"Let's try for a miracle," Mike D'Antoni told his undermanned, overmatched team before Game 4. "Why not?"
Why not? Because this is real life, and a ragtag group consisting of D-League castoffs, disgruntled big men, and Chris Duhon don't upset the San Antonio Spurs, and they don't heroically fight back from 3-0. They go quietly, painfully, in front of a Staples Center crowd that cheered just once all evening, when Kobe Bryant limped out to sit behind the Lakers bench.
No Bryant. No Metta World Peace. No Steve Nash or Steve Blake or Jodie Meeks. Lots of Andrew Goudelock and Chris Duhon and Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, who was ejected in the third. At least one of those last two is unlikely to be in purple and gold next year.
The Spurs did their part in this execution, taking the lead on the opening possession and never giving it back. Their 103-82 victory was their usual workmanlike dismantling—coach Gregg Popovich praised his players for keeping their energy level high, as if this was a preseason game instead of a playoff clincher.
The Spurs sounded almost bittersweet about the sweep, in which they averaged a 19-point margin of victory. Do these quotes read happy, or just relieved?
"Obviously, it wasn't a fair fight," Popovich said. "When you're a competitor, you want to compete on an even basis, and the Lakers weren't able to do that. ... Even though it wasn't a fair fight, we still want to win the series, and I'm glad we did. Our focus was great."
"It was just a weird feeling," Tony Parker said. "Obviously, I am happy we won, but it was just weird. They were missing a lot of guys, so we're just happy to go to the next round."
"It’s really hard to measure this play because they were missing five players in the last two games," Manu Ginobili said." They’re missing five outside players which gives us a big advantage...We never thought about who was playing or who wasn’t and just competed."
There's not a ton of joy for Lakers-haters either, or at least those who can respect Kobe Bryant as a player but are sick of seeing every incarnation of his supporting cast succeed wildly. This was supposed to be his last go-round, with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard a pretty damned good consolation prize for losing out on Chris Paul. But neither Nash nor Howard were ever completely healthy, and when Bryant crumbled with an Achilles tear, it deprived us of any chance to see the full-strength Lakers go down—always more satisfying than an anticlimactic bow like this one.
Bryant will be 35 next season, with a disproportionate number of miles. Pau Gasol will likely be gone, a luxury tax casualty if L.A. has any hope of re-signing Dwight Howard. These Lakers have a few more years in them, a few more chances for Bryant to win, or go down fighting. Either would be preferable to this feeble fart of a season.