NBA Playoff Thread: Lakers Win Fabulous Overtime Tilt

The best game of the playoffs thus far occurred in what has been the most consistently competitive first-round series, with the Lakers pulling out a thrilling overtime win over Phoenix to go up 3-1. Down by 8 in the 4th quarter, the Lakers pulled it out on a Smush Parker steal from Steve Nash after the inbounds, followed by a gorgeous teardrop layup from Kobe Bryant going baseline (no bank). In overtime, the Suns were up 3 with very little time remaining. Kobe banked in a layup and then, after the Suns brought it up, Nash was trapped and probably fouled while appearing to try and call a timeout. But Bennett Salvatore (the Dukakis lookalike) whistled a jump ball! On the inevitable Lakers tap (it was Nash and Luke Walton on the jump), Kobe had the rock on a do-or-die jumper and you know what happens when that happens--Swish! Lakers win.

Despite all the points I just mentioned Kobe scoring, the story once again was his ability to involve his teammates--he led the Lakers in assists for the fourth straight game. Lamar Odom has clearly been awakened, turning in yet another strong game. But, as crucial as it is to the Lakers success, inspiring Odom isn't all Kobe has done. When Devean George, a playoff nonentity this year until this afternoon's game, hit a couple of treys from the corner, Kobe turned down his own shots and began feeding George. He likewise fed Walton, Odom, Parker and pretty much anyone left open as Raja Bell and the Suns clamped down. As someone who has disliked Kobe's game almost from the jump, I'm pleasantly surprised that I am actually rooting for him and his team during this series, because they are obviously playing a total team game and creating enormous synergy relative to their talent level.

This is more proof that Phil Jackson is indeed a masterful tactician, but it couldn't have happened without Kobe almost completely changing his me-first mindset and, in the face of occasionally huge pressure and temptation, sticking with the gameplan. Kudos to Kobe and to Jackson.

I'd love to hear what others think about the game. Nash did get fouled at the end, as did James Jones going for the hoop in Phoenix's final play of regulation. Has any reigning MVP been so disrespected by the refs? I'm not necessarily arguing with it--I believe in "letting them play," especially when the game is in the balance--but I am surprised. And barring a huge comeback (possible for Phoenix, not for Denver), there will be a Clips-Lakers series, alongside a likely Spurs-Mavs series, which seems to me like a pair of intriguing and fantastic matchups.

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