The hubris of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise has been well-documented since the swoon that started this squad’s 37-35 run toward the West’s eighth seed. The team receives just as much media coverage as the defending champion Miami Heat, and far more words have been written about this year’s Lakers than the West-leading San Antonio Spurs and Western championship-defending Oklahoma City Thunder combined. Because the Lakers are the Lakers – and writers like me can’t stop talking about them – people have been pretty sick of this crew since mid-winter.
On Tuesday, we discussed how Los Angeles will probably sneak in the back door of the playoffs due to a weak schedule, and various lucked-out charms (injuries to key opponents, the possibility that playoff teams will be sitting their starters in the last week of the season) between now and the end of the 82-game turn. Minnesota, just one game away from being officially eliminated from the playoffs entering Wednesday, served as a suitable obstacle for the Lakers. Los Angeles, somewhat, acquitted itself well – only giving up 117 points to the NBA’s 24th-best offense before the game’s final possession.
And here is the game’s final possession:
That’s Kobe Bryant missing a free throw that would have clinched the game, following through needlessly on his shot, letting a 6-2 point guard grab the rebound, and fouling the guard as he attempted a three-point shot to tie the game.
Except, of course, Kobe Bryant wasn’t called for a foul on Ricky Rubio. And why, you ask, wasn’t Kobe called for a foul?
Kobe on possible foul on last play vs. Rubio: "They're not going to call that s***."
— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) March 28, 2013
… except that they probably should. Because you’re not allowed to hit a guy on the arms while he’s shooting. Because that’s a foul. And just because it’s the last seconds of a close game and you’re Kobe Bryant, it doesn’t mean the rules go out the window. I’m not allowed to set fire to a tabletop at a bar, just because it’s nearing last call and I’m Kelly Dwyer. The Kobester went on, as quoted by Mark Medina at the Los Angeles Daily News:
"They ain't calling that," Bryant said.
"I don't think I got him, but that's a tough call to make. I just put my hand there.
"It's not like I went out and smacked his arm."
What if the officials blew their whistle?
"We would've gone to overtime," Bryant said, "and won the game."
In most instances I would love that sort of brashness from Kobe Bryant, the braggadocio needed to attempt to remain unmoved throughout the storm and stress. But Kobe Bryant was the biggest reason Trevor Ariza (!) dominated the Los Angeles Lakers in a comeback win last Friday. And his defense against the Golden State Warriors on Monday was appallingly bad.
For Kobe Bryant, leader of a team that had just lost to the Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards, and Golden State Warriors to assume that an overtime against Minnesota (the team Los Angeles had practically tied through 48 minutes) would go his way just because Kobe is Kobe? Sometimes that ego tends to enervate.
Kobe played brilliantly offensively for the Lakers in the win on Wednesday, tossing in 31 points with seven assists, and he was so-so (but not awful) down the stretch with a 2-5 shooting mark, 2-4 mark from the line and one turnover in the game’s final seven minutes … but he also fouled a guy on a three-pointer with his team up three points and it wasn’t called.
The Wolves, predictably, were not happy.
The moment I thought Ricky might cry: “I don’t like to lose… Sometimes it’s tough when you give everything and something like that happens." — Joan Niesen (@JoanNiesen) March 28, 2013
Twitter, predictably, was not happy:
Kobe post game in ATL "I just think officials need to protect shooters."
— Bob Rathbun (@BobRathbunTV) March 28, 2013
Has the league issued a proclamation faulting the refs for not calling a foul on Kobe at end of game last night? It cuts both ways, right? — Bob Rathbun (@BobRathbunTV) March 28, 2013
That is something to watch. The NBA probably isn’t keen to admit that referee Jason Philips blew the call, and pointing out the blown call a day later isn’t going to help much, but it might be a nice bon mot sent in the direction of a Timberwolves team that has seen its playoff hopes go up in smoke due to a series of injuries.
And for the Lakers?
Last summer, due to the presence of Dwight Howard and the perfect timing that allowed the Lakers to deal for Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, we mentioned that it was just fine to dislike this team. Now, after refusing to commit to a consistent brand of basketball on both ends for five months, this team is about to sneak into the playoffs with the league’s biggest payroll, and the NBA’s luckiest March and April. This is something that even the most oblivious of Kobe defenders can’t argue away.
It’s perfect, actually. This Laker regular season should end on the final night, with the team making the playoffs by one game and the deciding points coming on an own-goal. Because they’ve earned it, y’know?
(UPDATE: The NBA has spoken. They blew the call.)
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