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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bryant's Big Performance Saves Lakers in Game Three

Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 36 points on 12-20 field goal shooting, willing the Lakers to an 87-81 game three win over the Celtics. Bryant earned 18 free throw attempts with his aggressive play and the only blemish on his performance is that he missed seven of them. Still, he set the tone for the Lakers right from the start, scoring 11 first quarter points, and he scored nine points in the final 6:55 to seal the deal. Sasha Vujacic was the only other Laker who scored in double figures and his 20 points on 7-10 field goal shooting were very important, particularly since Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were almost completely invisible offensively; Gasol had a game-high tying 12 rebounds but he only scored nine points on 3-9 shooting, while Odom contributed nine rebounds and four assists but only scored four points on 2-9 shooting, committed five turnovers and made numerous boneheaded plays. Ray Allen led the Celtics with 25 points on 8-13 shooting but Kevin Garnett (13 points on 6-21 shooting) and Paul Pierce (six points on 2-14 shooting) had miserable offensive performances, though Garnett did have an impact in other areas (12 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots).

There has been so much talk about how well Boston defends Bryant--including the laughable assertion that Ray Allen can stop him one on one--but after three games in this series Bryant is averaging 30 ppg on 32-69 field goal shooting (.464), slightly better numbers than he posted during the regular season, when he won his first MVP. People need to forget about two regular season games that took place more than six months ago when the Lakers had a different roster and start to understand that what happened in game one of this series is that Bryant missed a lot of shots that he normally makes; he has shot 23-43 from the field (.535) since then and that kind of Finals performance against the best defensive team in the league is most impressive. As Jerry West presciently said prior to game three, "You shouldn't worry about Kobe Bryant. His effort is always there. That's not the person. You should look at everyone else and what their effort and contribution is going to be." Lakers Coach Phil Jackson echoed that theme, telling NBA TV's David Aldridge before the game, "I think the other guys have to carry their weight."

TNT's Kenny Smith, making a guest appearance during NBA TV's pregame coverage, said that before the series he expected that either Gasol or Odom would be able to have a huge advantage--whichever one was not being guarded by Garnett. He noted that this was not the case in the first two games. The reality is that Bryant has a lot less help around him than many people seem to believe. The Celtics have three perennial All-Stars who are most likely future Hall of Famers, plus a bench that is loaded with veterans who have a lot of playoff and Finals experience; the Lakers have one one-time All-Star in Gasol and, essentially, a bunch of role players. Without Bryant holding everything together like he's MacGyver the Lakers would be fortunate to win 40 games in the tough Western Conference--yet they are now just three wins away from winning the NBA championship. No NBA team has ever won a championship with a roster that contains only two players who made the All-Star team at least once (the 2004 Pistons had two players who had already been All-Stars and three more who would later make the All-Star team at least once, including Chauncey Billups, who won the Finals MVP that season).

Coach Jackson made what turned out to be the key strategic move in the series so far, switching the defensive assignments of his starting backcourt; he put Bryant on point guard Rajon Rondo and Derek Fisher on Allen. The Fisher-Allen matchup is not a great one for the Lakers and Allen is the only player who was really productive for the Celtics offensively in game three but the brilliance of Jackson's decision is that it had a great impact at both ends of the court; Rondo is not a great outside shooter, so Bryant was free to roam around and disrupt whoever had the ball and this contributed to the slow starts that Garnett and Pierce had. Meanwhile, this crossmatch situation meant that whenever the Lakers got a stop and pushed the ball in transition Rondo had to guard Bryant, which is of course a tremendous advantage for the Lakers. ABC's Jeff Van Gundy mentioned this point immediately and the crossmatch led to the Lakers' first field goal when Bryant caught the ball in the post against Rondo, spun baseline to avoid Kendrick Perkins' double team and scored right over the top of Garnett at the rim; it would be good for the Lakers if Gasol and Odom were able to complete plays that forcefully against Garnett instead of acting like they are scared to death of him.

Bryant got fouled after snaring an offensive rebound and made two free throws to put the Lakers up 8-2 at the 8:05 mark of a very choppy first quarter; both teams missed a lot of shots and committed careless turnovers. On the next possession, Bryant got a defensive rebound and went coast to coast, forcing Rondo to foul him. Again, a big difference between Bryant and Odom is that when Bryant goes coast to coast he generally scores, draws a foul or passes to a teammate for a wide open shot. Odom's open court skills are very overrated: he repeatedly makes poor decisions that result in wild shots, bad passes or charging fouls. Bryant only split those free throws, the beginning of a difficult night at the free throw line for someone who consistently shoots well over .800 on his free throws. Fisher stole a pass by Pierce and fed Bryant, who missed two free throws after Allen fouled him.

