The French have a phrase for it “je ne sai quoi” that certain something I can’t put my finger on. It’s one way you can describe all championship teams. There’s something about them that you can’t quite quantify. You can’t say they have more of something you can’t identify, but you know they have it.
I was at the NBA Finals in Orlando this week and while it was a better match up than most reporters wanted you to believe, the Lakers had whatever it is and the Magic did not. Los Angeles won their 14th NBA title in five games over the Magic, winning two at home and two of three in Orlando. Two of those wins came in overtime, another piece of evidence that the Lakers had that indiscernible thing while the Magic are still searching for it.
Maybe it comes down to the star player on each team. LA has Kobe while the Magic have Dwight Howard. Kobe has a certain will that carries his team. I can see where you could not like him and not like the Lakers. Bryant is a bit of a preener and does get the “superstar” treatment by the refs. But he’s tough and wow is he a great player.
He’s not Michael. He doesn’t go to the basket and will himself there the way Michael did but he has skills that are nearly unmatched.
And he has a dogged-ness about him that does translate through his team. He digs in and so do his teammates.
Howard on the other hand isn’t quite that much of a leader. He has some holes in his game, but he still has that youthfulness, that innocence that doesn’t carry his team through tough times. Maybe he’ll have to be a more complete player to get that done. Hit more foul shots, become more polished on offense and ask more of his teammates. But for now, when things start to go south for the Magic, Howard can’t put the brakes on and drag them back into contention.
That’s why after what happened at the end of game four in regulation, I didn’t think there was any way the Magic could win game five, even at home. They were so devastated by being up by three with ten seconds to play and WITH THE BALL but still lost. I figured they’d put up a fight for a while in game five but if things started not to go their way, they’d fold up.
And that’s what happened.
Los Angeles went on a 16-0 run in the second quarter and the Magic just backed up and seemed to accept a loss as inevitable. And I’m not just talking about Dwight Howard. Hedo, Lewis, Pietrus and the rest looked like they were just there for show most of the time in game five. Maybe they got there a year early. Maybe they hit a bunch of threes in crucial situations in the playoffs to propel them to the finals. And maybe they had just so much talent they couldn’t get out of the way of it if they wanted to. But they didn’t have that certain “something.”
They liked each other, they like to play the game and they like to win, but at the top level, in the Finals, you have to have a little more than what they were equipped with.
So congrats to Kobe for his fourth title and of course, his first without Shaq. But he did have Pau Gasol, perhaps the most under rated player in the league. That guy is not Euro-Soft as he appears. He’s tough, skilled and willing. Not a bad combination for a seven-footer.
Jacksonville’s Otis Smith as the Magic General Manager has pushed the right buttons and has signed the right guys to get them here. Now he’ll have to back it up with some more solid decision-making. Hedo has exercised his option and each team is different form the last. It’s not a lock they’ll be better next year but look for Dwight Howard, without an Olympic year commitment in the off-season, to develop more as an offensive player.
By the way, was I the only person who sensed a slight “tune out” factor between the players and Stan Van Gundy? I’d play for him; I think he’s a very good coach. But it seemed like his act wore a little thin on the players as the series and perhaps as the playoffs wore on.
And lastly, I still hate the 2-3-2 format. Go back to the 2-2-1-1-1 no matter what travel is involved.