Hogged by critics and commentators for his clutch-time mistakes, Kobe Bryant finally answered with a sound Game 3 performance to give his Lakers their only victory in the Western Conference Semifinals so far. He followed this win with an expletive-ridden tirade to all who had doubted him.
“I don’t play for your [expletive] approval. I play for my own love and enjoyment of the game. And to win. That’s what I play for. Most of the time, when guys feel the pressure, they’re worried about what people might say about them. I don’t have that fear, and it enables me to forget bad plays and to take shots and play my game.”
For Kobe, his actions in the game spoke much louder than his words after. Across the league, several players and teams responded to the critics and the doubters with spectacular on-court performances over the past week. Considered by some to be a misfit last season, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have co-existed perfectly in these playoffs to become the league’s most consistent dynamic duo. Out in the East, another powerful duo – LeBron and Wade – silenced their critics after a historical Game 4 win against the Pacers. The Celtics and the brilliant Spurs are out to prove their doubters that they have a lot more life left in them, and the 76ers, particularly Andre Iguodala, are showing the world that they are capable of a memorable playoff run.
With another week of playoff action in the books, let’s take a look back at where the four series stand:
Celtics vs. 76ers: Two teams so different and yet, in many ways, so similar. Boston have age, experience, and savvy to their side, but Philadelphia has countered it by youth and energy. Where the two sides compare is their hard-nosed defensive intensity and teamwork. The result: after four games, they find themselves tied at 2-2. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce seem to have bathed in the Fountain of Youth as they gave a few vintage performances in the series. But don’t count out Andre Iguodala – who hit the biggest shot in Game 4 – and the 76ers, a team that has shown its willingness to fight till the end.
Heat vs. Pacers: With the absence of Chris Bosh, Miami were reduced to a ‘Big Two’, and the Pacers, with their depth and length, exploited the Heat’s weakness to go 2-1 up in the series. With controversy hounding league MVP LeBron James and the struggling Dwyane Wade, the two superstars answered in the most spectacular way possible. James and Wade put up a game for the ages, leading Miami as ‘two vs five’ for the majority of Game 4 to even up the series at 2-2. The two combined for 70 points, with James posting dazzling statistics of 40 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists, and Wade adding 30, 6, and 9. The Pacers still have the more balanced team, but they face a tough fight ahead against Miami’s superstar duo if they want to cause an upset.
Spurs vs. Clippers: Quietly, efficiently (as always!), the Spurs won their 18th game in a row and swept their second consecutive playoff series, 2-0. Does this team have a weakness at this point? With Tony Parker at top of his game, Tim Duncan playing his heart out, and a host of other contributors helping to share the offense, the Spurs are looking like the most dangerous team in the playoffs. The Clippers played valiantly – especially in their two home games – but had been too hobbled by injuries and too outmatched by San Antonio. The Spurs swept them 4-0 to become the first team to enter the Conference Finals.
Thunder vs. Lakers: The most intriguing series of the first round; the Thunder find themselves up 3-1, but the Lakers probably feel that the series score could easily have been the reverse had they finished some games better. But in the playoffs, fortune favours the brave, and Kevin Durant and the Thunder have definitely been the braver squad. Time and again, the young Thunder have shown surprising calm in clutch moments and executed with the right shots, right rebounds, and right defence to be up in the series. Going back to OKC for Game 5, the Lakers will need their bigs – Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol – to really step if they wish to force a Game 6 return back to Los Angeles.
The O’Brien Files: A little taste of Playoff history - LeBron James – with his epic 40, 18, and 9 night – has clocked the type of statistics rarely seen in NBA history. He became the first player to have these points, rebounds, and assists numbers since Elgin Baylor did it back in 1961, 51 years ago!