The Celtics have repeatedly burned the Lakers this series with transition baskets after the Lakers take bad shots or make turnovers. After Odom got a defensive rebound, dribbled coast to coast and made a terrible pass to Gasol that was stolen by Rondo, Allen made a transition three pointer to cut the Lakers' lead to 9-5. A little bit later, Gasol set a screen for Bryant at the top of the key and then dove to the hoop. Bryant read the defense, found an angle to attack and made a left handed layup to put the Lakers ahead 17-12; his ability to finish well with either hand has been crucial in this series, because at least one big man usually challenges him every time he drives and in several of those situations a right handed shot would have been blocked. The next time the Lakers had the ball, Bryant drove to the hoop, attracted the defense and made a gorgeous behind the back pass to Gasol, whose soft attempt was snuffed by Garnett--don't talk about Bryant only having one assist in this game unless you also mention how many of his great passes to Gasol and Odom became blocked shots, soft moves and turnovers.

The Lakers did not utilize the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll play that much in the first quarter because they scored a lot of points in transition and when they were in the halfcourt they often took advantage of the Bryant-Rondo mismatch. However, one time that they ran the action and did not score provides an instructive example of how everyone must be on the same page for this play to work: with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter, the Celtics trapped Bryant after a Gasol screen, Gasol rolled to the hoop and Bryant swung the ball to Jordan Farmar, who was open because the defense sagged into the paint to deal with Gasol. Gasol seemed to flash open for a split second but then Turiaf dove into the post, bringing his defender into the paint and thus allowing him to, in effect, guard two people at once--if Turiaf had waited, then Gasol would have had a clear path to the hoop. Instead, Farmar fed the ball to Turiaf in the post and Turiaf missed a turnaround jumper.

So much has been said about Bryant's field goal percentage--which, as noted, is now above his regular season average--that few people seem to have noticed how terribly Garnett is shooting: Garnett has shot just 16-53 from the field (.302) since the first half of game one and the overall trend for him in this series is spiraling downward, from 9-22 (.409) in game one to 7-19 (.368) in game two to 6-21 (.286) in game three. Obviously, if Bryant performed that way the Lakers would get killed--and he would then get killed in the media--but the Celtics are strong enough defensively and have enough firepower elsewhere to be competitive despite Garnett's disappearing act. Bryant scored 11 first quarter points while Garnett was scoreless and missed all five of his field goal attempts, but the score was tied 20-20 at the end of the quarter. Celtics Coach Doc Rivers quite accurately told ABC's Michele Tafoya, "We weathered the storm early."

Odom committed his third foul at the 11:37 mark of the second quarter but the Lakers played better after he went to the bench. The key factor was that Coach Jackson did not give Bryant the rest that he normally gets at the start of the second quarter and instead left him out there to stabilize the reserve players; the Lakers' bench performs much better with Bryant on the court than they do when they are left to their own devices, which is why Jackson played Bryant a game-high 45:15. Bryant scored the first points of the quarter after he caught the ball at the three point line, dribbled to the midrange area and drilled a pullup jumper. That may sound simple but Van Gundy explained that it is not: "People don't understand just how hard that shot is. He caught the ball, put the ball down at full speed to his right, balanced up, went straight up and down to avoid the charging foul and knocked it in...It's the hardest shot to defend in the NBA--the pullup jump shot. Very few people have that shot because it is very difficult to balance after picking up the dribble." That is a shot that LeBron James does not consistently make, which is why his shooting percentage was so awful in the 2007 Finals versus the Spurs and in the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Celtics. I've made this comparison between Bryant and James before, but it cannot be emphasized enough because it highlights the difference between being the best player in the NBA and being the second best player; this is one of the reasons that Van Gundy said that Bryant is so far ahead of the rest of the league that "LeBron James is number three. There is no number two."

Bryant hit a couple free throws after a postup move to make the score 24-20 and then a play happened that beautifully illustrates how important it is to the bench players to have Bryant on the court with them. Bryant received a pass near the hoop, causing the defense to collapse to him, so he passed to Ronny Turiaf in the lane, Turiaf swung the ball to Luke Walton, Walton passed to Farmar and Farmar kicked the ball to Vujacic, who drained a wide open three pointer. In the boxscore, Farmar gets an assist and there is no statistical evidence that Bryant did anything but if he is not in the game that play most likely never happens because all of the defenders would have stayed at home; that is another reason why Bryant's assist total in this game is a poor indicator of how much "assistance" he actually provided to his teammates.

