After the Los Angeles Lakers let Game 4 slip away to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the final minutes, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith proclaimed on SportsCenter that there will be no Game 6 in Los Angeles and OKC would finish this series off Monday on their home court.
For any Lakers fan who watched the 13-point lead in the second half evaporate in Saturday's 103-100 Game 4 meltdown, it's hard not to think this way.
Outmatched in nearly every single category to start the series, the Lakers entered the second round as the clear underdogs. No honest analyst was prepared to advance the Lakers as Oklahoma City is simply the better team on paper.
Game 1 resoundingly proved this when Oklahoma City clobbered the Lakers in a convincing 29-point win and dominated a tired Lakers team in all facets of the game.
The level of play became more competitive in Game 2, and the underdog Lakers managed to hang with the Thunder and even build a sizable lead on the road. But only for three quarters.
Game 3 featured some gutsy performances from Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, and Game 4 was simply gutting.
Whether fatigue, the back-to-back scheduling by the NBA for Games 3 and 4, Pau Gasol's aggressiveness, Oklahoma City fronting the Lakers' big men on the block or Kobe Bryant's isolation offense is to blame is really not important.
Pointing fingers is not where the Lakers locker room should be spending their time. There could be an entire offseason just around the corner where every mistake, roster position and passed-up Gasol shot can be dissected and analyzed ad nauseum.
Instead, the Lakers must face the facts.
They are in a 3-1 hole in a series that could easily have been 3-1 in their favor.
With the entire world counting out the Lakers, it reminds me of Kobe Bryant's postgame press conference in the 2011 playoffs versus the Dallas Mavericks in which the Lakers went down 0-3 in similar fashion (blowing leads, finger pointing).
What was the Mamba's mindset going into Game 4 versus the Mavs? (per Jaime Aron of the AP)
"I think we're still going to win this series."
Win they certainly did not, as the Dallas Mavericks routed the Lakers in the final game on their way to a second round sweep and an eventual NBA Championship, but is the mindset the same this time around for Kobe and the Lakers?
It has to be if the Lakers are going to do what no team has done since 2006 when the Phoenix Suns stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series (Phoenix won the series against this very Lakers team).
Lakers head coach Mike Brown has one day to get his team to stop pointing fingers and start believing before Monday's must-win Game 5 on the road.
Rest is critical, but containing the mental implosion arising from their fourth-quarter failures and passing the blame has to be priority number one.
If this Lakers' team truly is a family—a pillar Mike Brown said he would instill from day one on the job—and can play inspired basketball with their backs against the wall, there is still hope of pulling off the upset against the Thunder.
It's not going to be easy, and no one said it would be, but thinking otherwise is already accepting defeat.
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