Of all the series in this 2011 NBA playoffs, there is none that exemplifies the David vs. Goliath narrative better than that of the L.A. Lakers vs. the New Orleans Hornets. With more size and talent at almost every position, the title-favourite Lakers were widely predicted to sweep the series in convincing fashion (by myself included). After four games, however, the only thing I’m convinced of is that New Orleans has got to be the most endearing underdog since the 2007 Golden State Warriors, who made history by becoming the first 8th seeded to knock off a no. 1 seed.
As of today, the Hornets have tied the series at two wins apiece behind a performance from their captain, point guard Chris Paul, that has been so terrific that attempting to describe it in passing couldn’t possibly do it justice, and a scrambling defense that has done an admirable job of stymying a veritable army of Lakers big men. In short, the Hornets are my ideal underdog, and choosing a team to root for whenever I turn on their games is by far the easiest decision of my day. Yet despite everything I’ve written above, part of me is conflicted.
It’s a part that I’m not happy about, a part that that doesn’t care about Cinderella stories or legendary upsets. It flares up whenever I read about the famous playoff rivalries from the 80s, the ones fought by the game’s biggest stars and signature teams. Because although watching this New Orleans squad knock back the titanic Lakers has been a joy in many ways, deep down I know that in order for one of my dream Finals matchups to happen, …L.A. must move on. If the Boston Celtics are to renew their war with the Lakers, or the Miami Heat are to collide with the Purple and Gold in a star-studded EVENT, this story has to end with the Villain prevailing.
It’s a strange feeling, fist-pumping after every clutch Chris Paul play and booing every time Kobe is sent to the line on a weak call, when all I can honestly admit to wanting is a spectacular, seven game series where my team doesn’t win. A kind of double-think is required when watching these games, with a voice in the back of my head always whispering against my cheers. Watching Game 4, my eyes widened when Kobe rolled his ankle towards the end of the 4th quarter, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the knowledge that the Lakers would be unlikely to catch the Hornets that night with their star injured (but hopefully not too injured, whispered the voice, knowing full well that a healthy Bryant would be necessary to dispatch future foes). So, I will continue pulling for the underdog Hornets, shaking my head in wonder at the desperation of their play, hoping for a Game 7 that comes down to one final possession, one series-deciding shot…and that the Villain will walk away the victor.