Bryant again showed off his left handed skills by taking a defensive rebound coast to coast and finishing strongly with his off hand. That may sound easy but he weaved his way through the entire defense and completed the play against bigger defenders at the hoop, while most of Odom's long distance forays in this game ended in disaster. Soon after that a Farmar three pointer put the Lakers up 34-25, their biggest lead not only in the game but in the series up to that point. After Walton's weak layup was blocked by P.J. Brown, Allen fed Garnett an alley-oop for a transition dunk, Garnett's first field goal in eight attempts and another example of Hubie Brown's oft repeated maxim that when a team misses a layup the opponent will often score an easy basket within a few seconds. That is also an example of how bad offense leads to defensive breakdowns; many times in this series we have seen Gasol, Odom and other players make weak plays in the paint that the Celtics turned into wide open shots. The Lakers' halfcourt defense has actually been good for most of the series but they have been hurt in transition and the blame for that goes squarely on the shoulders of players who are not finishing strongly enough in the paint on offense.

Now that Bryant had helped the reserves to build a working margin, Coach Jackson took advantage of a timeout situation at the 5:49 mark to give Bryant a rest for several minutes while only having him out of the game for 1:38 on the clock. As soon as Bryant returned he faced up Allen in an isolation and drained a pullup jumper over him. Van Gundy said, "Picture perfect execution of the pullup jump shot. Stops, on balance, great follow through--that's textbook, young people." Mark Jackson added that this is not an accident, that Bryant's skill is the product of all of his offseason work on his game. It is worth noting that this is the same kind of shot that went in and out for Bryant on several occasions in game one; we'll see how many of them he misses the rest of the series.

Allen made a three pointer to cut the margin to 43-37 at halftime. Bryant scored 19 first half points on 6-10 field goal shooting and 7-12 free throw shooting. Gasol shot 0-3 from the field and had two points and four rebounds while Odom had 0 points and four rebounds. Allen led the Celtics with 12 points, Garnett had two points on 1-9 shooting and Pierce had two points on 1-7 shooting.

In the third quarter, Odom picked up right where he had left off. He turned the ball over the first time that he touched it and then after Bryant made a steal and spoonfed him for a layup his shot was blocked by Perkins. Bryant made a runner, missed a jumper and then hit another pullup jumper to put the Lakers up 47-39. Van Gundy said, "You want a term for indefensible? Right there. Drive it left, spin back right, balance up, elevate, great defense by Ray Allen. There's nothing he can do. There's nothing anyone in this world can do." That is the important point: it is true that from a fundamental standpoint Allen plays sound defense against Bryant--but to suggest that he can stop him one on one is absurd.

Rondo left the game early in the third quarter after spraining his ankle. He was replaced by Eddie House and that changed things for the Lakers offensively and defensively. A defender must stay attached to House at all times because he is a great shooter, so that opened things up for the Celtics offensively and the Lakers no longer enjoyed the crossmatch advantage of Bryant on Rondo. The Celtics' offense came alive and the Lakers hit a dry spell during which they made only one shot in the 4:17 after Bryant's pullup jumper. Meanwhile, Garnett scored five points and assisted on a House three pointer as the Celtics took a 51-49 lead. The Celtics pushed that edge to 61-56 before the Lakers returned to the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll play. This time, Bryant accepted the trap, read the defense and found an angle to drive to the hoop and hit a running bank shot. Coach Jackson took Bryant out at the 1:07 mark in order to let him rest during the break between quarters. The Celtics led 62-60 going into the fourth quarter after Odom blew yet another layup after getting a defensive rebound and going coast to coast.

Naturally, Coach Jackson put Bryant right back in at the start of the fourth quarter instead of giving him the rest that he would normally get at that time. Each team made a three pointer to open the final stanza and then neither team scored for more than two minutes. With 9:36 left, Odom picked up his fourth foul with yet another charging foul; he has yet to understand that the Celtics led the league in taking charges and that you cannot simply drive straight into the teeth of their defense. The difference between Bryant and Odom in that regard is that Bryant is much better able to read the defense, see where the proper angles of attack are and know when to try to get all the way to the hoop and when to shoot a pullup jumper. Of course, Odom does not have a reliable pullup jumper, so that is not really an option for him. A couple James Posey free throws put the Celtics up 68-66 but that would turn out to be their last lead of the game.

