All Ball Sports: Lakers on the brink. So is Mira Costa soccer, but in a good way

Thomas Southey and Ben Moglia celebrate their 6-0 semi final victory against Godinez last Saturday. They face Loyola Friday night for the CIF Divsion I championships.

by Paul Teetor

It’s getting late early for both the Lakers and the Clippers.       

For now, their fans can quit dreaming about the Hallway Series between the two Staples Center co-tenants, the dream series that everyone’s been talking about for the last two years.

Last year it was supposed to happen in the Western Conference Finals, but got canceled because the Clippers choked so badly against the Denver Nuggets in the semifinals that they couldn’t make their appointment with history. It would have been their first trip ever to the WCF.

And this year it was again supposed to happen in the Western Conference Finals after the Clippers tanked their last two games in a frantic effort to avoid a first-round match up with the Lakers.

But right now both teams are at a perilous point. They each lost the first game of their first-round playoff series – the Lakers to the Phoenix Suns and the Clippers to the Dallas Mavericks.

But it wasn’t so much that they each lost their first game of a best four out of seven series. It was the way they lost that was so ominous.

The Clippers yet again choked away a lead in the last three minutes of the game with Dallas Saturday night. Even though Paul George didn’t hit the side of the backboard with any shots, as he did in last season’s playoffs, it wasn’t hard to picture the ghosts of past chokes dancing in his head.

And the Lakers never really showed up for their game with the Phoenix Suns Sunday afternoon.

After staying even with the Suns through most of the first quarter up to 17-17, the Lakers simply fell asleep and fell apart.

Even LeBron James was prone to long periods of just holding the ball while the offense ground to a halt, and his teammates waited for him to do something spectacular. But Superman stayed in the phone booth and never came out, at least for this first game.

LeBron, as much of a gamer as he is, was clearly still feeling the debilitating effects of the high ankle sprain he suffered two months ago. He scored only 18 points while hitting only six of 13 shots from the field and missing three of his six foul shots. The numbers are far below his usual dominating stats in playoff games. 

Even worse, he simply didn’t have the explosion in his legs or the mental strength to bull-doze defenders on his way to the hoop, rip down rebounds and go coast-to-coast with no one able to catch him, or pull off a single version of his signature move: the chase-down block from behind.

Indeed, the truly scary part for Lakers fans was that on several drives to the hoop, LeBron’s shot was blocked by players who normally would have no chance to swat his stuff.

That left the heavy lifting to his side-kick, the $190 million-man, alleged superstar Anthony Davis. Could he pick up the slack?

Turns out, no way, no how, no chance. AD was even worse than LeBron – as were his numbers. He scored 13 points while hitting only 5 of 16 shots, 3 of 5 foul shots, and pulling down a paltry 7 rebounds – none of them on the offensive boards, where real men go to war.

Bad numbers can be forgiven – the NBA is a make-or-miss league, and some nights you’re going to miss shots you normally make. But passivity, an unwillingness to get physical with the man you’re assigned to guard, and an indifferent on-court persona are impossible to forgive.

Consider: while AD was stinking up the Suns home court, the man he was supposed to be guarding, third-year center DeAndre Ayton, took his milk money and ate his lunch. Ayton, who has made exactly zero all-star teams to AD’s nine, connected on 10 of his 11 shots – most of them close to the rim in heavy traffic – and grabbed a game-high 16 boards. In other words, DA punked AD — and AD had no reply. 

Pressed about the mis-match by the media after the game, AD offered up his usual mealy-mouthed reply.

“There’s no way we’re winning a game, let alone a series, with me playing the way that I played,” he said. “So, I mean, this is on me. I take full responsibility, for sure.”

Sounds good on paper, but where were those sentiments during the heat and pressure of the game, when he had a chance to back them up with action? Why did he keep hanging around the perimeter (O for 2 on 3-pointers) when he could have been and should have been asserting himself under the basket and doing the dirty work it takes to rebound and play defense in the playoffs?

