I heard ex-New York Knick coach Jeff Van Gundy say the “real Lakers” finally came to play in Game 7 while working as TNT’s analyst.
Yup, the Lakers showed to the world what they are capable of doing if only they play their hearts out and not defend half heartedly like they used to do that netted blowout losses to the Houston Rockets and in Games 4 and 6.
By the time the tip-off for Game 7 began, doubts that the Lakers could not get the job done was erased as their defense forced the Rockets to a 2-of-15 first quarter shooting.
Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum did most of the damage for the Lakers in their resounding 89-70 series-clinching Game 7 win against the Rockets.
Gasol, the seven-foot Spaniard, acquired from Memphis last season, finally played like a bullstrong big man in the middle after finishing with 21 points, 18 rebounds and three shot blocks.
Bynum, on the other hand, played like a playoff battle-scarred veterans, finishing with 14 points and six boards while helping take Houston’s pick and roll out by jamming Rockets guard Aaron Brooks from making the extra passes in the shaded lane.
Now that the Lakers are back in familiar territory, the Western Conference Finals for the second straight year, all they need to do is remember how to play with consistency.
No doubt, LA’s line up is talented, compared to the Denver Nuggets, who are playing in their first Western Conference Finals since 1985.
Kobe Bryant constinues to be the deadliest offensive weapon of the Lakers, but the Houston-LA series revealed that mere talent and superb offense won’t work if not combined with solid defense.
Plus, the Nuggets are no longer the same team that the Lakers swept during the first round of the 2008 NBA Playoffs (4-0).
Since Chauncey Billups’ arrival during the early part of the regular season, the Nuggets have slowly developed into a deadly defensive team.
Carmelo Anthony has gone more comfortable with his offense since Billups’ arrival, while big man Nene Hilario has showed no signs of slowing down after an injury-plagued season the last one and one half year.
Denver’s on a roll. Losing just twice in the post-season while chalking up eight wins during their playoff match ups against New Orleans and Dallas.
The stakes are higher now in the conference finals. And for the Lakers to advance to the NBA Finals—it’s as boring as brushing their teeth—play 48 minutes of solid defense.
Otherwise, Denver will continue to write its own history in the NBA.