A defensive breakdown left Bryant wide open behind the three point line and he drilled that shot to put the Lakers ahead 69-68. Derek Fisher and Bryant each made a pair of free throws to extend that margin to 73-68. Odom had been out of the game since committing his fourth foul but he returned at the 6:27 mark and soon made his presence felt by missing a layup, turning the ball over and missing a dunk. Gasol flailed at the rebound of Odom's miss and seemingly accidentally tipped it in without having inside position but that was an important play because it put the Lakers up 77-70 with 4:17 left. The Lakers went through a strange stretch during which they apparently forgot that Bryant is on the team and they had several possessions during which he did not receive the ball in a scoring area. At one point, Van Gundy said, "There can't be a possession in the last three minutes of a game that means so much where Kobe Bryant doesn't touch the ball." Not surprisingly, the Celtics trimmed the lead to 78-76. After the teams traded misses, the Lakers had the ball with less than two minutes left and they made the biggest play of the game. The Celtics trapped Bryant just inside the frontcourt and he passed to Odom, who swung the ball to Vujacic for a wide open corner three pointer that put the Lakers up 81-76. Mark Jackson said, "That's a shot created by Bryant--takes the double team, willing passer." Yes, Odom got the assist but Bryant made the play, because if he had not been on the court then the Celtics would not have double teamed anyone, Vujacic would not have been open and Odom would have most likely turned the ball over, missed a shot or committed yet another charging foul--that has basically turned into his signature move. A bit later, play by play man Mike Breen recited Vujacic's numbers and said, "What a game by Vujacic" and Mark Jackson immediately replied, "But the play is made by Bryant."

After a defensive stop, Fisher made two free throws to put the Lakers up by seven but the Celtics quickly cut it to five after the Lakers played terrible defense on an out of bounds play and let Garnett waltz to the hoop for an uncontested dunk. With the game and the series on the line, the Lakers used their best play, a Bryant-Gasol screen/roll. This time, Bryant went away from the screen and hit a jumper. Bryant seemed a little more reluctant to pass to Gasol in this game than he usually does but one can hardly blame him considering how softly Gasol has been finishing plays.

House's three pointer made the score 85-81 Lakers with :59 left. For most of the series, the Celtics have been tilting the floor toward Bryant but we have seen that throughout this game he repeatedly burned them not only with his scoring but also by creating open shots for his teammates, even if he did not get assists on those plays. Therefore, they decided to do something that they have rarely done: ask Allen to guard Bryant one on one with no help. Bryant worked Allen into the lane, gave him an up and under move worthy of Kevin McHale and dropped in a short jumper. Mark Jackson said, "What I don't understand is playing him straight up. You are saying to Ray Allen it's your job to stop Kobe Bryant. It's not going to happen in our lifetime. He can't guard Kobe Bryant one on one." Perhaps during a timeout Mark Jackson could educate some of the media members who are at the game about this and then we would not be subjected to stupid articles about how the Celtics are guarding Bryant one on one (they didn't for the most part until this play) and how well Allen is stopping Bryant (he can't, as Jackson quite correctly said).

Of course, this game would not have been complete without another offensive foul by Odom. This one was strange even for him. After the Celtics missed a shot and got an offensive rebound, Garnett was whistled for an illegal screen. Mark Jackson mentioned earlier in the quarter that illegal screens by Garnett were freeing up Celtic shooters, to which Van Gundy had quipped that it is not illegal if it is not called. Those illegal screens were the only way that the Celtics could loosen Pierce from Bryant's defense but this time the referees called the foul. So the Lakers now had the ball with a six point lead and :21 left. For some reason, the Celtics made no attempt to foul to stop the clock, so the Lakers could simply have dribbled the clock out but instead Odom bulled into the lane and committed a charge with :06 left. Pierce then missed a three pointer and the game was over. What if Pierce had made that shot, stole the inbounds pass like Reggie Miller and hit another three pointer? Odom's stupid move opened the door, however slightly, to the possibility of the Celtics forcing overtime. As NBA TV's Pete Vecsey said, now we can all understand why Coach Jackson called Odom "a confused player" after game two.

