Sometimes you have to roll a hard six.
Almost universally every NBA expert predicted the Lakers to run away with their series against the New Orleans Hornets. Even the most cautious observers were still picking the Lakers in five games. But that’s not how things went down, was it?
Despite being vastly undersized Coach Monty Williams had his team scrapping in every game, fighting tooth and nail for loose balls, out hustling the Lakers who looked all too apathetic when the playoffs began. If you watched closely you realized the Hornet’s stealing Game 1 was no fluke. They played harder and they deserved to win.
In the end what brought the Lakers home victorious was a return to the championship level defense and intensity that we’ve only seen glimpses of during the regular season. While the offense early in game 6 was ugly, it was defense that kept them in control. They couldn’t stop Chris Paul but they were able to contain him to his worst game of the series (he scored only 10 points but still almost had a triple double!). More than that, the overall effort and execution consistently forced the Hornets into shots they didn’t want to take, into possessions that didn’t pan out. And when missed shots came off the rim the Lakers owned the glass thanks largely to one man in particular.
Put simply, Andrew Bynum was the MVP of series. The rock. He averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. And that doesn’t even do him justice. In the close out game Bynum devastated the Hornets not only with his scoring prowess but also his offensive rebounding. Time after time Drew came through with soul crushing boards that extended Lakers’ possessions or led directly to made baskets. And it wasn’t just Bynum’s size and length on display. The kid was agile. He was mobile. Hostile. There was a stretch where I felt like I was watching Dennis Rodman reincarnated in a seven foot frame. Knee injury? What knee injury? Seeing him pursue the basketball with heart and determination was a thing of beauty. But Bynum wasn’t the only one.
Kobe Bryant, ankle injury or not, continued building his legacy as a gamer. He didn’t set the house on fire shooting but he did nail a couple dagger 3’s and was a perfect 10 of 10 from the line. Just enough Kobe to get the job done. Of course he did have some help coming off the bench.
It was Killer’s B’s (Bynum included) along with Lamar Odom that started the fourth quarter and extended the lead out to twenty. LO’s fast break layup, aided by a Bynum screen, was the exclamation point. By the time Phil Jackson made his move to put the starters back in the game, and by proxy the series, was well in hand.
Although victory against the Hornets wasn’t a thing of beauty the Lakers demonstrated, through their talent and size and resolve, just why it’s going to be so hard for any team to beat them in a seven game set. Game by game the Lakers seemed to get stronger while Hornets started fading. NBA champions have a way of doing that I suppose.
With the Dallas Mavericks also clinching their series on the same night as the Lakers we now know what the match up will be when the second rounds starts Monday evening. I expect it to be a highly competitive affair, fraught with chippy play and plenty of off court verbal grenade lobs thanks in large part to the loose tongues of Phil Jackson and Mark Cuban. But if the Lakers can exhibit the same championship pedigree that was apparent in closing out New Orleans then I’m not sure the Mavs will have an answer. Either way, it ought to be very entertaining.
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