Friday, February 11, 2011

Lakers Still Govern the Throne With Decisive Victory Over Celtics

If you thought they weren't too villainous for the average franchise in the NBA, an unmatched team denied of defending their pride and reign and basically vulnerable to their imminent demise, well, the Lakers awakened to withdraw from the fiascoes.

The timeless calamity almost terrified the faithful in Hollywood, many of whom were scared for the Lakers, an elusive franchise in the NBA with a lackadaisical and inert mentality that has terrified a diverse community, in a territory where basketball is lauded and a large part of conventional aspects. And so after a lengthy week that contained rumors of trade talks, endless fuss heard all week, the Lakers sent a statement at perfect timing and affirmed to be championship-caliber.

It's fairly clear the Lakers still dominate the throne, shortly after rallying past their archenemies in a hostile territory, salvaging a substantial victory over one of the finest opponents in the league and lastly climbing over the Celtics ideal-like with a 92-86 win in a rematch Thursday night. Only the Lakers can endure plenty of scrutiny, engulfed in a midseason crisis that remains a mystery until the trade deadline comes to an end.

After all, with all the drama that has created a ruckus nowadays, it was inevitable to avoid the ongoing criticism with the Lakers. Before we ridicule the professional team in Los Angeles, which is pampered for stockpiling championship banners over the years with incredible history to polish in the league, the Lakers finally validated a title drive and rectified the struggles to some degree. The debate boils in regards of potential trades for Andrew Bynum in exchange for Carmelo Anthony, a boneheaded deal that would mean suicide for the Lakers and could even add to the hysteria, shakiness and disaster, even if the pursuit seems like a brilliant idea for a three-peat.

There were the Lakers, who arrived in town to rejuvenate a rivalry among two of the most hated franchises in professional basketball. There were the Celtics, who were at home, ready to encounter a dynamic event and anxiously tried to sweep the Lakers this time at home. There weren't any skirmishes or verbal confrontations, or even any in-your-face trash talk or uncontrollable brawls, but only friendliness in what has been defined as one of the most loathed rivalries.

It was no Hollywood drama with the way the night turned out, with probably a victory that resolved tension, healed painful lapses in recent weeks and soothed the souls and minds of thousands. Finally, in the sweetest date against their archrival to reduce nightmares from clouding an entire season, the Lakers capitalized, played with fortitude, determination and alertness. Relatively speaking, the Lakers are fueled, mentally and physically prepared to rise to the occasion in a remarkable attempt that allows Los Angeles to hoist another shiny prize.

It was, no doubt, one of the most respectable finishes to uplift the team's psyche and taper grisly situations that almost doomed the Lakers this season, almost ruined a promising title pursuit and almost destroyed self-assurance. There are, after all, a majority who believe the Lakers are vulnerable and not intimidating. For much of the season, though, the Lakers have played soft and uninspiring, and couldn't care less about the magnitude of a possible three-peat to add to a large collection of titles in franchise history.

Truth is, if the Lakers can bully the Celtics, similar to a hefty high school senior teasing a freshman and outweigh the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs then they'll probably qualify for another NBA Finals appearance and earn their third championship in three years.

"We executed our game plan, we definitely did," Shannon Brown said. "You couldn't ask for more. We definitely played like a team. We played together and that's the only way we're going to win. Playing together as a team, offense and on defense, moving the ball, being collective on defense, being one, that's the way we're going to get it done."

This game, however, requires a total team effort. And it seems on this particular night, the Lakers had unity, cohesiveness and unselfishness. Then, of course, they had excellent ball movement to spread the floor and create opportunities for each other. All of a sudden, the Lakers were playing efficiently with the assistance of a unified defense.

For once, at last, it was a different team that had revived from the madness and lack of success of late. It wasn't long ago, just as the frustration and humiliation increasingly outraged the ownership, players and coaches that darkened the spirit of the defending champs, when Magic Johnson publicly lobbied for the Lakers to make a culture transition to improve the team by bringing aboard younger talent.

"It's a good game," Johnson tweeted in the second half, "but if the @Lakers are going to win Kobe has to take over."

Really? The Black Mamba has to take over? Are you sure?

This all makes perfect sense, perhaps rightfully so, given that Kobe Bryant is the fiercest shooter on earth, an unstoppable assassin on the count with all types of strategies when he has possession of the ball. His talent is unprecedented, but he does play in games where he's quiet and doesn't pose a threat. Then again, if he really desires to take over in critical moments, already verified as the greatest finisher, he can easily bury an array of shots. But apart from the popular show in Hollywood, which would be the Kobe Show, airing on the day of a Lakers event, he wasn't much of a factor in the first half. By halftime, he merely had three points on 1-of-3 shooting and the Lakers, of course, trailed by eight.

"[In the first half] they surrounded me, so I hit the open man," Bryant said. "I wanted to be more aggressive in the first half, but I didn't want to force it too much. I wanted to keep my guys in their game a little bit. Start of the second half I just forced it. The game wasn't coming to me so I took it."

Incredibly, in the first quarter, thousands of Celtics faithful at the TD Garden were fueled and madly erupted when Celtics guard Ray Allen shattered Reggie Miller's all-time three-point record with his 2,561st three. The story here, in the meantime, is that Bryant attempted only three shots in the first half, clearly to minimize the criticism and be an unselfish hero. The glaring notion of his approach is to be a facilitator and ensure that his teammates are involved, unselfishly creating easy shots for his teammates and being a floor general, not a shooter regularly.

This was a signature win the Lakers truly needed, to erase the horrid letdowns this season. Before this game, in the five previous games, the Lakers were 0-5 and had been badly outscored by an average of 11 points against the league's top four teams. By his body language and facial expressions, Bryant is aging in the late point of his prime, becoming exhausted faster as his body is unable to handle the energy or endure the stress, but he has still survived.

When it ended so nicely, Bryant scored 20 of his game-high 23 points in the second half and shot an effective 9-of-17 for the game. In fairness, he was reinforced by the seven-footers early on, with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol scoring a dozen of points combined. He's not Paula Gasoft, but he's Pau Gasol again, finally. The wildest takeover in basketball happens on one team and naturally, and eventually it came to life on Thursday when Bryant granted Johnson his wish.

He calmly sat on the bench for the first seven minutes of the fourth, he watched the second unit build a nine-point lead, then he later walked to the score table to return with 5:04 left. It looks like he's not so old after all, slaughtering Boston with a 6-0 run in less than two minutes remaining that added to the finishing touches. To this day, he's basketball's best shooter, clearly. He's a wild animal when it comes to shooting and had the same type of intensity late in the fourth, nailing his turnaround jumper and driving to the rim on his spectacular layup.

Here were the Lakers making another statement. This reminded us that the Lakers are still elite, with a reputation for winning games but also fooling us like a perplexing riddle.