The basketball gods can be poked only so long before they get huffy.
I don't know exactly how many pokes are allowed- this sort of information isn't available to earthly bloggers- but whatever the number the Lakers unquestionably used their allotment and more Wednesday night in Dallas, losing 101-96 to the Mavericks.
About halfway through the fourth quarter, I looked at the box score and wondered how the heck the Lakers were still close. Within two, in fact, after a pair of Lamar Odom free throws at the 6:16 mark made the score 84-82 in favor of the home team. Yet the Lakers had more turnovers, were getting walloped on the glass (particularly on the offensive side), and sent the Mavs to the free throw line at a nearly 2-to-1 ratio. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant was off (seven-for-18, I believe, at the time), Derek Fisher was three-for-10, and Pau Gasol was a non-factor.
Yet they were only down by two. No question, Dallas kept things interesting by liberally returning the favor when L.A. made mistakes, and the Lakers managed to get enough stops.
The gods were being generous, I suppose. But the Lakers couldn't leave well enough alone. They had to take one... last... poke.
On the ensuing trip after Odom's free throws, Jason Kidd brought the ball up the left side, and was met by Bryant, who aggressively went over a Shawn Marion screen to scuttle one of Dallas' many pick and roll attempts on the evening. Eventually, the ball made its way to Dirk Nowitzki, who took and missed a tough catch and shoot fading away over Odom.
Poke. The Lakers surrendered yet another offensive rebound, this one to Brendan Haywood. The ball never hit the rim, putting the Mavs under the gun to get a shot off. Kidd dribbled right, and found nothing. He fed Nowitzki near the foul line, matched against Kobe, the shot clock nearly expired. Dirk spun left, and right at the buzzer fired another difficult shot.
The ball fell as Kobe committed the sin of fouling late in the clock.
Dirk went to the line, and buried the free throw. Mavs by five, 87-82.
Don't get me wrong- the Lakers didn't lose the game on this play any more than they did early in the fourth, when they turned the ball over three times in two minutes, committed some terrible fouls, and struggled to run the offense. Or when they gave up six late points to close the first half (including a three-point shooting foul of Jason Terry), scored three points over the first three-plus minutes of the third, or screwed up a defensive coverage at the end of that quarter, leading to a Kidd triple.
No, these pokes- the Haywood ORB and the and-one against Dirk with almost nothing left on the 24- finally put the Lakers over their quota. So when the Mavs seemed willing to let L.A. back in the game late in the fourth, practically placing the rally caps on their collective purple and gold heads while begging for the miracle finish, the gods had a simple reply:
No late game heroics from Kobe, who saw his potential game-tying three bounce off the back rim, or Gasol, who couldn't quite get his fingers on the offensive rebound. Tuesday night against the Grizzlies, the Lakers arguably deserved to lose, and escaped with the win.
Tonight, they deserved to lose and did.
More to come...