Back when I was a kid, if you were to ask me about the road warriors, I would have thought of Hawk and Animal – the devastating tag team wrestling crew whose nickname “The Legion of Doom” always entertained. Yeah, sue me, I like wrestling.
Today, when I think of the road warriors, I think of the Lakers.
Over the past 4 seasons – including this year’s group – the Lakers are 16-17 in playoff road games (for comparison’s sake, the Boston Celtics – the other top level team over this same period – is 12-17 in playoff road games). Think about that for one second. In games where the Lakers travel to the opposing team’s gym and face an amped up crowd in the most hostile enviorinments, they’re nearly .500. When considering that this team is nearly as likely to win on the road as lose – not to mention the fact that over this same period, they’ve clinched 7 series including the 2009 Finals on the road – it’s not a stretch to say that the Lakers are this era’s best road playoff team.
And it all starts with Kobe Bryant. Over at TrueHoop, ESPN Stats & Information has the following nugget:
In true superstar fashion, Kobe Bryant came to play and recorded his second 30-point game this series and 80th of his career. That’s the second-most all-time behind Michael Jordan who did it 109 times. This is really nothing new for Bryant who has excelled in Game Three of a series tied 1-1. Over the last 3 seasons he’s averaged 33.3 points per game while leading the Lakers to four victories (all on the road) in that situation. In fact, for his career Bryant is 7-1 on the road when the series is tied heading into Game Three.
In these games – as close to must win as there are – Kobe’s teams have won at a .875 clip. Also understand, these specific games have proven quite important over the years. Again from ESPN Stats & Information:
Entering this postseason, there have been 175 instances in which a best-of-seven series was tied at one after two games. When the home team won Game Three, it went on to win the series 70.1 percent of the time. When the home team lost Game Three, it went on to win the series only 16.7 percent of the time.
And in order to secure this all important win, Kobe again stepped up last night. He had a tidy line of 30 points on only 20 shots to go along with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and a block. During half time he gave a sneak peak into his mood with short and direct interview that showed a focus that his team lacked in game 1 of this series. If fans were looking for that first hint that the Lakers really were dialed in, they got it last night with Kobe’s performance a barometer for it all.
Of course, Kobe’s not doing it alone. Andrew Bynum could easily be described as this series’ most impactful Laker and Ron Artest has also been his most consistent since the second season began. But, I’d argue that more than ever this is Kobe’s team as this group truly has taken on his personality. In a conversation I had with frequent commenter/contributor to FB&G J.D. Hastings, this particular Laker group really has taken on Kobe’s personality. They’re feisty and won’t back down from anyone. They seem to rise to the occasion in big games and will do anything to earn the victory. Guys like Artest, Barnes, and Blake have been brought in seemingly just because of their past run-ins with Bryant as he’s always had a great respect for guys that go at him and don’t back down. I could go on and on, but you get the point.
In the end, this team is now starting to remind of the championship chasers from the past 3 season. And last night was just another example of Kobe and his mates following through on their reputation as winners on the road. The playoffs may just be getting started, but familiarity from years past sure is nice. And, again, it all starts with Kobe. Below is a quick clip of #24′s night. Enjoy.