- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2008

LOS ANGELES | Kobe Bryant pronounced the Los Angeles Lakers psychologically fit to play Game 5 on Sunday night after they employed coach Phil Jackson’s peace pipe to recuperate from the devastating loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

His was a thinly veiled reference to Jackson’s reefer-madness days of yesteryear. It was intended as a joke to ease the wake-like mood enveloping the Lakers, who trail the Boston Celtics 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

“I’m just joking about the peace pipe,” the NBA MVP said following practice Saturday. “I’m so not serious.”

Bryant refused to address those questions that looked ahead to the offseason.

“You’re talking like the season is over,” he said. “That’s not me. The season is far from over. Everybody’s fine. Everybody’s excited about this. We’re not down and out. This is still a series.”

With two off days between Games 4 and 5, the national press has had no choice but to place the Lakers on an analyst’s couch and ask them questions concerning their childhoods, such as whether their parents hugged them enough.

This is what happens to a team that was deemed the favorite going into the series, that goes up by 24 points in Game 4 before allowing the visitors to close the third quarter on a 21-3 scoring run and somehow becomes unresponsive in the fourth quarter.

The national press forgets the carry-over effect is negligible at this time of the season, that the Celtics needed seven games to dispatch the eighth-seeded Hawks and that the Cavaliers humiliated them 108-84 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Look where the Celtics are now, one game from an NBA championship and their experience being touted as the difference in the series.

Bryant was in an upbeat mood, his mental recovery aided by reading five chapters of a Harry Potter book to his two daughters.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Bryant switched to his mental-health lab coat the moment the Lakers left the Staples Center floor Thursday night.

“I thought his mood was uplifting [in the locker room],” Jackson said. “He sensed the fact that he had to be the one to bring us back in this situation, to be the one to say, ‘Hey, we have to take this back to Boston.’”

Rajon Rondo, the Celtics point guard with the one good ankle, attempted to take the emotional pulse of both teams in order to find the more desperate team.

“They’re a desperate team, but we’re desperate, too,” Rondo said.

Kevin Garnett, the Celtics forward who spent 12 mostly frustrating seasons in Minnesota, tried to come to terms with what it means to be possibly only 48 minutes away from a championship.

“It is what it is,” he said before repeatedly using Robert De Niro’s pet phrase during his get-together with the media.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers sounded the appropriate words of caution.

“This is a dangerous basketball team we’re playing,” he said. “Either team could have won these games. It’s that close. We have to be as desperate as them. We have to play better. We won Game 4. But we don’t think we played well.”

That assessment is accurate enough.

It promises to haunt the Lakers well into the offseason, even if they win tonight.



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