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Friday, June 12, 2009

Clutch Three Pointers by Fisher Lift Lakers to Commanding 3-1 Series Lead

Couch potato coaches have been calling for Derek Fisher's head throughout the playoffs but the much maligned 34 year old point guard drained two clutch three pointers--one to force overtime and the second to give the L.A. Lakers the lead for good--as the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-91 in overtime, taking a 3-1 lead and all but clinching the 2009 NBA Championship. Fisher missed the first five three pointers that he attempted but Kobe Bryant repeatedly tells his teammates that you cannot make big shots if you afraid to take them and Fisher proved that he is confident while also justifying the confidence that Coach Phil Jackson has demonstrated in Fisher. Bryant led the Lakers with a game-high 32 points and a game-high eight assists, becoming the only Laker other than Magic Johnson to have at least eight assists in six straight playoff games; Bryant has had exactly eight assists in each of the four Finals games, after posting eight assists in game five of the Western Conference Finals versus Denver and 10 assists in the game six series clincher. Bryant also had a strong performance on the boards, grabbing seven rebounds to rank third on the Lakers. Although Bryant shot just 11-31 from the field, he had a strong first quarter (13 points on 4-7 shooting) to keep the Lakers close when their whole frontcourt rotation was in foul trouble, he created open shots for his teammates down the stretch, he made the Lakers' first two field goals in overtime and he drew a double team before passing to Fisher for the key three pointer in overtime.

Pau Gasol added 16 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. Trevor Ariza had 16 points and nine rebounds, overcoming a sluggish first half to contribute 13 third quarter points as the Lakers rallied from a double digit deficit. Fisher finished with 12 points, four rebounds, one assist and no turnovers. Lamar Odom, who has apparently already met his quota for effective games in this series, had nine points, five rebounds and five fouls in 27:36; his versatility is often praised and certainly was on display in this game, though not in the fashion that is generally meant by that term: he showed the ability to miss out of control layups with either hand and repeatedly foul jump shooters. Starting center Andrew Bynum had six points, two rebounds and five fouls in just 15:40.

Hedo Turkoglu led the Magic with 25 points, getting the best of Ariza for most of the game, but he shot just 8-13 from the free throw line, including just 3-7 in the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard nearly had a triple double--16 points, 21 rebounds, a Finals single game record nine blocked shots--but he committed seven turnovers and shot 6-14 from the free throw line. The Magic led 87-84 with :11.1 remaining in the fourth quarter when Howard missed two free throws, providing Fisher the opportunity to be the hero. The Lakers hounded Rashard Lewis into scoring just six points on 2-10 field goal shooting, though he did have seven rebounds and four assists. Mickael Pietrus had a solid game (15 points), while Rafer Alston made some shots early in the game but did not play down the stretch and finished with 11 points; Jameer Nelson essentially replaced Alston in the second half and although Nelson created some scoring opportunities for his teammates (three assists) he never found his shooting touch (two points, 1-3 field goal shooting) and he made a critical error at the end of regulation by backing up and giving Fisher room to shoot the tying three pointer. Nelson also left Fisher to double team Bryant, creating the opening for Fisher's dagger three pointer in the extra session. Earlier in the game, Nelson got away with a missed defensive rotation when Bryant did not convert a wide open three pointer. Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy is really in a no win position with his point guard situation: he obviously wants to play Nelson, the 2009 All-Star who missed four months due to injury, but Nelson is rusty and inserting him in the lineup has affected Alston's minutes/role and forced Anthony Johnson, an effective player for the Magic earlier in the playoffs, out of the rotation completely.

Howard played with remarkable tenacity and intensity in the first quarter, grabbing 11 rebounds, blocking three shots and playing a role in getting all three of the Lakers' primary big men (Gasol, Odom and Bynum) in foul trouble, as that trio compiled two fouls each in the first 9:12. The Lakers survived a stretch with Bryant anchoring a lineup featuring D.J. Mbenga, Josh Powell, Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar, trailing just 24-20 at the end of the first quarter. Bryant not only accounted for virtually all of the Lakers' points (13 points, one assist), he also was extremely active on defense, all but disregarding his man (Courtney Lee) in order to roam around and disrupt the actions of the Magic's principal offensive threats; Bryant poked the ball away from Lewis in the post (in the official play by play, Ariza received credit for a steal because he recovered the ball) and was very active on the glass--in addition to his two rebounds Bryant did an excellent job of sinking into the paint, putting a body on the nearest player and tipping the ball if he could not control it.

