Who's folding now?
A day after Andrew Bynum foolishly predicted that the Lakers' potential close-out game in their first-round series with the Denver Nuggets would be "kinda easy," he was kinda wrong.
A day after Bynum claimed that the Nuggets would probably "fold," it was Bynum's team that wound up bent at the waist and taking the hard breaths of humiliation.
Believe it and weep. Despite having a chance to finish off the Nuggets on Tuesday, the Lakers elected to keep playing by not playing, keeping the battle alive by falling asleep.
It was embarrassing. It was discouraging. Perhaps more than anything, it was revealing.
If the Lakers are having this much trouble with a little drizzle, how are they going to handle the Thunder?
Despite leading three games to one and playing the outmanned and inexperienced Nuggets at Staples Center, the Lakers couldn't finish the job, losing, 102-99.
It didn't matter that they came back from a 15-point deficit in the final 6:34 to nearly steal it. It didn't matter that Kobe Bryant hit four three-pointers down the stretch to wake up the quiet crowd with screams that nearly blew the Nuggets into the summer. It didn't matter that in the final seconds, the Lakers even had two chances to tie the score, with three-point attempts by Bryant and Ramon Sessions bouncing away.
Forget the dramatics. They shouldn't have needed them. It's only fitting that they didn't finish them, because they didn't deserve them.
So much for that rest before the second round against the already-favored Oklahoma City Thunder. So much for even guaranteeing a second round against the Thunder.
"We had an opportunity, we let it get away from us," said Coach Mike Brown. "We obviously made it tougher on ourselves."
This series now moves back to Denver, where the Lakers split their first two games there and could have easily lost both.
If the Lakers lose Thursday's game there, it would put them in an anything-can-happen seventh game in front of a Staples Center Lakers crowd that has been only a fraction of the dramatic postseason force of the Clippers crowd.
And, please, don't try and sell me on the idea that the Lakers wanted to extend this series because it would mean that Metta World Peace could finish his seven-game suspension in this first round, meaning he would be available to guard the Thunder's Kevin Durant from the start of the second round.
Please don't insult the Lakers by saying they tanked this one, even if it looked like it. They are smarter than that. They know that with each game, even a seemingly easy first-round series becomes more dangerous to both their health and perhaps their summer.
"It stinks," said Bynum. "We have to go on the road now and get it done."
No, right now, Bynum stinks.
It was Bynum who may have started this mess on Monday when he likely talked the Nuggets into a fury.
"Close-out games are actually kinda easy," he told the media on Monday after practice. "Teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning."
When Nuggets Coach George Karl was asked if he used that as motivation for his team, he smiled.
"I'm not going to talk about what is said behind closed doors ... but you know it will probably be brought up," he said.
It wasn't just brought up, the words appeared at the end of the film the Nuggets watched before the game. Worse yet, Karl convinced his team that Bynum's quote was about a mind-set.
"If you think it's easy, maybe it's a complacency we can use," he said.
He was right. In the first half, that Lakers complacency was everywhere. The Lakers were beaten for seemingly every loose ball, every big rebound. They were beaten not just on the court, but in the body and head, the smaller Nuggets pushing them around so much that at one point an angry Bryant walked over to Kenneth Faried and simply elbowed him in the mouth.
Then there was Bynum, who folded more than any of them. Bynum, who missed a reverse ally-oop drunk attempt because he didn't jump high enough. Bynum, who picked up a technical foul on a Bryant layup.
After showing some first-quarter aggression, Bynum took one shot and scored one point in the second quarter, then made just one basket in the third quarter. He finished with just 16 points on just eight shots as he either didn't work for the ball or couldn't work around the defense to find it.
In the meantime, at the other end of the court, Bynum was repeatedly embarrassed by the Nuggets' nutty JaVale McGee, again and again, with repeated dunks and layups that gave McGee 21 points.
Afterward, Bynum amazingly did not back off from the quote, saying he still believes it if the Lakers had started fast they would have won.
"We didn't get out to a good start, so [the quote] holds true," he said. "It wasn't there. I don't know, it just wasn't there."
In this "kinda easy" close-out game, the only thing closed out was the Lakers' pride and dignity. They will have another chance to find it on Thursday in Denver, and it will be kinda hard.