Again, he said all the right things. “So I kind of just got lost in the offense,” he said. “But I still have to be assertive and find ways to get the ball. It just kind of took me out of rhythm, but that’s on me. I still gotta find ways to make plays on that end of the floor, offensively.”

While LeBron would never publicly throw a teammate under the ball cart, it wasn’t hard to read between the lines of what he said about AD post-game.

“I love it when AD takes that pressure on himself,” he said. “We’re a better team when he demands the ball.”

Still, two years of watching AD in a purple and gold uniform have made one thing perfectly clear: he is not an alpha dog. He is not a lead dog. Indeed, he is not really a dog at all, in the sense of a player willing to fight and scrap and do whatever it takes to compete and win.

He’s a marvelously skilled big man who is best suited to be a second option to LeBron, happy to let LeBron do the heavy lifting while he plays the wing-man role, backing down smaller players when he has to, but preferring to show off his feathery outside touch and great defensive skills.     

Game two Tuesday night against the Suns will tell the story of this series. Will LeBron be physically up to the task of leading his team to victory over a very good Suns team. Will AD be willing to break a sweat and play with the sense of urgency and desperation it will take to win?

Who knows? But we do know that right now their best chance to turn the series around is that the shoulder injury Suns point guard and spiritual leader Chris Paul suffered mid-way through game 1 turns out to be even more serious than it looked in the second half, when he was clearly ineffective and passing and shooting like a guy playing with only one arm.

There’s an old NBA truism that says a playoff series doesn’t really start until the visiting team wins a game. The Lakers can take comfort that their loss was on the Suns home court. If they can win game 2 in Phoenix and come back to Staples Center for game 3 Thursday night, they’ll be in a reasonably good position to win the series.

But the Clippers? They lost on their home court, which means the clock is already ticking on their chances to win the series. If they lose Tuesday night at Staples Center again and have to head to Dallas down 0-2, NBA statistics and probabilities say they have less than a 7 percent chance of winning the series.

It’s getting late early for the Lakers.

But it’s getting late late for the Clippers. 

Mustangs soccer making history 

The Mira Costa boys soccer team has a chance to make even more school history Friday night in front of its home fans when they play Loyola for the CIF Southern Section title.

That history making opportunity was set up by two amazing wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

Easily the best win in school history came Wednesday when Costa traveled all the way to Cathedral – near Dodgers Stadium – for what everyone assumed would be a blowout at the feet of the undefeated team that was ranked by most experts as the top team in the country.

“Everyone kept telling us how good they are, so it was tough to even think about beating them,” said Costa center forward Thomas Southey. “We just didn’t want to get blown out.”

But as the game got underway the team gradually realized they had a chance to pull off a huge upset. 

“In the first 10, to 20 minutes we started getting chances to score and we realized we can really play with these kids,” Southey said. “You could feel their frustration. They weren’t used to being challenged.” 

The game was scoreless until late in the second half when Costa’s Jack Crawford finally broke through.

“From 30 yards out Jack had a real banger,” Southey said. “He collected the ball, juked a guy out, and the shot was so good there was no chance for the goalies. After that we were like let’s go, now we know for sure that we can win this.”

Indeed, Southey made sure of it himself just four minutes after Crawford’s goal when he gave his team a 2-0 lead.

“We had a throw in and Jack made a super long throw,” Southey said. “I went up to head it, and a guy on the post – not the goalie — kicked the header right back to me. I just chopped it, smashed it and suddenly we were up two to zero.”

Cathedral finally scored with nine minutes left, but the Mustangs held on to secure the amazing upset by a score of 2-1.

“That was the biggest game of my life, and the best win of my life,” said Southey, a three-sport star who also plays football and lacrosse for Costa.

The bus ride home to Manhattan Beach was like a magic carpet ride.

“On the bus we kept saying now that we beat Cathedral there’s no stopping us,” he said.

