Count me out of the count-out-the-Lakers crowd.
I’ll never write off these Lakers again -- not even at tax time, when I write everything off.
When the Lakers fell behind by 25 points in Game 5 Tuesday, I still thought they had a chance to win this series. I just didn’t believe the chance would come in that game.
Yet somehow they found themselves down by two points, and the ball found its way to Robert Horry again with six seconds remaining. If his three-pointer had dropped through the net instead of rattling out, the Lakers would have won and there’s no doubt they’d be finishing the Western Conference finals tonight in Game 6.
As it is, the Lakers showed more in that loss than some teams display in an entire series.
The Lakers’ time is getting too short to worry about moral victories. That would be like following the stock market from death row. But the Lakers have to be reassured that they finally put together a good stretch of ball amid the antics and Texas accents at the SBC Center.
And all of the gold-clad denizens of Lakerland should feel that the Lakers are equipped to overcome any adversity.
But they’re fighting history in addition to the San Antonio Spurs.
Only seven of the 159 teams that fell behind, 2-0, in a seven-game series, as the Lakers did, have come back to win. And when a series is tied 2-2, the team that wins Game 5 has gone on to win the series 83% of the time (91 out of 110 scenarios).
It all seems to be piling on the Lakers. They lost Rick Fox to a foot injury in the first round. They watched Devean George grab his left ankle in agony after spraining it in Game 1 of this series.
Their coach, Phil Jackson, had to miss Game 4 after undergoing an angioplasty to clear a blocked artery on Saturday.
The latest bad news came Wednesday, when Jackson’s former New York Knick teammate Dave DeBusschere died of a heart attack at age 62. Jackson appeared more distraught by this news than he was by his own health situation.
On top of all of that, it appears their karma has been towed away.
Horry always makes that shot in the playoffs. Is it after midnight?
Not yet, Derek Fisher said.
“You have luck, you have good fortune or bad fortune,” Fisher said. “Things kind of come and go at times. You have to be able to deal with those ebbs and flows.
“In terms of it meaning any type of thing bigger than that or the sign of ‘the end,’ I don’t know. I feel like we have more control over it than one missed shot or one missed play. I think we have more control over our destiny than outside forces or external things.”
The Lakers always have managed to marshal their resources at the most important times.
It has been almost three years since the Lakers blew a chance to close a series early. It has been four years since they lost a game they absolutely had to win for practical or psychological reasons.
I’m banking on those trends to continue, until proven otherwise.
As I sat in the San Antonio airport Wednesday morning, I thought back to my flight out of there six days earlier, when the Lakers trailed, 2-0, and the sage words I heard from a man wearing hiking shorts and a tie-dyed Grateful Dead shirt.
His name was Bill Walton, and he knew a little something about overcoming 2-0 deficits in a series. His Portland Trail Blazers lost the first two games of the 1977 NBA Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers, but came back to win in six games. He didn’t prescribe the same route for the Lakers. He said they simply had to win their home games. Then it would come down to one game -- and the Lakers are the best one-game team around.
Nothing about that premise has changed. The Lakers still get a game at home, which could give them a game to win it.
I don’t think the fourth-quarter failures of the past were lingering in the Spurs’ minds at the start of this series. But the Lakers have planted some new seeds of doubt. A 16-point lead in the third quarter wasn’t enough to get the Spurs a victory at Staples Center in Game 4. A 22-point lead with one minute left in the third quarter wasn’t enough to guarantee a victory at home in Game 5.
“When you play a great team like L.A. and they finish quarters so well, it tends to get in your head a little bit,” Spur Coach Gregg Popovich said.
So that element is back in play.
But hopefully we can put the whining about the officiating to rest. Commissioner David Stern should decree that the rest of the series be called the same way as Game 5, when the crew of Dan Crawford, Ted Bernhardt and Bob Delaney avoided blowing their whistles at all costs. There weren’t any of the unnecessary offensive fouls called on the Lakers or game-changing bad calls against Tim Duncan and David Robinson that were blown in Game 4. The officials let them play in Game 5, letting contact go at both ends. As a result, no starter had more than three fouls -- and everyone was talking about the game itself.
We can only hope the next game(s) will feature the same type of officiating.
But we can absolutely expect the Lakers to keep fighting to the end, as if the Spurs were ready to set fire to their precious banners. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Lakers still around next week, leaving everyone else to wonder what happened to their demise.
J.A. Adande can be reached at email@example.com.