miller's musings

    The seventh game of the Lakers-Kings series had a special feel.

    After six games, the teams knew each other. All of Lakers’ head coach Phil Jackson’s tricks had been used up and each team played great basketball. For a little while, the game was in sporting nirvana.

    The jerseys were secondary in importance to the poetry-in-motion of the Kings’ fastbreaking and Kobe jump shooting. Then this heart-rending sound started to reverberate throughout Arco Arena: clank, clank, clank. The Kings couldn’t hit a free-throw. The game’s veneer broke by the Kings’ inability to make the easiest shot in basketball. On their home court, the Kings had the hearts and souls of 20,000 fans screaming “”memes”” behind them, and they made only 16 of 30 free throws.

    How is this possible? It is unheard of for a professional team to shoot that poorly for a game. A number like that belongs to a high school team — to kids that are so tired when they get to the line, they can’t shoot the rock because they have no legs left.

    In contrast, the Lakers went 27-for-33 from the line and Shaquille O’Neal had four of those misses. They outscored the Kings by 13 points from the line. There is no way a team can expect to win when they have that kind of free throw differential. It is a testament to the will and heart of the boys from Sac-town that they were able to stay in the game.

    Clutch shooting and big defensive plays helped the Kings stay even with the Lakers through four quarters. But overtime was a different story when the Kings fell apart mentally and let the Lakers take the game (on some prime free throw shooting by O’Neal and Fisher). However, the overtime would not have been needed if the Kings managed to make 66 percent from the line — a poor showing on any night — but still good enough for a four-point victory for the Kings.

    Then there are the Lakers. Here I am talking about how the Kings should have won, how they had all the possibilities to win — not only in the seventh game but throughout the series — and in the end, the only reason they lost is because they missed free throws. Couldn’t the Lakers have done something to push the Kings towards elimination? Yes, they could have, but they didn’t so much push as step out of the way when the Kings went for the kill.

    As the game closed, the Lakers began to look a lot like Vlade Divac, goofy smile and all. Divac has this move he pulls on opposing centers: He lets them back him down, and then, when the man he is guarding lowers the shoulder and goes for the hoop, Vlade disappears. He just flits off across the lane while his man stumbles, falls, turns over the ball and generally looks like a fool, but it works.

    Vlade does this at least once or twice a game; it is one of the reasons the Kings were able to contain Shaq for the first five games of the series and it is what the Lakers did in the fourth quarter of game seven.

    During the fourth quarter, Kobe didn’t score a point, Fox cooled down and the only player who was doing anything was Superman himself: Shaq. They just slipped away and let the Kings stumble and fall (i.e., Peja and Christie getting nothing but air from beyond the arc).

    This is certainly a way to win, and anything that gets the “”W”” is acceptable, right? But isn’t there a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose, even if the results at the end of the day are the same? The Lakers played this series not to lose, while the Kings played to win. Sacramento came up short, but in their hearts they know they gave it everything they had and came up short. Hell, they probably had the same thoughts of failure flashing through their heads I did every time I lofted an 18-footer as a freshman in high school, but they still tried.

    The Lakers never played to win — never tried. It took them till the fourth quarter to realize that the Kings wanted the finals so bad that their whole mind, body and soul was focused on winning and playing the best that they could. It is a testament to the strength of the Lakers that they were able to play this way and still win. But do you think the Kings are going to fall for the same disappearing act twice? Do you think they are even going to let the series get to seven games with a healthy Peja sinking his silky J from downtown?

    The Lakers better start playing with some heart, because there is no way the Kings are going to hit only 50 percent of their free throws again. The Lakers are probably sitting on their dairy-aires right now thinking about why — when they have arguably the two best players in the game — they played not to lose. Instead, Kobe has once again smirked his way into the NBA finals.

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