This was a big win for the Lakers, because a loss would have meant that a Boston championship would just be a matter of time. That said, the Lakers must put together two more similar efforts just to get the series back to Boston without facing elimination and then they will have to figure out how to win a game there. It would be most helpful if Gasol would start playing with more aggressiveness and if Odom would actually check in to the series mentally.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:32 AM

20 comments

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20 Comments:

At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 6:24:00 AM, Blogger bordesinremedio said...

Dave,

I completely agree with you. I am going to focus more on Gasol, since I am from Spain and have read his statements to the spanish newspapers.

The ironic thing is that he sees when he fails and do a bad match like yesterday. He recognized that it was his worst offensive match ever, and it is true. But the problem lays that despite all he changes little, that is, he needs to be agressive, etc. While I have seen him to improve defending, that doesn't have happenend in the other side of the court. It always happen in every game and he again does the soft shots. While I think he was misused in the second loss to Boston. Yesterday's perfomance was horrible and Kobe did well, to be more reluctance to pass him.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 7:55:00 AM, Anonymous warsw said...

I couldn't see the game, and there is an aspect you reported but didn't explained.

How come Garnett fg% is so low? Are Gasol or Odom defending him well? He's shooting too far from the rim?

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 8:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bordesinremedio:

Gasol is a frustrating player to watch sometimes because he obviously has size, mobility and skills, so one expects him to produce at a certain level. I think that in the long haul being coached by Jackson will be good for him but I don't know how much his game will change in the course of this series.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 8:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsw:

Gasol has the primary defensive responsibility against Garnett. KG has had some success when he posts up and uses quick, attacking moves to the basket but that has never been a staple of his game; KG prefers to shoot jumpers and even when he posts up he often shoots turnaround, fadeaway jumpers instead of attacking the rim. In the first half of game one, KG was making most of his jumpers. Since then, his jumper has been off and he has not attacked the rim as much as I'm sure Doc Rivers would like for him to do. KG's 6-21 shooting in game three was even worse than it looked when you consider that two of those field goals were uncontested dunks; just about every ball that he shot from outside the paint was off target. Gasol does a reasonable job of using his length to contest KG's shots--and Gasol is taller and longer than some people may realize--but KG's main problem is that he is settling for jump shots and not shooting them accurately.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 9:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wondering, is there a reason you’re focused only on Kobe and how his supporting players are letting him down or not, and not on what the Celtics are doing well, or suggestions for how they can win?

I mean, it’s your blog, and you can cheer for whoever you want, but since you do have good insights, I’m hoping for some discussion of the Celtics, too.

For instance, what was the difference between their aimless-looking offence in the first half, and the successful run in the third?

(Or, you commented that the Lakers got a bunch of bad calls against them in game 2; any comments on the refereeing last night?)

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 9:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

The main story of this particular game was Kobe Bryant's performance, so I wanted to explain in detail exactly what he did and how he did it. I would not say that I am "cheering" for anyone; I am trying to analyze these games and explain what is really happening, as opposed to the superficial and/or incorrect "analysis" that is provided by many other outlets.

In other posts, I have said exactly what the Celtics need to do to win this series: they need to outrebound the Lakers by more than 10 per game, they need to hold the Lakers to below .450 field goal shooting, they need to shoot at least .450 from the field and they need to enjoy a decisive advantage (more than 10 ppg) in points in the paint. It is essential for them to meet these benchmarks/exploit these advantages because they do not really have an answer to deal with Kobe Bryant and the offensive havoc that he can wreak: if they play him one on one, he is going to score a lot of points while shooting a high percentage, but if they trap him then he is going to find the open man.

I think that the Celtics should trap Bryant, rotate actively and make other players beat them. If they can do that successfully then they can hold the Lakers to less than .450 shooting.

The Celtics can increase their field goal percentage two ways: one, better defense will provide transition opportunities; two, they need to post up their bigs more often and take advantage of their size/strength in the paint.

The Lakers are a finesse/skill oriented team, while the Celtics are a physical/defense oriented team, so the Celtics need to take advantage of their strength by controlling the glass, which would limit the Lakers' scoring chances and increase the Celtics' scoring chances.

I think that the Celtics have the stronger team 2-12 but that Bryant is the best player in the league and that the problems he poses offensively can elevate the play of his teammates enough to win this series. That said, I also thought that the Lakers needed to split the first two games to maximize their chances, so right now they are still waging an uphill battle.