Bryant sat out the first 4:08 of the second quarter--the only rest he received all game--and the Magic extended their lead to 34-27. For the second game in a row, Bryant struggled to find his shooting rhythm in the second quarter after carrying the team with his scoring in the first quarter. ESPN's Jon Barry has been making a big fuss about Bryant shooting too much--a standard theme for Barry and Mike Wilbon, who apparently are neither watching these games nor looking at the box scores: Bryant was 8-15 from the field in the first half of game three and 3-10 in the second half, so perhaps Bryant did not shoot enough down the stretch in that game, because if he had attempted a few more shots and gotten hot the Lakers might have won. Bryant shot 1-5 from the field in the second quarter of game four, so the issue was not that he shot too often but rather that he simply did not pick up where he had left off in the first quarter: what many people apparently do not understand is that for this Lakers team Bryant not only fills the Michael Jordan scoring role but he also has to fill the Scottie Pippen facilitator role; Bryant talked about this a little bit after game three, noting that he has to strike a delicate balance between finding/maintaining his shooting rhythm while also keeping his teammates involved. That is not nearly as simple as it may sound on paper, but Bryant's playoff averages (30.2 ppg, .458 field goal shooting, 5.5 apg) and the fact that the Lakers are one win away from an NBA championship demonstrate just how effective and efficient he has been.

Lewis has been a key player for the Magic throughout the playoffs and in this series as well; in game four Bryant seemed to take a particular interest in defending Lewis: on several occasions, Bryant ended up guarding Lewis after switches and Lewis tried to take the smaller Bryant down to the low post but Bryant aggressively fronted Lewis with perfect defensive technique, denying the entry pass. On one remarkable second quarter possession, Bryant fronted Lewis, denied the pass and then beat Lewis to the rebound, which is very difficult to do against a bigger player who has inside position. That kind of rebound by Bryant is an example of why, in my skill set based comparison of Bryant with Lebron James (during the brief--and in hindsight, remarkably unusual--time that SlamOnline actually displayed an interest in publishing high quality basketball writing), I ranked Bryant as James' equal as a rebounder even though James has a higher rpg average; Bryant plays on the perimeter and does not have the same rebounding opportunities/responsibilities that James does, but when Bryant plays in the paint he is capable of rebounding with anyone at any time, a theme that we will revisit later in this game.

With Bryant neither shooting frequently nor accurately in the second quarter, the Lakers only scored 17 points and trailed 49-37 at halftime. Howard had as many rebounds (14) as the entire Lakers team and while Bryant had 16 points on 5-12 field goal shooting his teammates combined to score just 21 points on 9-30 field goal shooting. Turkoglu led the Magic with 15 points on 5-6 field goal shooting. It is interesting how things are perceived, because a lot of people say that Orlando beat Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals because Orlando enjoyed so many mismatch advantages but Turkoglu averaged 17.2 ppg on .390 field goal shooting versus the Cavs while mainly being guarded by Delonte West (who is listed at 6-3) and he is averaging 19.5 ppg on .491 field goal shooting versus the Lakers while mainly being guarded by the 6-8 Ariza; the reality is that five of the six Cleveland-Orlando games were close and could have gone either way and three of the four L.A.-Orlando games have been close and could have gone either way, but people try to concoct grand story lines based on the final results instead of taking the time to actually analyze what happened.

After the game, Bryant made a very interesting observation, noting that Pietrus has been defending him very well on the perimeter and that the Magic have been very effective at sending help because Bryant has been starting his move so far away from the hoop; Bryant adjusted to this by going to the low post more frequently in the second half, accepting the double team and thereby creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. Bryant assisted on a Fisher jumper to open the scoring in the third quarter and Ariza was able to drive to the hoop for a wide open dunk after Bryant drew a double team, passed the ball and forced Orlando's defense to rotate; Bryant did not get an assist but he created Ariza's scoring opportunity. Bryant then made a three pointer to cut the Magic lead to 51-44, Ariza scored on a runner and Bryant assisted on an Ariza three pointer to make the score 54-49 Orlando. After Ariza split a pair of free throws, the Lakers got a stop and posted up Bryant, who passed to Gasol, who then swung the ball to Ariza for a wide open three pointer that pulled the Lakers to within 54-53. Soon after that, Gasol failed to pass to an open Bryant and ABC commentator Mark Jackson made this comment during a stoppage of play: "On this possession, Kobe Bryant chastizes Pau Gasol: get me the basketball. When you get me the ball, the offense is easy. I will make the proper plays, double team comes and guys will have wide open shots. He is running the point guard from the scoring position. It shows you how great Kobe is. If you single coverage him, he is going to look to score. If you double team him the guy is making the proper play." Jackson's fellow commentator Jeff Van Gundy added, "That is why when people say I have to pass or shoot more--it's not about that. It's about making the right play." As regular 20 Second Timeout readers know, I have been making exactly those points--not just about Bryant but about basketball in general and how it should be analyzed--for years; the fact that Jon Barry and Mike Wilbon apparently are incapable of understanding this is why I keep lambasting their "analysis" and it is why I have no patience for amateur hour writers at various publications and websites who, quite frankly, have no idea what they are talking about when they write game recaps or try to make player comparisons. Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and Hubie Brown consistently note that Bryant does a tremendous job of reading the defense and making the right play, while the amateur hour writers get bogged down in the minutiae of counting how many times Bryant shoots or how many assists he has.

