In the middle of the third quarter, with the Lakers enjoying a double-digit lead, Kobe Bryant went to the free throw line. Typically, this is when Bryant is serenaded with the familiar “MVP! MVP!” chants from the Staples Center crowd. But that didn’t happen.
It wasn’t because Kobe was having a bad night – quite the opposite. He was toeing the line between distributor and scorer wonderfully (27 points, 7 assists), and the Lakers offense, despite some serious bricklaying from Metta World Peace, actually looked pretty smooth en route to a 101-77 blowout win over Golden State.
So why wasn’t Kobe getting his MVP chants? The Lakers faithful surely couldn’t have come to a collective decision that those chants, in Game 6 of an 82-game season, sound ridiculous. So what was this? Who is…Bill? Oh, right.
“We want Phil! We want Phil! We want Phil!”
The chants grew louder and louder – even free tacos wouldn’t evoke so much emotion.
The fact that the Lakers were finally defending better, chasing the Warriors’ shooters off the 3-point line and sending them into the teeth of the defense, was secondary. It didn’t seem to matter that the Lakers, finally, weren’t toasted in transition or on the offensive glass.
Mike Brown’s firing serves to a greater point. Slow progression is not something the Lakers or their fanbase know. If they aren’t playing like a championship team, regardless of the circumstances, there has to be changes. With Kobe Bryant’s clock ticking, there is no time for patience. With Dwight Howard’s contract expiring, there is no time for patience.
Right or wrong, Mike Brown is gone. The Lakers got the nice “dead coach bounce” – the blowout win after canning your coach. Happens all the time, but this was an impressive victory nonetheless. The Lakers played inside-out, and felt less “forced” offensively. It was more simple. The offense could best be described as “our players are better than yours, watch this” instead of the forced handoffs and general awkwardness of the five previous games. There were lots of positive takeaways defensively as well, particularly holding one of the league’s best shooting backcourts (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) to a 12-for-32 effort.
But the defensive numbers, as great as they are, didn’t resonate quite like the chants did. The people want Phil Jackson – the players want Phil Jackson – and until he’s back giving reading assignments and administering zen lessons, this will be a distraction. This won’t go away. Not even when the Lakers are in the middle of cruising to a much-needed victory.
Interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff didn’t inherit Mike Brown’s team – he inherited Phil Jackson’s shadow, just like Mike Brown did. Good luck with that.