Back to L.A., Back to Themselves

nathan spicerContributor IJune 9, 2008

Contrary to popular opinion, game two was not an atrocious outcome for the Lakers.  The individual performances were dismal, but the outcome could result in a boon for the Lakers’ psyche. 

They played softly and tentatively, apparently questioning their belief in themselves.  Some may find it difficult to blame them when considering the massive free-throw disparity—38-10 Celtics.  Seemingly every call went Boston’s way, which allowed the crowd to maintain its enthusiasm and viciousness and depleted those same traits from everyone in L.A.

That is, until they sparked a momentous comeback from 24 down in the fourth that managed to put them within a mere two points.  A mere two points from defeating Boston in Boston, from forcing Boston into desperation in L.A., from showing the city “Beat L.A.” means nothing anymore.

But they didn’t.  And that failure could weigh heavily on the players’ minds.  However, that depends on how each individual handles it.

For Kobe Bryant, being down two games will not alter his unerring determination.  But for the rest of his supporting cast, many of whom have never reached the finals and have barely been in the playoffs, these two defeats could present a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The bench will value their time in sunny L.A. even more and develop a deep-seeded fear of the infinitely overcast Boston’s new garden.

That could mean one of two things: the Lakers’ bench recognizes how vital the next games are, and prepares thoroughly for them.  They could then play to their highest potential in front of a hometown that gives them nothing but support.

Or the Lakers could also recognize the significance of the next games and fold under the pressure.  The hometown’s expectations could be more of a hindrance than a boon.  Desperate to keep their status in L.A.’s huge spotlight, they will push themselves too hard and try to answer too many questions on their own.  They could step away from the team play that has gotten them this far.

That is what they hinge themselves upon, the team.  Bryant is spectacular, and normally has the potential to take out a pen and write his name on the floor because it belongs only to him.  But Boston’s suffocating defense has limited him to only 20 of 49 shooting in the first two games. 

He is able to get shots off—23 in game two, nearly doubling the output of the closest teammate, Gasol and Radmanovic with 12—but when his shots don’t fall, he needs to give in. His teammates, the major impetus of his turn-around both in on and off-the-court behavior, need to become those homing beacons they have been throughout the post season. 

Yet those signs of dependence that Bryant has relied upon have looked weary and wary.

That can change.  L.A. will embolden them.  Gasol played well in game two but didn’t appear too often, only taking 12 shots (though he hit eight of them).  If he and Odom, who only shot 5-11, can up their attempts by three or four, and have Kobe reduce his, their offense will go back to its more balanced approach—one the Celtics will have a more difficult time defending.

When you know exactly where the ball is going, naturally stopping becomes easier.  Boston knows the ball is headed directly for Kobe, especially when L.A. needs points quickly, so they prep for that.  Double teams are frequent, but even the single defenders are causing problems. 

If Kobe drops the win-without-Shaq attitude and in favor, adopts the win-with-my-teammates attitude, he will find more opportunities to score, as Gasol or Odom can’t be left alone in favor of stopping Kobe (if Kobe is spreading the ball).

Plus, his teammates’ confidence will only increase when the star player displays his belief in them, and their play will improve as a result.  Because they’re so much better in L.A., the Lakers’ bench doesn’t need to improve drastically, just shed the aversion to the abundance of green. 

Pretty soon they’ll see nothing but yellow, and if Kobe is just another yellow spot and not the entire Sun, they will feel comforted and relaxed, able to handle the pressure from their hometown and the rest of us.  They just need to think of how close they were to winning the last game and how much easier it will be back at home.