Ariza will be cited as a third quarter hero in most articles--and rightfully so, because Ariza certainly played well--but it is highly unlikely that too many people will mention that 10 of Ariza's 13 third quarter points were directly or indirectly created by Bryant drawing double teams. That is why the whole issue of just how talented the Lakers really are overall is a bit murky; Ariza has been a bench player his whole career until this year, Gasol never won a playoff game until he teamed up with Bryant and Fisher clearly cannot not create a shot for himself but all three players are playing vital roles on a very strong team: those players deserve credit for performing well under pressure but a lot of their scoring opportunities are created by the attention that Bryant draws. The casual fan is mesmerized by the assist totals racked up by Chris Paul, Steve Nash and LeBron James--three players who are excellent passers--but those players monopolize the ball to a much greater extent than Bryant does and are thus more likely to be in position to make the pass that leads directly to a score, while Bryant often makes the pass that leads to the scoring pass (though Bryant is on something of an assist tear, so to speak, in the past half dozen games).

Bryant had eight points and four assists in the third quarter as the Lakers outscored the Magic 30-14 to take a 67-63 lead but arguably his biggest play does not even appear in the boxscore. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was asked after the game to single out the turning point and he chose a play that happened at the 1:28 mark of the third quarter: Howard missed a reverse layup and seemed to control the offensive rebound but Bryant ripped the ball away from Howard and Howard retaliated by fouling Bryant, who sank two free throws (Bryant shot 8-8 from the free throw line in this game after his much discussed 5-10 free throw shooting in game three). The Team USA teammates exchanged words and if you can read lips you know that Bryant told Howard to shut the ---- up and play ball. Earlier I mentioned that Bryant's rebounding prowess is equal to LeBron James' and is underrated by the casual fan; not too many shooting guards are strong enough to take the ball away from Howard. Interestingly, in the official play by play this is recorded as a "team rebound," not a rebound (or steal) for Bryant. In any case, Coach Jackson said that Bryant's play "showed the grit that this team has tried to develop over the last year." You may recall that in game four of the 2008 Finals the Lakers squandered a huge lead at home to fall behind 3-1, so it is an interesting symmetry that this year Bryant made a tough, physical play that helped the Lakers rally from a double digit deficit on the road to take a 3-1 series lead.

Bryant fed Odom an alley oop pass for a layup that pushed the Lakers' advantage to six points at the start of the fourth quarter but the Magic kept their composure and made a run of their own, capped off with a three point play by Pietrus that put them up 76-75 at the 5:38 mark. Jumpers by Gasol and Bryant enabled the Lakers to go ahead 79-76 but then Nelson found Howard inside for a dunk, Turkoglu split a pair of free throws and Nelson passed to Howard inside again, this time resulting in a three point play that gave Orlando an 82-79 lead. Ariza answered with a three pointer--and this shot was one of the few that definitely was not created by Bryant; after a broken play, Ariza ended up with the ball outside of the three point arc with the shot clock winding down and he fired away and hit a very important shot, though Turkoglu responded with a three pointer to put Orlando up 85-82. After Turkoglu's runner at the 1:34 mark gave the Magic a five point lead it seemed like the Lakers were in trouble but Bryant drove to the hoop and spoonfed Gasol for a dunk to trim the margin to 87-84 with :31.9 remaining; that play will likely be forgotten in the wake of Fisher's heroics but if Bryant does not find Gasol then the Lakers would have lost in regulation. Of course, after Gasol scored the Lakers still needed to get a stop but their defense broke down and Howard caught the ball right underneath the hoop, poised to throw down a monster dunk until Bryant fouled him so hard--but cleanly, simply wrapping up the powerful Howard to prevent a three point play--that both players tumbled to the ground. Again, this is another play that the average fan will not remember, but part of the reason that the Cavs are sitting at home now is that they allowed Howard to have three uncontested dunks in the overtime of game four of the Eastern Conference Finals, resulting in Orlando taking a 3-1 lead in that series. Bryant forced Howard to make two free throws--and Howard whiffed on both attempts. After a timeout, Coach Jackson elected to inbound the ball in the backcourt, explaining later that he thought that if the Lakers advanced the ball then the Magic might simply foul immediately. Of course, the Magic trapped Bryant as soon as he caught the inbounds pass but this just created a three on two fastbreak after Bryant passed to Ariza and Ariza fed Fisher. Nelson inexplicably backed up inside the three point line and Fisher drilled the tying shot with :04.6 left.

The Magic called a timeout to draw up a play and then after Turkoglu was unable to inbound the ball they called another timeout. The next time, Turkoglu passed to Pietrus, who missed a jumper. That play was very interesting, because Bryant ended up guarding Howard in the post on a switch. Much like Bryant did with Lewis earlier in the game, Bryant fronted Howard and did a good enough job that Turkoglu did not feel like he could make the entry pass; then, after Pietrus shot the ball, Bryant did a good job of boxing out Howard.

