Lakers players (from left) Chris Duhon, Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers guard stepped to the foul line and the familiar chant rose from the Staples Center crowd.
“M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”
Three wondrous letters symbolized the sorry end of a season. The Lakers fans were chanting for their only MVP still on his feet — Development League MVP Andrew Goudelock.
He was purchased from basketball's minor leagues less than two weeks ago to replace injured Kobe Bryant. He had been placed in the starting lineup two hours earlier to replace injured Steve Nash.
BOX SCORE: Spurs 120, Lakers 89
With the chants adorning his first career NBA start and only his third NBA game this season, Goudelock inspiringly hit two free throws late in the first quarter Friday against the San Antonio Spurs. But reality hit moments later when Goudelock's turnover and foul led to four Spurs points that gave them a dozen-point lead to end the quarter, beginning a domination that never ended in a 120-89 win in a deciding Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs.
Deciding, because the Lakers now face a historically insurmountable three-games-to-none deficit with all their miracles in casts or bandages or pain.
Deciding, because this nightmare of a season, and joke of a playoffs, is finally over.
The two teams will play through the final 48 minutes Sunday because the rules require it, but there is no longer any reason the shallow team from Hollywood should share the same court with the workmanlike bunch from south Texas.
The good news here is that the earthquake that was felt elsewhere in Southern California was not felt during the game. The bad news was that it could have actually been masqueraded by the faith-rumbling end of a Lakers era.
Something certainly jolted Jeanie Buss out of her seat, as the Lakers' executive vice president and governor walked out of the building with 7:40 remaining in the fourth quarter. Buss, who needs to take charge of this team for the sake of her father's legacy, has not spoken publicly since the Feb. 18 death of Jerry Buss. Here's hoping she addresses the fans next week after this season officially ends.
The fans deserve to hear from who is running the show, and how they are going to run it. The fans need explanations for the mess that stumbled across the court Friday in the worst home playoff loss in franchise history, because it wasn't just about the bad luck of the present, but bad decisions in the past and questionable hope for the future.
Yes, these Lakers were playing without three of their best players, including two future of Hall of Famers. But to say that injuries cost them the season is to ignore the facts of the season.
These Lakers stunk long before they ached. When their projected opening night lineup was actually together on the floor, they were 0-7. Their roster was too old, their coach was too stubborn to change his system to fit them, and their supposed future centerpiece has played mostly with neither wisdom nor passion.
How bad has it been? Midway through the fourth quarter Friday, a chant arose that has become the season mantra.
“We want Phil! We want Phil! We want Phil!”
It has not been a great year when your fans' favorite cheer is for a coach who was spurned by your basketball boss, and here's hoping that Jim Buss is hearing every syllable.
How desperate does it seem? Jeanie Buss wasn't the only one who left early, as this might have been the first Lakers first-round playoff game to end in front of mostly empty seats, the crowd so scattered that those sitting courtside could hear fans loudly cursing Coach Mike D'Antoni.
How enduring are the problems? The Lakers have now lost nine of their last 11 playoff games dating back to last season. It is the worst postseason stretch in club history.
How badly did the evening end? After his team played youth-league defense while watching the Spurs shoot 61%, D'Antoni spoke compassionately about them as if they were, indeed, a youth league team.
“I thought out guys played as hard as they could play,” he said. “They are trying the best they can.”
The night was unsettling the moment D'Antoni announced during the pregame news conference that, because of injuries to Nash and Steve Blake, the starting backcourt would be Darius Morris and Goudelock. This year, Morris was buried on the Lakers bench while Goudelock was buried on the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Sioux Falls Skyforce.
It was decided that Morris would call the plays because, well, he was the only one of the two who knew the plays.
“It's a lot better when you hold up ‘one' and you actually run it,” D'Antoni said.
It turns out, the two guards were two of their best players, combining for 44 points and seven assists. But, like everyone else on the court, they were burned defensively, with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker combining to miss only nine of 30 shots.
“Once they get into a rhythm, you might as well kiss it good night,” Goudelock said of the Spurs.