SAN ANTONIO -- The media crowd pours into the cramped Lakers locker room, looking for the goat, braying for the bum, loaded for Lamar.
He calmly buttons his black-checked shirt and beats them to it.
“I put this one on myself,” Lamar Odom announces. “I take the blame, totally, for this game.”
The Lakers had just lost Sunday to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, a 103-84 whipping that doubled as a three-hour embarrassment for their powerless power forward.
Who calmly wipes the sweat from his bald head and keeps the heat on.
“There is no way I can play like that,” he says. “I’ve got to play better than that.”
A TV network asks him for a live interview, and he says sure.
“You were two for 11,” the interviewer says.
“I also had five turnovers,” he says.
A writer asks him whether he can describe what happened, and he says of course.
“I got to the free-throw line and didn’t make free throws. . . . [I] turned the ball over,” he says. “That’s not good enough. Especially on the road with this type of atmosphere, this type of intensity.”
Another writer asks whether he can talk about what happens next, and he says certainly.
“I don’t sleep tonight,” Odom says. “I keep the TV off. I don’t read the newspaper. I get out to practice tomorrow and get my butt to the free-throw line.”
Yet another writer crosses the room and explains the entire conversation to Derek Fisher.
For the first time in this dreary postgame closet, somebody chuckles.
“There is no way on this good green earth that Lamar Odom cost us that game,” Fisher says, smiling. “But you know something? That is why we keep growing as a team. Because everybody in here makes themselves accountable. Nobody points fingers, everybody looks at themselves.”
Indeed, if the Lakers eventually win a championship, Odom’s postgame confessional Sunday will rank as one of the important playoff moments.
If they don’t, well, this awful loss will do all of the talking.
The Lakers had a chance to put the final crushing squeeze to the Spurs on Sunday, but they just didn’t seem excited about squeezing.
The Lakers could have easily finished the Spurs on Sunday, but they didn’t seem ready to finish.
A two-games-to-none lead could have easily led to the start of a sweep, but it was as if the Lakers just didn’t have the energy for the dirty work.
Yes, the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili finally got hot with 30 points, his bad ankle suddenly healed, a miracle on AT&T; Center Parkway.
But how many times is that other guard, Fisher, going to score only two points with one assist in nearly 30 minutes?
“We couldn’t bring the game to their level,” Fisher says.
Sure, the Spurs’ Tim Duncan was consistently tough with 21 rebounds, and Tony Parker found his legs with nine baskets, many on layups.
But how many times is Kobe Bryant going to shoot only one free throw, and have only one assist?
“They put us back on our heels and we weren’t able to elevate our defensive energy to match the speed of their game,” Bryant says.
When asked what caused the Lakers’ troubles, their former teammate Robert Horry -- he still hasn’t made a basket in this series -- was at least honest.
“It didn’t have anything to do with us,” he says.
So the Lakers lost a game, but not momentum, nothing that can’t be taken back in Tuesday’s Game 4.
A bigger question is, have they lost Odom?
And, if so, how can they find him again?
It is impossible to rip a guy who so badly rips himself.
But, with two lousy nights in the first three games of this series, Lamar Odom remains the embodiment of many Laker fans’ fears.
When it comes to unfamiliar championship pressure situations, they worry that he will either become inert or try to do too much.
On Sunday, it was both.
The Lakers began the second quarter with a 24-21 lead.
Then Odom, um, er, took over.
Odom is called for a three-second violation. Odom misses a jump shot.
Odom holds the ball at the end of a 24-second violation. Odom fails to scramble for a rebound that is turned into a fastbreak Spurs layup.
Even then, the Lakers are still trading leads, until Odom gives up after blocking a Duncan shot, allowing Duncan to tip in the follow shot over him.
Then Odom misses two free throws, loses a dribble, misses a layup, then makes only one of two free throws.
“It definitely snowballed,” Odom admits.
By the time the quarter ends, the Spurs lead, 49-39, and that is that.
By far, the Lakers’ most impressive moment of the evening occurs when Odom takes blame for it afterward, yet another reason why he is perhaps the most beloved Laker in the locker room.
“This is reality, I’m a man, I have to accept it,” he says.
But, by far, the Lakers’ scariest moment is that, this late in the spring, Odom actually plays a game that requires such self-blame.
In saying that he needs to be better, Lamar Odom is honorably honest and admirably accountable.
He is also absolutely right.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.