Lewis opened the overtime by hitting a three pointer but Bryant answered with two jumpers. Neither team scored for more than two minutes until Howard split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 91. Ariza missed a layup but controlled the rebound and then Bryant missed a jumper but the Lakers once again retained possession. This time, the Lakers went back to Bryant in the post, Nelson doubled Bryant and Bryant passed to Fisher for what proved to be the game-winning three pointer. Throughout the playoffs some people have questioned why Coach Jackson did not replace Fisher with Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown. Does anyone really think that Farmar or Brown would have made the two pressure three pointers that Fisher hit in this game? As Mark Jackson said, "The veteran coach stuck with his veteran player and Derek Fisher once again--old reliable, making plays, making shots."

Turkoglu missed a three pointer and the long rebound caromed out to Gasol, who went coast to coast for a dunk. After another missed Turkoglu three pointer, the Lakers passed the ball ahead to Gasol, who dunked despite a flagrant foul by Pietrus, who wound up with two hands and pounded Gasol in the back. Gasol did not take kindly to Pietrus' actions and immediately exchanged words with him. Both players received technical fouls. It will be interesting to see if the NBA upgrades Pietrus' foul to a flagrant two, which results in an automatic one game suspension. Some people made a big deal earlier in the season about a foul that Ariza committed versus Portland but Ariza was clearly going for the ball in that case and Rudy Fernandez just had an unfortunate, awkward fall--but Pietrus made a dangerous play while making no attempt whatsoever to go for the ball, which is precisely why the mild mannered Gasol reacted as immediately and as vociferously as he did.

The Lakers have been maligned for their inconsistent effort at times but they are now 7-0 in the 2009 playoffs after a loss; in other words, they have made it to within one victory of the championship without losing consecutive playoff games: that is impressive.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:59 AM

28 comments

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28 Comments:

At Friday, June 12, 2009 7:54:00 AM, Anonymous warsaw said...

"Gasol never won a playoff game until he teamed up with Bryan"

Do you want to know the starting line-up in the last playoffs he played for Memphis?:

Atkins-E.Jones-Tsakalidis-Gasol-Battier

Stars from the bench? Lorenzen Wright, Brian Cardinal and Mike Miller.

Most of them were out of the league or irrelevant two years after.

So, while I agree he's better suited as a second option in the NBA, the 0-12 mark doesn't prove that. It only proves that Gasol can't win a playoff game with terrible team-mates and against elite teams like the Mavs (back then) and The Spurs.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 2:10:00 PM, Anonymous Mike Smrek said...

I enjoyed the recap (as always), except for 1 part. Its unfair to attack the "Lakers match-up better" theory by highlighting a single matchup. The Lakers match up better defensively than Cleveland at SG, PF and C (maybe even PG) and the Lakers match-up better in the general sense that their forwards are bigger, longer and more skilled defenders than Cleveland's (except that one guy, whathisname?) Finally, your Slam article says that Kobe is a better defender than LeBron (although that was last year).

Its also might be unfair because you're using series stats when Delonte spent less minutes (to the naked eye) on Hedo than Ariza is; you're giving Delonte credit for what Lebron and others did to Hedo.

Last, it was reasonable before the series to assume that Ariza would match-up better than Delonte West because of size (although, as Jackson has said, Ariza's on the ball defense is not that good, he's more effective as a help, scrambling type defender).

To ignore the Laker defensive matchup advantages over Cleveland based on crediting Delonte West for Hedo's struggles, ignoring all the other cleveland players and ignoring all the other positions on the floor, is "to concoct grand story lines based on the final results [of a a small part] instead of taking the time to actually analyze what happened [in the larger sense]."


By the way, Kobe's FG% would have been better if he got a few calls that he deserved.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 2:32:00 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Nice detailed write-up, and I agree that Kobe made some key plays that don't show up on highlight films (that assist to Pau for the dunk in traffic, though, was incredible). However, Kobe also made some bad plays - Ariza's incredible 3 to tie at 82 was on a play where Kobe rammed into traffic and lost the ball. Kobe dribbled away one whole possession of overtime and then missed. He forced a few others when at least one pass would have allowed him to reset.

I love Kobe's game - I'm just trying to add some balance. You're right that in the 3rd, he facilitated a great comeback, and credit to Ariza for taking on the responsibility of finishing those plays successfully.

One small thing: that long rebound that Pau chased for the dunk to go up 96-91 wasn't a long carom. Rashard Lewis tipped it out really hard, a terrible play. He should have just grabbed it.

Although it's a different end of the court, it reminds me of Vlade Divac tipping out the rebound that Robert Horry grabbed and drilled that 3 against Sac in 2002. Always better to grab the rebound.

Great win for the Lakers.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 3:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw:

Eddie Jones was a three-time selection to both the All-Star Team and the All-Defensive Third Team. He even made the All-NBA Team once. He was on the downside of his career by 2006 but, as they say, I'd rather have a has been then a "never was." Jones made the All-Star team more times in his career than every other Laker on the team now--other than Kobe, of course--combined. Not the 2006 Lakers, mind you, but the 2009 Lakers that are one win away from a championship.

Shane Battier is one of the top defensive forwards in the NBA today.

Tskaalidis only started 19 games for the Grizzlies in 2006. Their top five guys in regular season minutes played were Gasol, Battier, Jones, Mike Miller and Bobby Jackson.