I did touch on what changed for the Celtics' offense in the third quarter: when Rondo went out he was replaced by House, who is a very good shooter. That meant that the Lakers had to extend their defense to cover him and that opened up the floor and created opportunities for other players. Also, the Lakers no longer enjoyed the crossmatch scenario with Kobe-Rondo, so their offense got a little stagnant. There is a constant push-pull that goes on here and when one team's offense goes south that also fuels the other team's offense.

I did not say that the Lakers had bad calls against them in game two; the fouls that were called looked legitimate to me. What I did say is that I thought that more fouls should have been called against the Celtics, specifically on a few times when Kobe drove. ABC showed those replays tonight and you can clearly see that on one play Pierce pulled on Kobe's jersey to restrain his movement and on another Pierce pulled Kobe's right arm to twist his body while Kobe was shooting a left handed runner.

I did not see anything untoward about the officiating in game three. Both teams shot a lot of jumpers; Kobe was the main player who consistently attacked the basket and that is how he ended up with the most free throw attempts. As I mentioned above, he attacked the basket in game two, but did not receive calls on at least a couple plays where he was clearly fouled.

I hope that answers your questions. If you haven't already done so, you may be interested to read my recaps of the previous two games, my posts from the off days and my series preview; those articles contain some further discussion about what both teams need to do to win.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 12:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave,

Unlike you I am a biased Laker fan. That being said I feel that your coverage is quite balanced. Yes, you are correctly indicating that Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA (probably the planet). I can scarcely find a knowledgeable basketball commentator who indicates otherwise.

However, you also give praise to the Celtics (or insert appropriate team) when warranted. You also attempt and most often succeed with your critiques regarding the Lakers and Celtics (in this case).

Unlike the other "anonymous" blogger, I enjoy reading how you breakdown how you feel the Lakers (in my case) need to play to be successful. You have done that same type of analysis for the Celtics as well.

This is Eric.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 12:20:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

Great analysis, as always David.

Phil opened the game with the brilliant defensive adjustment of having Kobe nominally "guard" Rondo & play a roving safety role. That move really disrupted the Celtics' offense, and had Kobe made a couple more freethrows in the first half (and had Odom or Gasol even halfway showed up to play), the game would have been a rout at halftime.

Rondo's ankle injury was a massive blessing for the Celtics in that it allowed Rivers to replace his starting point guard w/o bruising Rondo's ego or immediately courting controversy over the question of what is the Celtics' best line-up. But I think this should be a real question going forward.

I am really curious about how Rivers will line up & rotate the Celtics for Game 4. I suspect House & Posey will get a lot more burn. Other teams have had success at leaving Rondo open and allowing his nominal defender to float around, but Kobe's skill at reading the game, his athleticism, and & talent as a defender far surpass that of the previous players to do this role (Rip/Chauncey and Delonte/Boobie).

If Rondo continues to receive significant playing time, I would wager that the Celtics' offensive woes continue -- unless Rondo plays an outstanding game making good decisions & taking (and making) his open looks, which he has been utterly unable to do on the road so far.

If you were Rivers, how would you adjust the lineup and rotation for Game 4? Would you reduce Rondo's role, or gamble on him and do everything to boost his confidence and hope he nails his open looks?

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 12:33:00 PM, Blogger Jeffrey said...

I hope the Lakers trade Odom in the off season, but given his performance lately, I'm wondering if they'll get many takers or a reasonable return for him.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 2:41:00 PM, Anonymous DHSmd said...

"it would be good for the Lakers if Gasol and Odom were able to complete plays that forcefully against Garnett instead of acting like they are scared to death of him."

NO SHEET!!

Gasol - well, there is just no politically correct way to describe with sufficient force how whimpy he looks out there. "Scared to death" is an absloutely legitimate description of his on-court demeanor, which has actually gotten far worse over the course of the playoffs. No wonder he never won a playoff game in his life before coming here.

Odom - he just looks like he shut down, and occasionally makes a bolt for the basket with his eyes closed, hoping something good will happen. Pathetic.

Anyone who has difficulty understanding how frustrated Bryant felt last year need only look at his former "number 2" and his new "upgrade" and how little they bring when the chips are down to get a little hint.

Odom - better plan on working on his game in the off-season, or expect to hear his name in trade discussions again next year.

He's occasionally very good - but between him and Vlade M, we have a full player and no idea which (if any) will appear at any given time.

Interesting that you never mentioned the latter (or I just missed it). Apparently his play has been so inconsequential that he warrants as much discussion as the material from which the nets are constructed.

