The journey of redemption started with the loss of Game Six of the 2008 NBA championship. With the Boston Celtic leading the championship series by a three games to two margin, the L.A. Lakers were hoping to even the playoff and force a deciding Game Seven. Instead, their season and championship hopes ended with Games Six. The Boston Celtics crushed the Lakers: 131 – 92. It was a decisive victory to cap a championship year for the Boston Celtics.
For the Lakers, the goal from that game on and through this present season has been to return to the championship series and win it. Now the less heralded Houston Rockets have extended a playoff series to a deciding Game Seven. Many basketball fans, even those devoted to the Rockets, thought that the series would be decided quickly when Yao Ming was diagnosed with a season-ending foot injury. Nevertheless, the Rockets, without Yao Ming, have humiliated the Lakers twice in Houston. Game Seven returns to Los Angeles.
There is no question that Kobe Bryant will be extremely focused for Game Seven. He is a historian of the game and knows that a loss to the Houston Rockets would have a damaging impact on his personal basketball resume and possible long term negative consequences on his young Lakers team mates. Kobe Bryant knows that the sports headlines will read that he could not lead a team without Shaquille O’Neal to a championship. Further, it would be losing to an injury depleted team that few thought could match the Lakers.
The Houston Rockets knows that Kobe Bryant will try to put his stamp on Game Seven quickly and forge an early lead. The Lakers now know the dangers of having a slow start. Houston Coach Rick Adelman may want Kobe Bryant to dominate. It may turn the other four Lakers on the court into semi-spectators. Further, there is the question now about how much Kobe Bryant trusts his team-mates. In Game Six…
- Derek Fisher’s shooting slump continued.
- Pau Gasol relied on his jump shot and did not have a single foul shot.
- Trevor Ariza has been prone to early turn-overs.
- Andrew Bynum continued to struggle to return to pre-injury form. He had no points in Game Six.
- Lamar Odom was recovering from a back injury – and has been having problems with free throws.
- Sasha Vujacic still wrestled with shooting problems, an issues that has plagued him throughout the regular season. The shooting woes continued into the post season play.
In short, there are reasons for Kobe Bryant to revert to being a high volume shooter. After two embarrassing losses, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers will want to make an early statement. The Rockets must be prepared to weather the initial offensive surge. What works in the Rockets’ favor is that the Lakers have shown repeatedly that they have problems protecting a lead. The Lakers are renown for losing focus. The Rockets can come back, if they limit the offensive surge to a manageable number and maintain their patience.
Can the Houston Rockets win Game Seven and advance? Few expected them to be playing a ‘win-or-go-home’ Game Seven with the Lakers. The Rockets have proven that they can win without Yao Ming. And they did win Game One of this playoff series in Los Angeles. Game Seven is a continuation of a basketball version of ‘David and Goliath’. With speed, patience, defense, confidence, hard team work and a few timely breaks, the Rockets could create a fairy tale, legendary ending. The irony is that this is a game that, appropriately enough, will be played close to ‘Hollywood’.