You mock Miller but he was the 2001 Rookie of the Year and won the Sixth Man Award for Memphis in 2006--meaning that he was considered to be the best bench player in the league that season.

Bobby Jackson won the Sixth Man Award in 2003.

So, the idea that Gasol did not have talent around him is not correct. Gasol actually had a lot more talent around him than Bryant did at that time but Bryant's Lakers took the Suns to seven games that year and would have won in six games if they had secured a defensive rebound late in regulation or if Kwame Brown had closed out on Tim Thomas correctly to prevent Thomas from shooting a three pointer.

Let's also look at how Gasol performed as the main option for Memphis in the playoffs. In 12 games he averaged 20 ppg but shot .490--well below the .553 he has shot in the playoffs the last two years with Bryant making things easier for him--and only averaged 6.4 rpg.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 3:10:00 PM, Anonymous temp 0333 said...

Michael,

How about you point out how the Magic were mugging the Lakers.

They shot 18 freethrows to 0 in the 4th quarter against the Lakers. And it certainly wasn't because they were being more aggressive than us.

We were getting bogus touch fouls, while the Magic were being allowed to hack us.

If Kobe even got an inkling of ref respect like Lebron does, we wouldn't even be talking about his shooting percentage. Lebron was damn near breaking NBA records in FT shooting. Many times in this game he got hacked on his shots and drives - stuff that you don't see Lebron have to deal with. On one play you saw Pietrus blatantly hit him on the wrist while shooting and it's a non-call.

Like Kareem said on tweeter, the Lakers beat 8!

I respect David for being impartial and not focusing on that stuff, but I felt it had to be pointed out.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 3:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Mike Smrek:

This post already clocked in at more than 3000 words, so if I attempted to explain the Cleveland-Orlando series in detail it would have turned into a mini-book. I talked about that series during my game recaps in the ECF and will be doing a Cavs season review article soon but I will take this time to correct a few inaccuracies in your comment:

1) Regarding Kobe and LeBron, they were assigned different defensive responsibilities versus Orlando and neither one was used as a shutdown defender against Lewis or Turkoglu. LeBron mainly guarded Rafer Alston and roamed around, while Kobe has guarded Lee and Pietrus and also has done some roaming, particularly in game four.

2) The Cavs had one of the top defensive teams in the NBA this season. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It is easy to say that Z is slow, Wallace is too small, etc. but collectively the Cavs played excellent defense during the season. The Cavs' alleged matchup problems did not prevent them from repeatedly building big leads versus the Magic. What killed the Cavs was poor shooting overall and the inability to get key late game stops (the two threes by Lewis, Howard's overtime dunks in game four). Those resulted from mental breakdowns (Varejao not closing out on Lewis when the Cavs were up three, no one fouling Howard when he was in point blank range) as opposed to the Cavs simply not being able to guard Orlando. All of the Lakers' advantages did not prevent Orlando from setting an all-time Finals shooting record or from making three of these four games extremely close--but the Lakers hit key shots and got key stops and the Cavs did not. Those are "breaks of the game" as opposed to mismatch problems. That is not to say that Orlando does not pose matchup problems; rather, they pose matchup problems for everyone, not just Cleveland.

3) West is a vastly underrated defender. People blindly talk about Orlando enjoying a matchup advantage versus West but that was not true at all. Also, contrary to what you said, West guarded Turkoglu most of the time. LeBron rarely guarded him.

In general I don't talk much about officiating because it evens out but I do agree with you that Kobe was fouled on a few shots but did not get those calls (particularly on the airball late in the game, but also on some of his drives).

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 3:27:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Michael:

I don't mean to suggest that Kobe played a perfect game. My intention is to explain to as wide an audience as possible exactly what factors affect winning and losing basketball games, specifically how Bryant's ability to create a shot for himself and his teammates makes him extremely valuable. If you listen to the TV broadcast then you know that JVG has repeatedly emphasized that Bryant can simply create a shot for himself or others on his own, while the Magic have to execute as a unit to get an open shot. This is a big advantage for the Lakers, particularly in late game situations. Bryant's ability to hit midrange jumpers gives him an edge over LeBron James in such situations. Teams have to contest Bryant in that area of the court and this opens up opportunities for his teammates. Even on a night when Bryant is not shooting exceptionally well, teams still have to honor him in that area of the court.

"Carom" is just another word for rebound. I understand that there was a back tap but in the play by play Gasol was (correctly) credited with a defensive rebound on the play you mentioned. Backtapping the ball when you cannot control it is not a bad play but Lewis simply hit it too far and it took an unfortunate bounce for the Magic; the other play that you mentioned was Divac backtapping a defensive rebound, which is obviously much more hazardous, particularly in that case when it enabled Horry to hit a dagger three. In this case, Lewis was backtapping an offensive rebound and hoping to set up a three pointer for his team, so the two situations are different.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 3:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Temp 0333:

As you correctly noted, in general I say as little about the officiating as possible. It is interesting, though, that so much of the conversation about this game has focused on how many free throws the Magic missed but very little has been said about the huge disparity in free throws attempted. I suspect that if the Lakers had attempted 17 more free throws than the Magic then we would be hearing the tired old stuff about "conspiracies." I don't believe in NBA conspiracies and, if anything, this game surely showed that the league is hardly doing the Lakers any favors with the officiating (nor should the league do any favors for any team but my point is that there is a perception in some quarters that the NBA wants certain teams to win, though the Knicks' lack of success, the Spurs' dynasty and LeBron being home during the Finals would seem to refute any thoughts that the league gives preferential treatment to the New York team or to teams that are considered exciting/media darlings).

