So, the Finals are 2-1 now, with the pivotal Game 4 on Thursday night in L.A.
Wondering what the Big Two of the Big Three is thinking before Game 4?
Is Kobe Bryant so committed and sure about success that Game 3 was just the beginning of his ascendancy?
Will a Game 4 defeat, and a series tie, put Doc Rivers in critical mental pressure? Will experience (Phil Jackson) prevail over inexperience (Rivers)?
Will KG and Pierce, and Gasol and Lamar respond like Kobe and Allen?
But then again, we kind of expected this, didn't we? That Boston would take the first two at home, then LA would sweep three in their home court, Boston would take Game 6, and the all-important Game 7 at L.A. would go to the hosts.
For Boston to spring a surprise, they have to take one of the next two in L.A. If they can't, they shouldn't even bother coming back for Game 7 in L.A. No way.
For L.A. to take this championship, they need to sweep Games 4 and 5, and play for their lives for Game 6 at Beantown. Call me biased, or just plain positive, but if it's 3-2 for L.A. before Game 6, I wouldn't doubt L.A. on taking the title in Beantown itself.
L.A. has done far better on the road this playoffs than Boston has. And whether you want to hear it not, L.A. has Kobe. And we all know how he has thrived under pressure this season.
It's scary...trust me, it is.
Hold on, you might say...L.A. taking a game at the Garden? or even Boston taking one of 4 or 5? Nothing's impossible...but at the Staples Center, at Bryant's home court, this will take serious doing.
Serious series-changing events are supposed to be what the NBA Finals are about. This isn't the first round, or the Conference Finals...this is the NBA Finals...the best of the West against the best of the East...man, it's got to rise above this.
And there's the officiating...there's credible reason for those horse whisperers to stay afloat. Much of the officiating has been incorrigible and downright incomprehensible...probably, in light of the latest Donaghy scandal, the less said about the officiating, the better.
But then again, the playoffs are not your routine early playoff matches, are they?
Whoever thought the Spurs would bow out in five to this young, inexperienced L.A. team? or that Boston would struggle against the minnows Hawks and the Cavaliers all the way? or that a one-man inspired Hornets could come almost all the way and threaten, even dare to eliminate, the experienced Spurs.
Perhaps it's fitting that we now have the two best teams left.
Emotion and sentiment says that Bryant will just push himself, and his teammates, exhort them because, frankly....if he can't win this time, after all this season has turned out to be, I don't expect him to do better in the future. This is his time...should be.
What then for KG? Can he forgive his inexcusable Game 3 and pull himself up? It's funny...when a superstar has a bad game, everyone and everything goes haywire.
It's not the end of the world, or even a series, and already, we're proclaiming doomsday. Give the guy a break...and give him some respect...he'll step up, because he's KG, because it could also be his time now.
Ever thought about that?
But I expect more from Paul Pierce this Finals. No disrespect to KG, but Paul has been the marquee player besides KG for this Celtics.
He has thrived and succeeded, while still deferring to KG in the loyalty and popularity stakes. Paul has been the man, the leader. Ray Allen? Jesus Shuttleworth was no fluke before, he's no fluke now.
But sometime in these crucial matches, someone will crack up. Some superstar, from whom we expected much, will buckle under the gagging pressure, someone will let up, and titans will rise and fall. It is but inevitable.
And could we please, please put a stop to all these "Is Kobe better/greater than MJ?" whispers and broadcasts. Can Mr. Mark Jackson wake himself up from his MJ-hateful spite and memory and call it what it truly is, what every second person knows: Kobe's no MJ; he will never be.
He will just have to be KB forever, because that is what his legacy should be. Not as a Jordanesque legend, but as Kobe Bryant, the best after Jordan.
And seriously, is there even any competition or doubt on that? Kobe against Jordan? Seriously? Why? Because Kobe had all those monster scoring games, those freak streaks?
Get some perspective, basketball is not just about freakish monster scoring or defending nights, it's about dedication to the craft, to the skills, to the team spirit and morale, to the team cause, to longevity, to endless perfection, to mental durability, to setting it clear that you will never give up, that you will not whine and moan about bad calls, about hostile environments.
Think Jordan would ever succumb in a big stage? Did he ever?
Granted, a lot of other things also do need to come about for success, but no one ever said that winning championships, and being champions, was easy.
Kobe has had, at best, a season or two of such team success. Compare Jordan with that, and the reality that none of Jordan's six championship teams ever started 0-2 in the Finals. Or the fact that he never lost in the Finals.
Jordan was never held to below 40 percent shooting in a Finals series. That Jordan literally carried his team even when Scottie Pippen and the supporting cast had a doubt or two about themselves...night in and out, healthy or sick, at ages 33, 34, and 35. How's that for mental durability?
Kobe is far, far better than his contemporaries...let's just leave it at that. Compare him with his competition, not his predecessors. Like Kobe himself said the other day, "MJ...he's the monk sitting on top of the mountain."
Ask Kobe to win this championship, against this wonderful Boston team, and ask him to win a couple more...ask him to take a Defensive Player of the Year Award or two, or more MVP awards, and First-Team and All-Star selections, or overall team success and impact. Then we will start taking names for all-time's sake.
Ask him to excel, and carry his team, on the road...ask him for all-court, all-time dominance and intimidation...then, we'll pitch his case.
And the man himself knows it. And he's sick and tired with this endless monotonous tirade and persistence for him to even state his own case. We all forget that he doesn't need to do it.
Just being Kobe Bryant will do. If he's the Kobe Bryant he ought to be, the one we believe and rewarded him with.
Until then, let him be.
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