Once Sunday evening arrived, the Lakers could relax. They had just coasted to a double-digit Game 1 victory over the Denver Nuggets. Andrew Bynum's 10 blocks tied an NBA playoff record. The Lakers raved about their team effort and Mike Brown's preparation. But the learning hadn't stopped.
No, Brown didn't hold a lengthy film session or practice. Instead, many of the Lakers watched the Clippers overcome a 27-point deficit in their Game 1 win Sunday night over the Memphis Grizzlies. Some reacted as just sports fans. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant called the game "bizarre" and center Bynum called it "crazy" and a "complete meltdown." Forward Pau Gasol had a personal interest in it, saying, "I didn't enjoy it," because his brother, Marc, plays for the Grizzlies.
But the Lakers also took a few lessons from it.
As Brown watched the game, he couldn't help but note the irony of it all. Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose suffered a season-ending injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee with the Bulls leading by 12 points over the Sixers with 1 minute 22 seconds remaining. Yet Brown defended Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau for playing Rose up to that point, arguing that "anything can happen in a short amount of time." In the Lakers' 103-88 Game 1 win Sunday over Denver, Brown also didn't pull his starters until the 1:58 mark of the fourth quarter. In the Clippers' upset, however, Coach Vinny Del Negro initially planned to rest his starters, but Chris Paul convinced him otherwise.
"Anything can happen at anytime, but you got people shouting at you with six minutes to go and you're up 15 [points]," Brown said. " 'Get them out! Get them out!' Well, let's switch seats and see how you do."
Meanwhile, Gasol watched his brother's team with sympathy. He could relate to the feeling when the Lakers blew a 24-point lead in their Game 4 loss to Boston in the 2008 NBA Finals. Four years later, the Lakers hardly feel giddy about their Game 1 victory. After all, they followed signature wins this season against the Clippers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs with substandard performances.
Bryant viewed these kinds of late comebacks as a combination of one team's silly mistakes and the opponent's refusal to give up.
"That tells you you can't get away from what you've been doing all game long regardless of the score," Gasol said. "You can't play the scoreboard. You have to play the game and continue to do the right thing."