The Los Angeles Lakers head into Oklahoma City tonight down 3-1 and on the brink of elimination in the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year. It very well could be the Lakers with that series advantage.
L.A. has squandered sizable leads in the final minutes of Games 2 & 4 – and lack of ball movement and turnovers have been at the heart of the falls.
After wasting a 12-point lead Saturday night, all-star center Andrew Bynum seemed puzzled why he was phased out of the offense while Kobe Bryant hoisted shot after shot, almost always with at least one defender draped all over him.
“I couldn’t get the ball. I wasn’t part of the game,” Bynum said. “We need to slow down the game, go side to side. We can cut them to pieces. You can’t keep running the same plays.”
Lakers forward Metta World Peace also noticed the lack of ball movement down the stretch. “When we were working well together, they didn’t know where it was coming from; it was great,” he said. “Then well, you saw the last two games we lost…. We should have won both of them.”
Bryant was reliable on the grind-it-out Game 3 win, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter and sealing the game with six free throws in the final seconds. But Saturday Bryant looked like the old, don’t-trust-my-teammates Bryant, forcing – and missing – shots as the Thunder fought back into the game.
He did pass in the closing seconds to all-star Pau Gasol, who did not take the open shot from 10 feet and tried to pass to World Peace. Kevin Durant stole the pass and OKC ended up stealing the game.
Bryant ignored his failures and instead focused on Gasol’s ill-advised play.
“It was a bad read on Pau’s part,” Bryant said. “Pau has got to be more assertive; he’s got to be more aggressive. He’s looking to swing the ball too much. He just has to shoot it.”
In that case, definitely, Gasol should have been looking to make a play; he was open and could have taken the shot from the right side of the lane or driven the ball to the basket. But the bigger point is that the Lakers played the end of the game the way they played the prior 46 minutes.
Sad part for L.A.: It just may be too late. Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. are young and hungry play two of the last three (if necessary) in their loud building.