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 5:49:00 PM, Anonymous warsaw said...

Jones was 35 at the time, so he wasn't the player that had been selected for the All-Star Team. In fact, I doubt he would have started for many other teams in the play-offs.

B Jackson was a selfish, turnover-prone player that led the team in shots attempted per minute in the regular season, despite bricking at 38%fg. He had 5 assists and 14 turnovers in the play-offs.

Battier and Miller are nice one-way players but they are also limited in one way or other.

Talking about the ROY award. I remember that Memphis had more Rookie of the Year players than any other team in the NBA in the mid 00s. So I'm not fond of that award as a measure of greatness. I also remember you wrote an article about this.

Tsakalidis started in the 4 games of the play-offs.

In the playoffs Gasol led the team in assists (not a great sign for Atkins and Jackson).

I agree that the Kwame-Lakers were probably a worse team, but then again Im not discussing that Gasol is a better leader than Kobe (he's not). I'm only saying that The Memphis Grizzlies lacked talent to win in the play-offs, and Gasol is not responsible for that.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 6:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i just wanted to let you know i love ur work. since i started reading ur blog on a regular basis, i can't stand to listen to sports radio talk anymore, since most of their 'analysis' consists of vague statements which have no real meaning like 'heart, toughness, veteran experience.' for basketball, i like ur objective strategy analysis much better.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 7:35:00 PM, Anonymous Jack B said...

David,

That is why i really listen to TV/Radio after Kobe uncharacteristically turn the ball over and didnt come thru in game 3 during the 4 quarter. What i find funny is that almost every analyst was saying that is Kobe clutch factor declining or is he done? These are the same people who giving kObe accolades a couple of series earlier in these playoffs for making wins out of losses(especially in the Denver series).

On Jerry West: Did you know how livid Jerry West was when he learned that Kobe was going to play year round basketball? he was so pissed he went hard at one of the coaches on Phil Jackson's staff and told them that they better find ways to give Kobe rest because at this point of his career, every rest he gets is crucial to his career's life cycle.

on SVG: I think Phil Jackson purposely brought the ball out of the backcourt expecting StanVanGundy to react to this by trapping kobe and denying the ball. Phil has repeatedly used Kobe has a decoy to get fisher an open 3 a lot of times this season and during the playoffs. I think as great an X/O guy VanGundy is, that's also his great weakness. The fact that he feels every action deserves a reaction is what is killing his team right now(and Phil knows it too).

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 8:09:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

Outstanding post as always -- although I am very happy I discovered your blog a year or so ago, it has made reading about basketball a great deal more frustrating, as the idiocy of so many commentators becomes more and more apparent. Case in point is an absurd column on Yahoo! from Adrian Wojnarowski that talks about Fisher (and Ariza) "rescuing" and "saving" Kobe in this game. But as you aptly detailed in this post, and as JVG and Mark Jackson repeatedly emphasized during the broadcast, Ariza and Fisher enjoyed opportunities to make the shots they did because Orlando [justifiably] double-teamed Kobe and he smartly and adeptly passed out of the double-team, either directly assisting on their buckets or initiating a quick series of Laker passes that scrambled the rotating Magic until a shooter was open. Simply looking at the box score or game flow would tell you Ariza had a huge 3rd quarter and carried the Lakers, and, depending on how liberally the assists were awarded and how many "assists" vs "hockey assists" resulted from Kobe passing out of those double-teams, Kobe's contribution might look minimal. But, of course, his contribution was fundamental, creating the opportunities (of course, this is not to denigrate completely Ariza or Fisher's contribution: making even wide-open 3pt shots in an NBA finals game at crunch time is far from easy). Anyhow, thanks for the great analysis, even if it has made it more difficult to read much basketball commentary.

On a somewhat related note, I am struck by how well JVG and Mark Jackson commentate -- it may be one of the truly, truly rare instances in sports where the announcers actually add a great deal of value. My experience with announcers has routinely been that I would almost prefer to have the game on mute most times to avoid their vapid and inane chattering, but these guys really do an excellent job illuminating and explicating the game.