And there wasn’t: Saturday afternoon, still riding the momentum from their big upset, they overwhelmed Godinez by 6-0 to advance to Friday night’s CIF final game. Southey led the charge with two more goals.

Sunday night he was still trying to process the unforgettable week that had just happened.

“The whole thing is amazing,” Southey said. “For the longest time we didn’t even think there would be a soccer season. But we have a great bunch of guys who really came together. Once we won Bay League, we all started saying let’s make a CIF run. We didn’t come this far to come this far. Now we want to win the whole thing.”      

Mustang ballers make playoffs

When the Mira Costa boys basketball team missed 12 of 18 foul shots and found themselves down by 8 points with four minutes to go against its arch-rival Redondo Wednesday night everything looked bleak.

“It looked like we were headed for another fourth quarter collapse,” Coach Neal Perlmutter said. “The team was in dire straits.”

A loss would mean a split of the season series with Redondo, a losing record for the season, a losing record in the Bay League, and a four-way tie for third place in the league and possible elimination from the Division 2AA playoffs before they even got started.

The situation was especially ominous because Costa specializes in low-scoring games. To make up an eight-point deficit in just four minutes was going to be a tremendous challenge.

But somehow they did it, beating the Sea Hawks 41-40.

“The kids showed a lot of resiliency,” Perlmutter said. “We really dug in on defense. They played those last four minutes with a lot of heart.”

First, senior center Luke Sevier hit a couple of foul shots to draw his team closer. Then their sophomore star Will Householter hit a huge 3-pointer to keep the Mustang’s comeback alive.

Then finally, with Redondo clinging to a one-point lead and 20 seconds to go, junior forward Cole Slusser pressured the ball handler, knocked it loose and stole the ball. He rushed downcourt and found a cutting Householter for the go-ahead hoop.

Redondo didn’t call timeout, which would have allowed Costa to set up their defense. Instead, the Sea Hawks took the ball out of the basket, came into the forecourt and got a decent shot that just missed.

The win pushed the Mustang’s season record to 8-8 and 5-5 in the Bay League, which earned them sole possession of third place behind Culver City and Palos Verdes.

“It was awesome to get third place for ourselves and avoid a four-way tie,” Perlmutter said.

They will now move on to play Westlake High School in the first round of the Division 2AA playoffs Wednesday night at Westlake. That team finished second in the Marmonte League with a 12-6 record.

Costa has had an up-and-down season, so it was fitting that they had an up-and-down last week of the regular season. They started the week with a 47-43 loss at Santa Monica, the same team they had beaten at home earlier in the year.          

“For some reason we came out flat,” Perlmutter said. “With a playoff berth on the line it seemed like Santa Monica wanted it more.”

Meanwhile, the Mira Costa girls team had a similar week, but in reverse – they beat Santa Monica by 30 points, but then lost to league champion Redondo by 22 points.

The frustrating part: Santa Monica had recently beaten Redondo in a double-overtime thriller, so after crushing Santa Monica the Mustang girls figured they had a good chance to beat Redondo.      

“We played a near perfect game against Santa Monica,” Coach John Lapham said. “We shot well and made good decisions.”

He singled out senior point guard Cara Susilo, who scored 17 points. “She played her best game of the season,” Lapham said.

Susilo was followed by power forward Bella Blum with 16 points and ownership of the boards, and shooting guard Maile Nakaji, who had 13 points.                             

But then came the Redondo game, and little went right for the Mustang girls.

“We started out slow, got behind right away and never really recovered,” Lapham said. “Redondo played really well, especially Calli Stokes and Ella Zimmerman. Stokes is the best player we saw all year. And it was her senior night, so she was really charged up.”

The loss gave the girls a 12-6 record on the season, and 7-3 in the Bay League.

That third-place league finish earned them a brutal first round playoff game against Santa Barbara Thursday night in the 2AA Division.

“It’s a nearly three-hour bus ride, so it’s going to be a long and tough day for us,” Lapham said. “Every year we go into the playoffs thinking we have a chance to win and this year is no different.”        

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor. ER

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