So, it was apt when, in describing how the Lakers are tempering their emotions in the moment, Dwight Howard sounded an awful lot like Bryant on Friday.
“Simple,” Howard said when asked about his team’s mentality heading into Saturday’s Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against the Denver Nuggets. “The job is not finished.”
In the 2009 Finals, after the Lakers went up 2-0 over Howard’s Orlando Magic team, Bryant was asked by a reporter why he wasn’t smiling during the postgame news conference. “What’s there to be happy about?” Bryant retorted. “The job’s not finished. Is the job finished? I don’t think so.”
The Nuggets team the Lakers are facing have proved to be resilient when on the brink of elimination. Denver trailed the Utah Jazz in the first round 3-1 and won the series. It fell behind 3-1 to the LA Clippers in the conference semifinals and won that series, too. And so rather than allow Denver any daylight, Howard says the Lakers have to play like the team that can see its season end Saturday.
“They’re going to give us their best shot. They’re not going to let up,” Howard said. “They’re a really good team, very well-coached. We understand that. We’re one step closer to our dream, so we’re not going to take our foot off the gas. I think we’re going to bring more intensity than we brought before.
“We have a well-experienced group of guys on our team, even coaches. We understand how important this series is and this game is and that we should treat it like a Game 7 with our intensity and our effort, and just play as hard as we can.”
As impressive as the Nuggets have been, accounting for two of the 13 total 3-1 comebacks in league history — including becoming the first team to do it twice in the same postseason — the Lakers have some closeout history on their side as well.
LeBron James is 14-0 in his postseason career in series when his teams go up 3-1, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Eleven of those series he closed out in Game 5, including the Lakers’ 2-0 mark in these playoffs, eliminating the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 in the first round and the Houston Rockets in Game 5 in the Western semis.
“Our group’s demeanor in all of these playoff games has been to treat every one like a must-win,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Friday. “I would say that same mindset has applied to the close-out games we had against Houston and Portland, and we know those are always the most difficult wins to get in a series, and we expect this to be no different.”