The Lakers remained confident after their close-but-no-cigar loss in Game Two of the West Finals. Even as they turned victory into defeat following a glaring inability to protect what looked to be a safe lead in the fourth quarter, they looked forward to doing battle with the Nuggets at home. There was, perhaps, cause for confidence; after all, they boasted of an undefeated record at crypto.com Arena throughout the playoffs to date. And, given the familiar confines with which they could rest between matches, they figured to be rejuvenated for Game Three.
As things turned out, the Lakers could do no better even in front of the packed 18,997-strong partisan crowd. When the battlesmoke cleared yesterday, they emerged with the short end of the stick yet again. Not that they didn’t scratch and claw throughout the set-to; they did their best, and left nothing in the tank. By the time the final buzzer sounded, stalwarts LeBron James and Anthony Davis had north of 40 minutes to their name. They were needed for every one in order to keep up with the Nuggets, but, once more, they came up short.
The bottom line is clear: The Nuggets are superior in every way. It isn’t simply that they have two-time Most Valuable Player awardee Nikola Jokic and postseason sensation Jamal Murray leading the charge. It’s that they have more able warm bodies around them. In short, they’re just too deep, too stacked, too everything, to be beaten by the flawed Lakers. James has been exposed as old and injured, Davis as maddeningly inconsistent, and the rest of the purple and gold as overmatched — hence the outcome. The deafening silence at the end yesterday notwithstanding, no one should have been surprised by the final score, and by the status of the series.
And so the Lakers are down zero and three to the likely champions, with the inevitable as clear as day: The Nuggets will be the conference titleholders. What’s still up in the air is if they can avoid the broom. Respect can be had in coming close, just as respect can still be earned by playing for pride. What’s more, they may yet display their finest while free of pressure. Game Four beckons, and the watch continues.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, oprerations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.