There is a guy that I really would like to see packing his bags next year. All the talk about Mitch suddenly being a great GM is hogwash. He got lucky, after making a series of crippling decisions.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 4:08:00 PM, Anonymous DHSmd said...

Oops, that should be Vlade R (not M).
:o

I have a horribly disfigured keyboard (or is that horribly disfigured fingers) and "accidentally" typed "M" instead of "R" because "they are so close to one another"
:D

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 4:41:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

"No NBA team has ever won a championship with a roster that contains only two players who made the All-Star team at least once."

Is this really true? In 2003-04, did the Pistons have 2 players who had made the All-Star team? Sure, several went on to do so, but that seems different.

It'd be interesting to see a list of the last several championship teams (and maybe finals teams) and the list of their players on the roster who had previously made an all-star team.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 6:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

Sheed made the All-Star team in 2000 and 2001 as a Blazer before making it in 2006 and 2008 as a Piston.

Ben Wallace made the All-Star team in 2003-06.

Billups and Rip did not make the All-Star team until 2006-08. Okur did not make the All-Star team until 2007 (with Utah).

So in 2004 the Pistons had two players who had already been All-Stars, two players who would soon be recognized as All-Stars and one player who developed into an All-Star when he received more playing time on a team that did not have All-Star frontcourt players to start ahead of him. Billups won the 2004 Finals MVP.

I don't see anyone on the Lakers' roster who has not made an All-Star team who realistically could be expected to be an All-Star (Bynum may do so but of course he is not going to be on the court in the Finals).

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 7:17:00 PM, Blogger Sony said...

Odom played a large role in getting the Lakers the #1 seed which, in my view, was key to their Finals appearance. He's got an option and they should probably pick him up for another year until they see what Bynum offers (and I'm skeptical that his good 5 weeks show a perennial all-star; it may, but we don't have the evidence yet).

Like Ray Allen said in their post game, the Celtics just shut down the paint, let no one in and then run out to shooters. That really hurts Lamar's game. But, if Kobe can get deeper in the lane, it opens up room for Lamar to rebound or get drop offs. I won't quibble that he's sucked, but Odom still offers more than Walton or Vlad, his length and rebounding is helpful and I think he'll bust out and have a key role in one of these games.

BTW, how come Steve Javy hasn't reffed one of these games yet? I think he's the best and knows that a screen is illegal when accompanied by sliding hip checks.

Last, Kupchak is still the guy who gave his midlevel exception to Devean George, Aaron McKie & Vald, he re-signed Walton, Brian Cook & Chris Mihm for no apparent reason, and traded for Kwame Brown (it doesn’t matter who went the other way). Fisher fell in his lap and Gasol was an owners trade. He is terrible, as bad as Colletti.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 8:42:00 PM, Blogger Sony said...

regarding your sense that the Celtics got away with a ton of fouls in game 2, here are 2 tidbits:

1. In a sample of 6,373 games I show there being 167 games where the home team shot 20 more free throws than the visiting team

In other words, the chances of that happening are south of 2.6%.
http://myespn.go.com/blogs/truehoop/0-32-308/A-Professional-Gambler-s-Take-on-the-Tim-Donaghy-Scandal.html

2. Curt Schilling: I wondered aloud, a few times, how in the hell calls weren’t being made against the Celts on a ton of plays in the paint where there was some serious pugilism being committed. There were a ton of ‘non-calls’ in my incredibly amateur opinion.

http://38pitches.com/2008/06/09/manny-jd-papi-lester-and-the-nba-finals/

You have to scroll down

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 11:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

The first question that needs to be answered is how seriously Rondo is hurt. He missed practice today. Obviously, if he is not able to play then the analysis that I am about to provide is moot.

However, for the sake of discussion let's assume that he is completely healthy (or least healthy enough to play his regular minutes). I think that a major factor that fans (and writers/TV commentators) overlook is the level of conditioning it takes to be a 30-35-40 minute player in the NBA. You cannot just take a player who has not been receiving those kind of minutes, plop him in the lineup and assume that he will be as productive in the 35th or 40th minute as he might have been in the first 20 or so. Just because House can be effective coming off the bench because his presence creates spacing does not mean that he should get all of Rondo's minutes; also, House is not as good of a passer or defender as Rondo.

I think that the Celtics should continue to start Rondo but if the offense is sluggish then insert House a little earlier and maybe stick with him longer or juggle the minutes so that House is on the court at the end of the game if the Celtics want to have a more offensive minded lineup in the game at that time.

