The beat-up Philadelphia 76ers learned a valuable lesson in losing to the Lakers in five games, and that's if you want to be a champion it's best that you take the shortest route possible to reach the Finals.
With their gas tank basically empty, the 76ers came up short against the Lakers in Game 5 on Friday. In the first three playoff rounds, Philadelphia needed 18 games compared to the Lakers, who advanced in only 11.
"I guess it wears on you playing all season long," point guard Eric Snow said. "We know it's the Finals and that you have to give everything you can and not think about being tired. We approached every game thinking only about winning and winning the championship.
"But we now know why it's important to put teams away early. We had seven-game wars against Toronto and Milwaukee, while they swept everyone they faced. That may have had an impact [on the Finals]."
For many of the 76ers, who joined the team as rejects from other clubs around the league, playing in the Finals was a dream come true.
"It has to be," said guard Aaron McKie, who played with Portland and Detroit before being acquired by Philadelphia in 1997. "As a professional in any sport, once you reached the top, playing in the NBA Finals or the World Series or whatever it is, this is a sense of accomplishment. We don't play this game just to get a check.
"We want to be considered the best team, so we got our shot at it and if we put in the effort next year that we put in this year, we'll get another shot at it."
Derek Fisher will get plenty of attention for his performance in Game 5, which included six three-point baskets, and Philadelphia's Tyrone Hill said that he's part of the reason the Lakers are so tough to beat.
"Without Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal] and Kobe [Bryant], they wouldn't be as dominant," Hill said. "But you need your role players, and those guys are good role players, Fisher, [Robert] Horry and [Horace] Grant and the rest of those guys. They make the team."
Philadelphia forward George Lynch worked hard to come back and play in the final two games after suffering a broken left foot over a month ago. But Lynch lasted only six minutes Friday before he had to leave for good because of a toe injury.
"This was enjoyable just to be able to go out there and compete with the guys," Lynch said. "Even on a bad leg, it felt good to be out there."
Now that the playoffs are over for the 76ers, they can start thinking about next season. That's good for Speedy Claxton, who did not play in a single game as a rookie after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in an exhibition game.
Claxton, a quick 5-foot-11 guard from Hofstra, was selected with the 20th pick in the first round by the 76ers, who planned to use him as a complement to Allen Iverson. Although he is healthy enough to play now, Claxton wasn't on the team's playoff roster.
"Coach [Larry] Brown told me to just watch and learn and be ready to play next year," Claxton said. "But I know I could be another creator for the team."