CHICAGO - As their season lay dying, the L.A. Lakers watched helplessly as their everlasting rivals the Boston Celtics stormed inside Staples Center and hammered away the last few nails on the purple-and-gold's playoffs coffin.
It was a Saturday night full of twisted ironies. Laced with a dash of karma.
Although the encounter between these two storied franchises lacked the luster of a marquee showdown, it was still aired here in the U.S. at prime time on network television ABC and streamed on ESPN for millions to watch.
And the Lakers' faithful filled the arena to capacity, 18,997-strong, each wishful soul hoping that somehow a miracle can avert the tailspin of a disastrous 30-36 fall.
Ooops, it wasn't meant to be.
On the heels of a two-game win streak, the Celtics, fifth-ranked in the East and aggressively gunning for a higher postseason seed, were out for blood. And while they might have felt sympathetic to the injury-depleted Lakers, they sure looked unrepentant in sticking the 120-107 dagger.
And of all people, it was Kyrie Irving who wielded the bloody, spiteful knife.
Once the best chum of LeBron James, Irving famously cut their umbilical championship cord in July 2017 when he demanded a trade 13 months after winning a title together by slaying the Warriors in 2016.
Kyrie, or Uncle Drew in another life, demanded his own team. He wanted to prove he can win without the aging King but with his own young and eager army of Celtic green.
And for one spectacular night, Kyrie was so damn right.
Irving torched the Lakers for 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists. He swished 12 of 18 field goals, including 5-of-8 from long distance. He was poetry in motion; brutal in his efficiency yet serene in the delivery.
The 6-foot-3, 193-pound ball wizard might not be this season's MVP, but he sure is making a case as perhaps the NBA's best point guard, pound-for-pound, grit-for-grit.
MASSIVELY UNDERMANNED without Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Lance Stephenson, the Lakers played well early on, perhaps finding inspiration in the 16 championship banners that swayed gloriously in the rafters.
But in the end, they looked like Usain Bolt's vanquished competitors who manage to loiter in the first 50 meters before swallowing dust when the lighting-quick Jamaican would turn the turbo on his legs in the final 50 meters.
After holding a shaky 25-24 first quarter lead, the Celtics dropped 68 points in the second and third periods to take a commanding 93-76. bubble. And that was all she wrote.
With Kyrie leading the blazing charge, the Celtics rolled like a 2019 Mercedes-Benz E-class: smooth and fast. Without three starters, the Lakers dragged like a 1992 Saturn.
Well, you get the picture.
The Lakers restrained LeBron's minutes, but they couldn't harness his brilliance.
Even with the certain end of his 13-year playoffs streak and eight-year Finals run looming, James played with a champion's pride that was as beautiful as it was sad to see. He carved a triple-double (30 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists) in 28 minutes but this loss was nothing more than a microcosm of a failed season.
LeBron looked so alone there.
Fading. Flickering. Decaying.
Contrary to some of my comprehension-challenged readers, who don't understand the concept of an opinion piece, I'm no LeBron hater.
I'n not blind. I see well, and can appropriately appreciate a rare gem when it flashes before my eyes.
I actually felt sorry for LeBron as he willed his less than healthy groin to frolic with a bunch of no names. He deserves better, you'd think.
But then again, think about the coaches and the players that he had reportedly thrown under the bus on the way to the top.
Maybe. just maybe, the basketball gods simply gave LeBron exactly what he deserved this season.