North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Lakers’ choke in the big smoke

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Call it the choke in the big smoke.

The Lakers had a 24-point lead, a home floor, and the MVP of the league on their team last night. And yet, they still fell apart, losing 97-91.

Tailor-made for ESPN Classic. Sometimes you just get that feeling, that you’re watching something that you’ll see there in a few years: the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, the 2005 Rose Bowl, game five of the 2006 NHL Finals.

But last night, they might as well have simulcast that game – it was that good.

Oddly enough, I only caught the comeback, after I tuned in at halftime. In a way, though, that’s for the best – had I watched the first half, I don’t know if I would have watched the second half, the Lakers were that dominant.

Dominant. The big three sure were last night. Ray Allen shook, blew even, the cobwebs off and was great, grabbing rebounds, hitting tough shots and, in one inspired possession, grabbed a board, ran the length of the court and hit a dynamite reverse layup. It was a dagger in the heart of the Lakers – after Allen blew their doors off with that, they were dead in the water.

They shouldn’t have been. Throughout most of the fourth, when the Celtics battled their way back into the game, they couldn’t close the gap – they tied the game four times, but didn’t take the lead until the final five minutes of the game. The Lakers had chances and chances to build on their lead, make it a two possession game at the least. But they couldn’t hit.

(Fun fact: ESPN Classic is re-airing this as an instant classic. What was the last such game that was an Instant Classic? Answer at the end of the column.)

Reigning league MVP Kobe Bryant had an odd night to say the least. He was 6-19 for 17 points. And he had 10 rebounds. But late in the game, he was definitely Michael Jordan-like.

Just not NBA-Champion Jordan. More like the Jordan of the late 1980s, who tried to do too much and never got anywhere with it.

So, where would this choke rank on the all-time choke list? Let’s pull that dossier out and see:

1983 NFC Championship: leading 21-0 in the fourth quarter at home, the Redskins fall apart defensively to the Niners, who tie the game. But in a stunning double-choke, the Niners are called for two bad penalties that keep a Redskin drive alive, and Mark Moseley hits his first field goal of the game (he had been missing them all game) and the Skins pull out a win.

1993 AFC Wild Card: with their Run-and-gun offense, the Houston Oilers lead 35-3 in the third, only to choke it all away. The Bills, in a role-reversal, score 28 in the third and a touchdown in the fourth to knot the game at 38. They would win on a Christie kick in overtime to seal the comeback.

Game three, 1982 Smythe Finals: The Edmonton Oilers, led by hall of famers Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey lead the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 after 40 minutes. But the Kings battled back, scoring five unanswered goals, the last of which with only 5 seconds left. The Oilers had suddenly lost their scoring touch and missed several good chances. They would lose in overtime, on a Daryl Evans goal, and the series in five games.

1990 Smythe Semi-finals. After winning game four in double overtime, the Winnipeg Jets take a 3-1 series lead over the Oilers. But the Edmonton would win the next two games, each by a goal, and force game seven, where they won 4-1. The Oilers would go on to win the Stanley Cup, while the Jets were never a force again in the playoffs.

2002 Eastern Conference Finals, game three: Leading by 21 in the fourth quarter, the New Jersey Nets fall apart late (Jason Kidd missed four three-pointers late), while the Boston Celtics – led by Paul Pierce, who would score 19 in the fourth – come back to win, 94-90. However, the Nets would win the series in six games.

1994 Western Semi-Finals, game two: The Houston Rockets led by 20 in the fourth, but the Phoenix Suns roared back. Led by Charles Barkley (34 points, 15 boards, 6 assists) and Kevin Johnson (27 points, 6 boards, 6 assists), they forced overtime and won, 124-117, giving them a 2-0 series lead. At the time, it was the largest comeback in NBA playoffs history. However, the Rockets made NBA history too: they became only the second team to win a series after losing the first two games at home.

So where does it rank? Above the two hockey ones, for sure, as well as the Suns comeback, since it’s the finals. Ahead of the Celtics comeback in ’02, since it was on the road. Ahead of the Niners comeback in 83, since the Niners lost (albeit on two bad calls).

And if they win the series, it’s ahead of the Bills comeback, since they got stomped in the Superbowl that year.

So, what was the last instant classic? Not Lebron’s two-OT masterpiece against the Pistons. And it’s not game five of the ’05 Finals, either.

It was that two-OT duel between Dallas and Phoenix – or should I say between Dirk and Nash – from late last season. Although, game five was also an instant classic, too.


Written by M.

June 13, 2008 at 12:58 pm

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