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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Minute by Minute, Inch by Inch

Minute by minute by minute by minute
I keep holding on--"Minute by Minute," The Doobie Brothers, 1978

The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second.
On this team, we fight for that inch.
On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch.
We claw with our fingernails for that inch.--Al Pacino's "Inches" speech in "Any Given Sunday."

For the Lakers, game five of the NBA Finals is all about minutes and inches. No one has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals but the Lakers don't have to win three games on Sunday; they only have to win one game--and they don't have to win that game all at once. If you follow the NBA, you know that Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich often tells his team to not be in a hurry to win. There are even echoes of this philosophy in what Bjorn Borg said it would take to beat Rafael Nadal on clay in Paris: the patience and tenacity to battle with him shot for shot, to not take shortcuts or try to cut points short by attempting to hit spectacular winners.

For the Lakers, their focus has to be reduced from the daunting task of winning three games to the manageable task of winning one game to the reality of fighting every minute for each inch: fight for each inch, minute by minute, for all 48 minutes. Then repeat that process two more times. Kobe Bryant expressed the attitude that all of the Lakers must have: "This is the Elite Eight right now." Carrying the NCAA Tournament analogy all the way through, that would make game six the Final Four and game seven the Championship Game.

From a technical standpoint, several things stand out about this series. The Lakers' much vaunted bench has been outscored in three out of four games. Not surprisingly, the Lakers won the only game in which their bench outscored the Celtics' bench. An advantage in this category--or at least a draw--will be vitally important for the Lakers in game five.

The Lakers must play with more force and more purpose. Pau Gasol must set screens aggressively for four quarters and when he gets the ball he must play like a seven footer--every time he touches the ball in the paint he has to have the mentality that he will score or get fouled. There can be no more flip shots and bailouts.

Lamar Odom must go to work on the boards and on defense and make his offensive contributions by attacking from the weakside, while leaving strong side attacks to Bryant, Gasol and Derek Fisher; Odom must avoid making hasty, poor decisions that result in missed shots, offensive fouls and turnovers.

As for the Celtics, they must not be complacent, relying on the fact that games six and seven will be at home if necessary. They are banged up physically and somewhat worn down from a grueling postseason. The longer this series is extended, the more the Lakers will gain confidence, and the more run down the Celtics will become. If the Celtics let this become a one game series then they will really be tempting fate that one of their injured players does not go down for the count or that one of their stars does not have an off night. The pressure is on the Lakers now but one L.A. win shifts a little bit of that pressure back to the Celtics.

Game five is all about force and will. The Lakers must play with force and demonstrate a collective will, refusing to be pushed around, mentally or physically--and, of course, the Celtics must do likewise.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:28 AM

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2 Comments:

At Monday, June 16, 2008 1:57:00 AM, Blogger Duke said...

Re: Kobe saying this is just like being in the elite eight in the NCAA tourney.

Just checked (to the best of my ability). No current Celtics have an NCAA championship on their resume. Maybe Kobe is playing a pretty good mind game here. All those college players obviously went to the tournament and lost. Nice little edge to try to get.

 
At Monday, June 16, 2008 7:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Duke:

Could be, but I think Kobe is just trying to get his team focused on the one game at a time mentality.

 

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