While I am on a kick of bashing mainstream sports writers and typical announcers, I thought I would pass along this hilarious link from the Onion, which embodies somewhat similar views about the value of much sports commentary:

Nation Desperately Seeks Sportswriters' Opinions On Kobe Bryant
http://www.theonion.com/content/news/nation_desperately_seeks

I also rather enjoyed this piece:

Orlando Assistant Coach Patrick Ewing Counsels Dwight Howard On How To Lose NBA Title
http://www.theonion.com/content/news_briefs/orlando_assistant_coach?utm_source=onion_rss_daily

That said, Dwight Howard really does seem like a genuinely good and entertaining personality (his vitamin water commercial is hilarious), and as much as I am pulling for Kobe and the Lakers, I was a little sad to see Howard brick those 2 FTs at the end. Certainly the loss is not all on him, as Hedo missed several FTs too, and hopefully Howard will overcome the heartbreak from his missed free throws better than Nick Anderson did.

In any event, one of the more enjoyable parts about this series for me is that, as a longtime Shaq-hater, no matter who wins, the result is bound to annoy Shaq. As a longtime Kobe fan, I am happy they look poised to win it all, but even if Orlando somehow managed to take the next 3, it wouldn't be so bad to see Shaq annoyed by the victory of Superman II.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 10:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Warsaw:

Neither Bryant nor Gasol had great supporting casts in 2006 but I would take Gasol's over Bryant's, particularly in terms of playoff experience. Anyway, my main interest here is not to endlessly go back and forth comparing the 2006 Lakers with the 2006 Grizzlies but rather to state that Gasol is much better suited to being the second option than he is to being the first option. Memphis' management understood this and that is why they traded Gasol, the idea being to get rid of his salary and rebuild the team from the ground up, because they knew that they were never going to win a title with Gasol as the number one guy. Look at the teams that have won championships in the past decade or so--every single one of them had at least one player who is clearly better than Gasol and some of them had two players who are better than Gasol (the ensemble cast of the 2004 Pistons might be the one exception but that team basically had four or five All-Stars and played ferocious defense).

People talk about the high percentage that Gasol is shooting and say that he should get more attempts but they apparently don't understand that Gasol's high shooting percentage is a direct result of getting wide open shots because the defense is trapping Bryant. Go back and look at the few game four instances when Gasol tried to go one on one when Bryant was either not in the game or was on the opposite side of the court and you will see a slew of airballs, shots being blocked and balls being fumbled away. I'm not trying to suggest that Gasol is incompetent--clearly, he is one of the better players in the league--but he is benefiting tremendously from playing with Bryant. Does Bryant benefit from playing with Gasol? Of course he does but there are a lot of players who could step into that second role and be successful but there are very few players who can fill the number one role the way that Bryant does. Bryant has almost many Finals appearances in the past two years--two--as the other four most recent regular season MVPs (Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James) have in their entire careers (three, one each for Garnett, Nowitzki and James)!

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 10:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Thank you.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 10:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack B:

As I have mentioned here a few times, people overreact to each game and lose track of the basic fundamental truths about players, games and series.

I had not heard that story about West. He is no longer an executive with the Lakers and I'm not sure that he is on great terms with Phil Jackson, so I find that whole story a little hard to believe.

Few people seem to remember that Jackson has almost always tended to opt for the full court inbound as opposed to the half court inbound, with the obvious exception being if there is only enough time left for a catch and shoot. That has been true of Jackson going all the way back to his Chicago Bulls' days, when he liked to let MJ (or Pip) get a full head of steam going to attack the defense. I was sure that Jackson was going to have the Lakers go the length of the court because I've been watching him coach for two decades but apparently most people have not paid attention to this detail, though JVG and Mark Jackson did talk during the broadcast about the possibility that Phil Jackson would opt for that strategy.

If you were Stan Van Gundy would you not double team Bryant? If Bryant dribble all the way up the court against single coverage and made the game-tying three pointer then you would say that SVG is an idiot for not getting the ball out of Bryant's hands. Doubling Bryant was not the problem. The Magic should have either fouled or else contested Fisher much more closely. I don't think any coach in his right mind would just let Bryant bring the ball up the court against one defender in that situation.

 
At Friday, June 12, 2009 10:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

I suspect that there is a great deal of "culture shock" involved for people who are used to "normal" basketball writing and then start reading my writing.

JVG and Mark Jackson sometimes get too involved in their attempts at comedy but overall they both have a tremendous understanding of the game and are good at communicating that understanding in soundbite portions. That is why I often quote them and then elaborate on what they said.

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 12:09:00 AM, Anonymous Jack B said...

David,
Yea, that actually did happen. Roland Lazenby reported on it. And Jerry also expressed these concerns publicly during last year's playoffs in an interview with Dan patrick or Loose canons(RIP) i think.

on the Kobe hate: Is kobe the most hated and loved athlete of all time? A lot of sports writers hate kobe because he bit off Jordan. But hasn't practically every single wing player of this generation bit off Jordan? or is it because Kb dared tried to outdo Jordan who is universally loved. I dont like how nobody realize that Shaq deserves much more blame for that breakup, especially how insecure he looks now for pickin on Vangundy and Howard in these finals. Bill Walton is the only media member who dared go at Shaq after that Phx trade.

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 2:26:00 AM, Blogger Sonny said...

David Friedman,

This was a truly fascinating breakdown of, not just Game 4, but also a pleasant understanding of basketball and the delicate intricacies of the often misunderstood game of Kobe Bryant...

