. Just three years prior, his team blew a 3-1 lead to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the NBA playoffs. They had every reason to be happy until they didn’t.
The Lakers find themselves in a similar position today.
On Tuesday night, the LA Clippers were knocked out of the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets. Generally speaking, the Clippers were viewed as the biggest threat to the Lakers’ title chances, and their matchups in the regular season suggested the game. Meanwhile, the Nuggets lost their regular season series against the Lakers 3-1, with their only win coming on a night where LeBron James was inactive.
Naturally, Lakers fans took victory laps last night — many of which were taken around Clippers fans, and rightfully so. All season long, we’ve heard how deep the Clippers are compared to the Lakers and how versatile their defense was going to be when the postseason rolled around. I guess we’ll never know.
Now, it’s the Lakers who are the favorites going into the Western Conference Finals, and some would argue they’re the favorites to win it all with both the Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks out of the equation. But the job isn’t finished.
The Nuggets fought for their place in the Western Conference Finals this season, becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit more than once in the postseason. Their young core has also taken a meaningful leap in Orlando. When you’re as talented as they are and play with as much heart as they do, anything is possible.
The Lakers are just as talented as the Nuggets — if not more talented — and they have a handful players on their roster that know what it takes to win at the highest level. Chief among them is LeBron James, the winningest player in NBA playoffs history.
It’s okay to feel confident. It’s okay to get your jokes. Just remember: the job’s not finished.