Last weekend Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts defeated the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game, and advanced to the Super Bowl, and to some the outcome was not a surprise. The true surprise was how the Colts achieved that victory.
For 28 of the game’s first 30 minutes, the Jets proved they not only belonged on the same field as the Colts, but they could pull off the upset. Their defense frustrated Manning; Mark Sanchez made precision passes; and their running game was seemingly unstoppable. The final score was 17-6.
Then, as if Manning gathered his team together, and said, “Ok, that’s enough,” the Colts put together an efficient drive towards the end of the first half . They cut into both the lead and the Jets’ momentum, and the score was cut to 17-13. In the second half, the Colts capitalized on the dominance, they flashed towards the end of the half. Manning threw two touchdown passes, and they outscored the Jets 17-0 en route to a 30-17 final score.
After his team’s loss, a dejected Jets coach Rex Ryan said to the media, “You have to give credit to the Colts. Obviously they’re the cream of the crop right now.”
Although the stakes were not as high, the Los Angeles Lakers 115-103 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night played out in almost the exact same way as that AFC Championship game.
The Wizards, who frequently struggled with slow starts during the month of January, started off playing brilliant basketball in the first quarter. All five of their starters scored; everyone seemed to be making the extra pass; and even the cold shooting DeShawn Stevenson came off the bench to hit some big shots. They weren’t blowing the Lakers out, but they were able to build a 22-16 lead.
And then Kobe Bryant, much like Peyton Manning did against Jets, decided to take over.
First he drew a Mike Miller foul and hit two free throws. His next time down the floor, he hit a three-pointer. The Wizards tried to keep pace by hitting shots of their own, but the Lakers (specifically Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown) seemed to be energized by Bryant’s play, and they would not go away. With 0.9 seconds left in the quarter, Bryant drilled an 18-footer to give the Lakers a 30-29 lead.
They would not trail again.
Much like the Jets didn’t seem to put up a fight in the second half of their match against the Colts, the Wizards effort in the second quarter was feeble at best. They shot 36% from the field (after a 54% first quarter); they committed six turnovers (after one in the first quarter); and they were only able to score 15 points total. Bryant’s late first quarter heroics had seemingly stolen the Wizards will to win in the second quarter. The score at the end of the first half: 60-44 Lakers.
Coach Flip Saunders spoke about his team’s second quarter struggles after the game.
“In the second quarter, we struggled to get some quality shots. Brown and Farmar came in and really put a lot of pressure on and they made shots.”
Captain Antawn Jamison agreed with Saunders’ assessment.
“One bad quarter was a difference maker for us tonight,” Jamison said while standing in front his locker. “If you take away the second quarter, things would have been easier. That’s why the game is 48 minutes. They took advantage of our mistakes and we weren’t able to come back. That team continues to stay poised.”
In the second half, the Wizards made less mistakes, scored more points than they gave up, got strong contributions from seven players (six in double figures, with Stevenson narrowly missed with eight points). Still, they were unable to offset the last three minutes of the first quarter, and then their poor performance in the second. That proved to be the difference in the game.
Center Brendan Haywood talked about the frustrations surrounding that one weak quarter of basketball.
“I think that we had a couple of possessions where we didn’t get the shot that we needed to get,” a disappointed Haywood said while icing both knees. “That led to them getting a lot of transition buckets and getting fouled in the open court. With a team like the Lakers, that’s all it takes is a quick four or five minutes of you not playing your best and they take advantage of it.”
But of all the post game quotes from the Washington Wizards’ side of the locker room, the one that stuck was the most came from Coach Flip Saunders. Unlike past games when he seemed visibly annoyed at his team’s effort, his body language and tone sounded like a man who knew the better team had indeed won.
“They’re a very good team. There’s a reason they are the world champs. Every time we’d get close, Kobe would take over and be a facilitator scoring-wise or getting Gasol involved. You can see they don’t panic in situations.”
Replace the names Kobe and Gasol with Manning and Garcon, and Rex Ryan couldn’t have stated it any better.