Lakers go from sorry to starry in one game
Appearing in front of their angry fans Tuesday for the first time since the Mother’s Day massacre in Houston, the Lakers properly fell to their knees.
And soared over their heads. And sprinted out of their socks. And fought through their guilt.
Two days after playing sorry, the Lakers returned to Staples Center acting sorry, screaming and shoving and swarming for forgiveness.
By the time it was granted, the Houston Rockets were gutted, victimized by that most desperate of opponents, the one which is fighting himself.
The Lakers won both battles, defeating the Rockets, 118-78, while at least temporarily overcoming their dark side. It was their largest playoff win in 23 years.
And, doggone it, you know, it should have been.
Kobe Bryant sorry? He showed it by consistently driving to the basket for the first time in this series, scoring on runner after runner, capping it with one three-pointer that was so energizing, he even high-fived a fan.
Pau Gasol sorry? He showed it by finally acting like a big man against a small team, blocking two shots on one Rockets possession in the first half, covering up for teammates everywhere, 13 rebounds, zero turnovers.
Derek Fisher sorry? It was Aaron Brooks who was sorry, as the star of the Rockets’ Game 4 victory made four baskets and missed all three of his three-pointers.
Jordan Farmar sorry? That running three-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer, ending with a chest pound and pose, was remorse enough.
Even Lamar Odom acted alive, with a treatment pack on his sore back but a chip on his shoulder. He played in a game he was supposed to miss, playing nearly 19 minutes with 10 points and six rebounds.
The Lakers now lead the Western Conference semifinal series three games to two, with Thursday’s Game 6 in Houston appearing to be only a clinching formality.
Yeah, right, like anybody believes that.
“We expect it to be hard,” said Odom afterward. “We lost in the championship last year, and a team that loses in the championship rarely gets back, so we knew it would be hard.”
But as Tuesday proved, at least against the Rockets without marquee players Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, it didn’t have to be this hard.
“Usually it’s about finding a way to squelch the other team,” said Coach Phil Jackson, later adding, “We came out tonight and did it early.”
The evening started perfectly, with Michael “Flea” Balzary of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame nailing the national anthem with a soulful guitar solo that spoke to the angst of his fellow Lakers fans.
It ended with that angst so evaporated, midway through the fourth quarter, for the first time in forever, the giddy Lakers fans actually did the old-school wave.
A cynic might say it is now those fans who must now apologize, but, well, then it got even weirder.
“We want Mben-ga!” they shouted, cheering for DJ Mbenga, the only active Laker who has yet to appear in these playoffs.
With 5:42 remaining and the Lakers leading by 31 points, the situation was finally deemed safe enough for his presence, his entrance trumpeted by one of the evening’s louder ovations.
It was that sort of night, three hours awash in relief and redemption.
It was such a great night, Jackson survived his postgame news conference without cursing, an achievement which eluded him after Game 4.
Of course, Jackson claimed that the celebrated nationally broadcast boo-boo, uttered in frustration after the loss to the depleted Rockets, was not actually a curse.
“I wouldn’t call it a curse word,” he said, yet anybody who heard him would swear they disagreed. “Cursing, I consider taking the Lord’s name in vain, using that kind of thing, damning people, right?”
“But yes, it was something I’ve never done,” he said.
At least not publicly, but here’s guessing he was fairly passionate before the game about what the Lakers required.
The theme of the game was penetration. Create it, and contain it, or crumble under it.
The Lakers guards needed to be quicker to stop it. The Lakers big men needed to be stronger when it can’t be stopped.
Both groups showed up, first by shutting down the Rockets’ quickness, causing 17 turnovers, with Brooks and Von Wafer and Kyle Lowery going nine for 27.
The Lakers created that penetration, getting to the line 36 times, more than twice as much as the Rockets, while outscoring them in the paint, 56-42.
“They didn’t do anything,” said an upset Houston Coach Rick Adelman afterward.
“It was all us.”
By the time the Kiss Cam aired on the scoreboard late in the third quarter, the Lakers were on their way to a 40-point lead, and I need to note something here.
The most valuable player during this postseason might be a guy who has dominated that Kiss Cam, dude named Dustin Hoffman.
In the final first-round playoff game here against Utah, he theatrically kissed a woman on his right.
In the opener against Houston, he kissed a guy on his left.
In the second game against Houston, he smooched while spitting out a mouthful of popcorn.
On Tuesday, with the crowd cheering in anticipation, he threw up a purple towel and kissed behind it.
Hey, Lakers fans have to love the consistent effort, something not seen much around here by the guys wearing short pants.
Tuesday’s 48-minute attack probably signified the end of this series.
But for the Lakers to have a chance against Denver or Cleveland in coming weeks, it can only be a start.