Blame game begins after the Lakers’ deflating loss to the Thunder
After spending a season fighting age, battling immaturity, struggling with old habits and jabbing with a new coach, the Lakers have ended up where we pretty much thought they would.
Out of breath and on the ropes.
Their veteran star is exhausted and annoyed. Their kid center is angry and distant. Their power forward is uncertain and embattled. And their season is officially on the brink after they blew a 13-point lead in a 103-100 loss to Oklahoma City on Saturday in the fourth and perhaps deciding game of their first-round playoff series.
“This,” said bleary-eyed Andrew Bynum, “is just a terrible loss.”
Two games after they blew a seven-point lead in the final two minutes in a Game 2 loss, this time they were outscored by 10 in the final six minutes in front of a Staples Center crowd that was stunned into a collective gasp. The Lakers now fall behind the Thunder three games to one while falling into the trap of many failing teams.
Fingers are now officially being pointed.
“Let me see how I can answer your question without giving you a good quote,” said Metta World Peace when asked to assess blame.
Start with Pau Gasol. Everyone is mad at Pau Gasol. His 10-point, three-turnover night was capped Saturday when he threw away a pass on what could have been the game-winning possession.
With 1:04 left and the score tied at 98-98, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook slipped and lost the ball, setting up the Lakers for the key possession. But moments later, Gasol’s bad pass across the middle -- a silly throw by arguably the team’s smartest player -- was picked off by Kevin Durant, who then calmly sunk a three-pointer over World Peace with 13.7 seconds left to give the Thunder the lead for good.
It’s perhaps not fair, but when Gasol is probably traded this summer, folks will talk about that pass.
It was a bit unseemly, but Kobe Bryant was ripping it right away.
“It was a bad read,” said Bryant. “It was a bad read on Pau’s part.”
Bryant, who went two-for-10 in the fourth quarter after rescuing the team during that same the period in Friday night’s victory, nonetheless continued to publicly scold his teammate.
“Pau has got to be more assertive; he’s got to be more aggressive,” Bryant said. “He’s looking to swing the ball too much. He just has to shoot it.”
Gasol took full blame for the pass: “I could have shot it at that point, and if I could go back, I would have.”
But Gasol refused to take blame for the loss. “It was one play, one mistake,” he said, “but there were a lot of mistakes in the quarter, a lot of mistakes in the game.”
Bryant needs to shoulder some of the blame for the fourth quarter, as some of those shots were early in the shot clock and completely unnecessary, balls that flew to the rim while Andrew Bynum stood helplessly watching.
Bynum, who took just two shots in the fourth quarter and made only two baskets in the second half, is also mad at teammates. He didn’t name names, but you can probably guess that he’s not thrilled with Bryant, who took 10 of the Lakers’ 22 fourth-quarter shots.
“I couldn’t get the ball. I wasn’t part of the game,” Bynum said. “We need to slow down the game, go side to side. We can cut them to pieces. You can’t keep running the same plays.”
When asked if the Lakers practice getting him the ball, he shrugged: “Yeah, but once the game starts, everything changes. It should be simple. I don’t know why it’s hard for us.”
If it was hard for them Saturday, it’s going to get a lot harder soon.
The Lakers’ deficit has history biting at their ankles. Only eight teams in the NBA have overcome a similar margin to win a postseason series. And, by the way, Game 5 game is Monday in Oklahoma City, where the Lakers have yet to win in four tries this season.
As in their last loss in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, the Lakers should have won this game. They led most of the night, dominated much of the debate, and when the Thunder would occasionally push, the Lakers pushed back harder.
But then, in the final minutes, it started to slip away.
They couldn’t guard Westbrook, who scored 37 points. They couldn’t find an offensive set, missing bad shots and making bad decisions down the stretch. They were clearly weary and worried and allowed the young Thunder to slowly chip away at the lead until Durant finished them.
“When we were working well together, they didn’t know where it was coming from; it was great,” World Peace said. “Then ? well, you saw the last two games we lost.... We should have won both of them.”
When Bryant’s three-point attempt clanked off the rim in the final seconds, it was so clearly and stunningly over that Westbrook began shouting in joy while fans walked out before the clock ticked out.
“Obviously, that was another tough loss for us,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said.
How tough was it? The night was so doomed that even one of the Laker Girls was booed.
Early in the game, the game’s production staff failed to do their homework in allowing a Laker Girl named Jessica to give her profile on the video board during a first-quarter timeout. The moment she said she graduated from Oklahoma City University, the Staples Center erupted in boos that drowned out the rest of her presentation.
Yeah, it was like that.
“We got to go play,” Brown said. “At this point of the year, we’re a no-excuse team; we can’t have any excuses.”
None given. None taken.
The Lakers had a victory over the Thunder and blew it. Again. The Lakers are on the verge of ending their season with a playoff embarrassment. Again.
I thought it couldn’t get any worse than last year’s sweep by the Dallas Mavericks. I may have thought wrong.
As a few straggling fans wandered out of Staples Center late Saturday, the public address system was playing the song, “Closing Time.”
On a night that felt like the abrupt slamming of a door on a season, that was the only thing that made sense.
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