You never really know what magic Kobe Bryant is preparing on any given day during the playoffs. Clearly, none of it was on display last night in their first second-round playoff game against the Oklahoma City Thunder (May 14). As you're reading, the Thunder just scored again.
The conventional wisdom concerning the outcome of this series was the Thunder rolling through the Lakers in workmanlike fashion with their explosive offense, superstar players such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and a fatiguing pace that would render the Lakers less than productive.
Certainly, it's all true. But there are still uncertainties about the Thunder that give you pause. They are world's more talented than the New York Knicks, and in two seasons of challenging, already far more successful than Carmelo Anthony's group promises to be over the next several years. But there was one characteristic they seemed to share with the Knicks, that has now been partially dispelled with the sweep of the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. When the game is flowing their way, the passes are connecting, and the fast breaks are delivering rapid-fire points, they are every bit the high-flying Rodan monster of reputation.
But if the pace decelerates, the defense stiffens, the shots become contested, and the opponent builds a lead, the poise and presence are replaced by frustration and doubt. The last regular season game against the Lakers in Los Angeles was a great example. The Thunder was gliding, up by 17 with a quarter to go, and suddenly the Lakers awoke from slumber and provided a madcap rally. The Thunder couldn't survive it and indeed contributed to it. If there was ever a flaw in a team that could be exploited, Laker enthusiasts might be compelled to believe Kobe Bryant would surely be the one to identify and execute it. And perhaps defensive specialist Ron Artest (Metta World Peace for those who care), would suffocate Kevin Durant
And then came 119-90. It wasn't the end of the series, but it might as well have been. Thunder in six.
Glenn Vallach has been a basketball fan, player, and coach during his lifetime and, as such, an ardent follower of the NBA even with all its warts. He have also been a New York Knick fan since the days of Howie Komives and Walt Bellamy, when he regularly boarded the IRT Subway at 180th Street in the Bronx for a trip to the Garden to see his heroes.