The fiercest scorer in basketball wasn’t wearing a scowl on his face, one of the most formidable facial expressions in sports, but he was ultimately instrumental in a critical Game Six on the road.
He seemed much too earnest in a hostile environment, the atmosphere where inhospitable fans chanted unpleasantly at Kobe Bryant.
A few days ago, the defending champs were dysfunctional and portrayed as an elusive unit, gradually faltering against the competent Phoenix Suns.
In two games, the Suns embarrassingly sent a statement, smearing a reputation of the Lakers, a franchise wrapped in mystique and built with the most talent.
The second unit outplayed and outhustled Team Hollywood, the core with the greatest superstar in a modern generation since the Michael Jordan regime, were vulnerable of unsettlingly losing in an alarming upset to the Suns.
Even when the majority anointed the Lakers, putting pressure on the defending champs to repeat back-to-back resiliency, the optimist forgot and ignored the strength and heart of the Suns, never realizing that the hottest team in the desert had L.A. on the brink of elimination in a 2-2 tie.
Suddenly, the Lakers bring nothing but perseverance, energy and emotion, avoiding the ideas of futility and lapses in a moment the most admirable franchise in L.A., normally wins a championship to fortify eminence and mystique.
A town that prides itself on basketball is intrigued to witness a fascinating and intense rematch against its long-time rivals, the Boston Celtics, an antagonist the Lakers faithful loathes greatly.
So what we’re about to witness is exactly what the average basketball loyalist desired, a Lakers-Celtics rematch. All the celebrities are in for a dramatic and physical showdown between a two hostile rivals.
Life in California revolves around the glamorous lifestyle of Hollywood, but also revolves around the breathtaking finishes of Bryant’s clutch shots and the purple and gold topping the NBA in amazing feats.
It’s fair to suggest that we are glancing at a postseason of blood, massacres and mortals, so fittingly the Lakers vs. Celtics is the greatest rivalry in sports, publicizing an event once again in existence to magnetize a series that will likely be decided in seven games.
All the people wished for the dream series, and now are fortunate to relive a storied rivalry in sports. When the Lakers won 111-103 over the Suns Saturday night clinching the Western Conference championship and advanced to its 31st finals appearance, it’s also the 12th meeting against the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
Once again, the Lakers are enduring a rematch to redeem a heartbreaker two seasons ago, woefully humiliated and dismantled in the formidable 39-point loss in Game Six of the finals in Boston.
That year, the Celtics earned its 17th banner. That year, the Lakers suffered an egregious letdown, departing a town disgusted and embarrassed.
For a long awaited Lakers-Celtics series, we can only expect it to be physical and vigorous, a ripple effect that advertises tradition and appealing basketball in the next couple weeks.
So now, the Lakers realizes much is at stake after winning to advance to the finals for the third consecutive season to meet the villains of the Eastern Conference and the most hated team in Southern California.
For weeks the Lakers have made adjustments and enhanced the level of performance by executing and upgrading the game plan, surviving on the heroics of Bryant’s ability to seize a game with his successive shot making and mental capacity.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to win the 16th championship in franchise history and move inches closer of tying the Celtics at 17 titles, but will need the essentials to unhinge Boston.
Even if The Big Three are older, aging and past the prime years, the Lakers will have to produce and raise the intensity level.
The blueprint is to avenge a disastrous loss, without having a sluggish mindset for apathy and very little soundness.
Throughout the postseason, the Lakers deteriorated on a numerous occasions before returning to normalcy late in the series, riddled by the younger and faster Oklahoma City Thunder and outplayed and outhustled convincingly against the Suns.
And it wasn’t long ago when Figueroa Avenue was hopeless and deprived of pouring the streets to celebrate a Lakers victory, distraught about an unfavorable letdown faltering against its assassin.
If you are willing to erase any agonizing afterthoughts of the awful ending to a momentous season two years ago, then you are probably wishes for the ultimate beat down.
It’s a team on the East Coast that die hard Lakers fans love to hate, realizing the home team has a shot at redemption and owns home court advantage in the 2-3-2 format.
The pressure is clearly on the Lakers, losers of nine of the 11 Finals during the 51-year rivalry. It’s amazing how they have been to 10 more finals, but the C’s have won two more titles, labeled as the winningest franchise in pro basketball.
Flirting with the possibility of winning it all over the most hated rivals, the Lakers refused to suffer, yet, another heartbreaker, more matured and prepared for the biggest series.
It’s impossible to predict a winner, but easy to admit that the Lakers seeks revenge, looking to take down their longtime foes. Of all the hype and hearsay on the upcoming series, the Lakers are faster and younger than the aging Celtics.
Unlike a year ago, they are hungrier and have strengthened the roster and style within the triangle offense.
The difference is that Bryant is still disappointed with the devastating loss that sabotaged spirit, and even greater, Pau Gasol isn’t as soft in the middle, now attacking with much stamina and heart.
And let’s not forget about Ron Artest, the defensive-minded forward who will make it miserable and difficult for Paul Pierce to score.
“We’ll see…we’ll see how much we matured,” Kobe Bryant said after scoring a mere 37 points to drive the Lakers to a win. “The Celtics challenged us two years ago…now it’s a test to see how much we’ve grown.”
Had he not taken over in the fourth quarter to stop the Lakers from blowing a comfortable lead, the Suns might have forced a Game Seven Monday at Staples Center.
But as usual, Bryant came close to a triple-double three times, and more importantly, knocked down a desperation jumper from the right side with 34.2 seconds.
Nonetheless, this is what each avid fan base expected, a Lakers-Celtics rematch, and a long-awaited match. The other night Boston fans chanted blatantly “Beat L.A.”
Feelings are mutual as the Lakers fans chanted friendlier “We want Boston” repeatedly.
“They’re physical,” Jackson said.
In short, Artest is physical too, and began surging on offense. Ever since going from goat to hero, he has scored by making mid-range jumpers and hitting the shots inside.
He made 10 of 16 shots, four of seven from three-point range and led all scorers in the first half. Remember, his miraculous game-winning put back on Bryant’s miss as the clock expired in Game 5 shifted the dynamic of the series.
Most importantly, the Lakers are as balanced as Boston and may even be slightly better. No longer are they soft or intimidated by the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett trotting in the line to collect rebounds or fire a shot.
No longer will they allow an unstoppable and older Paul Pierce to drive inside to draw fouls or score on the well-executed layup, not if he’s shut down by Artest.
It’s a defensive advantage, given that Artest is known for frustrating and getting in the face of his opponent. And no longer will Rajon Rondo undeniably speed by the Lakers defense, only if Bryant is assigned to guard the explosive guard.
He’s the one star player who may actually scowl and frown, becoming the Black Mamba, still anxious on seeking revenge.
Now is the time since Andrew Bynum’s defensive presence is factor and could stand as a tandem with Gasol, two seven-footers who match the size of Kendrick Perkins and Garnett.
He missed all the action two years ago, while struggling with a knee injury, but his oversized body could outweigh the Celtics if he doesn’t perform like a bust.
It’s interesting to see which team comprises of more willpower and heart. Expect it to be really bloody and physical, but expect the stronger team to win the series.
Maybe that’s the Lakers or even the Celtics. What we’re presumably witnessing is the most epic classics in sports of all time.