Another thing to consider is that some players are more effective as starters and others are more effective as reserves, for a variety of reasons. That is why the Spurs sometimes start Ginobili and sometimes bring him off the bench; obviously, he can be effective in either role, but sometimes the player who he is replacing is not as effective in one of those roles due to certain matchup situations or for other reasons.

So, I expect House's minutes to possibly increase but that the Celtics will not make wholesale changes to their rotation.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 11:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DHSmd:

Kobe took a glorified D-League team to the playoffs the past two seasons--center and point guard are generally considered the two most important positions and Kobe went into battle most nights with Kwame at center and Smush at the point. He also never had a top of the line (or even above average) small forward. It is obvious that Odom should be a third option, not the second option, and even with the pressure off of him as the third option he is still prone to disappear.

Radmanovic scored three points in 13 minutes in game three, so his performance basically spoke for itself.

I give Kupchak credit for drafting Bynum and keeping him and also for choosing Vujacic and Farmar, who have turned into decent bench players. Like most GMs, he's had his share of hits and misses. His biggest stroke of luck is inheriting the reins of the team that has the best player in the league on its roster; he doesn't have to put a lot around Kobe for things to turn out well.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 11:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

I reworded the text of that sentence so that it now clearly expresses the idea I am trying to convey: every NBA championship team has had more than two players who made the All-Star team at some point in their careers.

The 2004 Pistons are the only team that did not have more than two current or former All-Stars at the time that they won--but future All-Star Billups won that year's Finals MVP.

Perhaps the Lakers will win this year's title and one of their non All-Stars will become an All-Star but as things stand now if this team wins it would be one of--if not the--least talented teams to win a championship in terms of players 2-12.

Ben Wallace was not only an All-Star when the Pistons won the championship but he was also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year who finished eighth in the 2003 MVP voting and seventh in the 2004 MVP voting. That Pistons team had much, much more talent from 2-12 then this year's Lakers, as they showed by beating a team that had Shaq and Kobe.

Odom is not likely to make the All-Star team over Duncan, Dirk, Boozer, Melo, Brand (assuming he's healthy) and a host of other top forwards. It's not impossible that Odom could earn one All-Star selection but I consider it highly improbable at this point.

 
At Wednesday, June 11, 2008 11:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sony:

I thought that Coach Jackson made an interesting comment after game two when he said that the Lakers have to create better spacing so that the referees can see that they are being fouled. I think that most people either ignored that comment or assumed that he was being sarcastic but there is some truth to what he said. As TV viewers we have the benefit of instant replay from many angles, so we can detect fouls that a referee could honestly and legitimately miss. In game three the Lakers did have better spacing and Kobe chose his driving angles very well, so when he got in the paint it was easy to see that he was getting hit--and a couple other fouls were very obvious, like when Rondo tried to strip him and Allen fouled him to stop a fast break dunk.

 
At Thursday, June 12, 2008 2:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sony:

The Lakers face some very interesting decisions next year assuming that Bynum fully recovers. I don't think that they can have a starting frontcourt of Gasol-Bynum-Odom because none of those players can guard small forwards on a consistent basis. Bynum is a natural center, Gasol is a power forward currently playing center and Odom is a power forward. It would seem that the logical thing to do would be start Bynum at center, start Gasol at power forward and trade Odom for a legit starting small forward. However, I agree with you that I'd be reluctant to trade Odom until I was sure that Bynum is healthy and that his five weeks of high productivity are the start of a long term trend. I think that benching Odom may destroy whatever is left of his confidence and his game, so if all three players are healthy and available I suspect that Gasol and Odom will start and Bynum will come off of the bench unless or until Odom is traded.

I agree that Javie is a good referee. The NBA has its own rankings that are not publicized and those rankings determine who gets playoff and Finals assignments. I would think that he would do a Finals game at some point this season. A while ago someone tried to decipher what the rankings are by tracking which refs got the most postseason assignments but I don't remember who came out on top of that list. I think that Javie rated well but I don't think he came out as the very best.

I think that trading Caron Butler for Kwame was Kupchak's worst move, particularly since the Lakers still do not have a legit small forward. Of course, Kupchak redeemed himself a bit by using Kwame in the Gasol deal. As you suggest, there was some good timing involved there but he still got the deal done and that move could end up proving to be the final piece in building a championship team if the Lakers win three more games.

 

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