The Lakers had a golden opportunity to win their match the other day, and they flubbed it. Up by three with 11.1 ticks remaining in regulation, all they had to do was defend against the three-point shot to seal the outcome. And the clincher is that they could have done it any which way. Coming off a timeout, they could have aimed to double-team Mavericks top dog Luka Doncic and forced him to give up the ball. They could have tapped Russell Westbrook, who had success against him throughout the set-to, to defend him anew. Or they could have employed a sound strategy by fouling in the penalty, potentially giving up just two points from the charity stripe. They did none of those things, and the result was a loss arguably of their own making.
In the aftermath of the double-overtime setback at home, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham owned up to the mistake. Why he had Dennis Schroder (standing a mere six feet) guard Doncic (some seven inches taller) in single coverage, only he knows. What happened next was certainly predictable. Doncic took all of five seconds to dribble to the right spot and take a stepback trey that found nothing but net. It looked like a practice shot, really, with the All-Star once again living up to billing. And even as Troy Brown Jr. appeared to have been mugged while taking a shot from beyond the arc in the next play, their fate was already sealed.
Significantly, the National Basketball Association’s Last Two Minute Report cleared the referees of any wrongdoing in supposedly failing to whistle the Mavericks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. for a foul; “any ‘high-five’ contact,” the review noted, “is considered incidental.” It likewise bears pointing out that the men in gray made seven errant calls in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and two extra periods, including one that should have put the Lakers’ LeBron James on the line with the score tied and 2.9 seconds left in the first overtime. Still, the stats don’t lie; the purple and gold had 10 more free throws and were called for eight less fouls.
The bottom line is what it is, and can be fairly contended as consistent with pre-contest predictions. Then again, there can be no going around the wasted chance. Perhaps the scores would not have been close had James not played atrociously; he made just nine of 28 field-goal attempts, a certified downer at any time, and especially in a humdinger. Meanwhile, Doncic proved to be as advertised: a big-time player hitting a big-time shot while in the midst of a 35-14-13 triple-double. It’s why the Lakers are two spots out of last place in the West, and why their definition of success is making the play-in tournament for a likely one-and-done appearance.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.