I wish I had stumbled upon your writings much sooner than now, as I've found myself completely weary of the other various articles/blogs/comments that I've come across during the coverage of these NBA Playoffs and Finals -- the majority of them are the "amatuer hour writers" that you've described. I particularly enjoyed your insights on Kobe's role as the Jordan/Pippen combo. Kobe doesn't fit any of the conventional stereotypes of coaches/players. Because of that, sports writers (and anyone else) that live on stereotypes and clichés always come off as confounded by him...which in turn, seems to affect their appreciation of his game and his undeniable impact. It's unfortunate that such a complete and devastatingly beautiful game that Kobe has, obsessively, developed and nurtured is going largely misunderstood.

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 4:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack B:

If Roland Lazenby reported that story, then I believe it. What threw me off is the way that you said that West was so mad about this and that West expressed his concerns to Jackson. West has nothing to be mad about because he doesn't work for the Lakers--and it seems surprising that West would be communicating with Jackson because my understanding is that they are not on the best of terms. Anyway, there is no chance that Kobe would pass up the opportunity to play for Team USA--and it just so happens that the Lakers made the Finals both years, so he has not gotten much of a break.

I don't know if Kobe is the most hated and most loved athlete of all time but he certainly arouses very strong feelings in both directions, which is unusual. There have been athletes who were more beloved and athletes who were more hated but maybe not too many athletes who were more of both at the same time.

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 4:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sonny:

Thank you.

It truly is remarkable--and sad--just how much bad writing is being widely disseminated now. People keep telling me that there will be a "weeding out" process but all that I see happening is that the few good writers are being literally "weeded out" by the many bad ones, much like weeds if left unchecked will overrun grass in a lawn.

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 5:59:00 AM, Anonymous yogi said...

David,

I'm a bit late to the party but I was wondernig what happened to Howard in the second half?
He played an awesome first half and then disappeared. I can't see why. Was he just tired out?

If he plays that way consistently the Magic will be unbeatable.

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 2:33:00 PM, Anonymous Jack B said...

David,
Nah, I didn't say to Jackson. I said he expressed his concerns to one of Jackson's assistant coaches. It's well known that Jerry and PJ didnt get along.

From Roland Lazenby:
"Jerry West saw this scenario developing months ago, after Bryant played for Team USA in the Olympic Games last summer, after having carried the Lakers through the long march to the 2008 Finals.

As a former Laker vice president and the man who acquired Bryant as a 17-year-old rookie, then mentored him to stardom, West began expressing concern to associates about the heavy burden the team’s star was carrying.

Speaking privately to a member of Phil Jackson’s staff, West fussed about the wear and tear on Bryant and the need for the team to be vigilant about leaning so heavily on him. West has observed that the time that Bryant gets on the bench each game to rejuvenate is critical at this stage of his career."

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 4:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Yogi:

I don't know that anything "happened" to Howard; he had 11 rebounds in the first quarter and that is not a sustainable pace for an entire game. Howard was active defensively and on the boards but his turnovers and missed free throws--particularly near the end of regulation--were costly.

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 5:59:00 PM, Blogger Sonny said...

"On one remarkable second quarter possession, Bryant fronted Lewis, denied the pass and then beat Lewis to the rebound, which is very difficult to do against a bigger player who has inside position."

I thought I'd point this out because you are the ONLY writer to mention this. I read heaps of post-game recaps in hopes that there would be someone who would talk about this specific possession. While the rebounding aspect of this play was outstanding...I thought Bryant's denial of Lewis on that possession was key (and remarkable indeed). I think Bryant's denial defense on that possession helped influence Lewis' lack of aggressiveness as Rashard looked completely out of sorts from then on...but there's no doubt that Gasol and Odom were also factors as it seemed to be a concerted effort to remove Lewis from this game. I felt that Bryant set the tone against Lewis in the first half and then later, firmly established the character of the game (and his team) with his rebound/steal from Dwight Howard towards the end of the third quarter, as Phil Jackson made sure to point out.

I'd definitely encourage anyone to check out that defensive possession. I believe it was at about the 7 minute mark in the 2nd Qtr and ABC replays it during the timeout break.

Also, check out Kobe's pass to Gasol towards the end of regulation that cut Orlando's lead down to 3 right before Howard's now infamous free throws. Just a brilliant, brilliant play.

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 9:06:00 PM, Anonymous Aqzi said...

David,
A quote from Derek Fisher yesterday or today (the 13th) you definitely would enjoy:

"Q. How would you describe Kobe as a passer?
DEREK FISHER: As a passer? He’s pretty remarkable, actually. He has an ability to get himself in and out of trouble with his vision that I think improves his ability to dominate offensively. You know, he reads situations very well, and he’s able to take double teams and score, but he’s also reading where the double teams are coming from, who’s coming, and we talk a lot during the game about staying prepared for a shot opportunity or for certain things to happen because of how teams are playing.
He loves to dominate a game, and so if he chose to pass more, he would easily average Chris Paul type assist numbers. But he’s a born scorer, and he’s always said that, and we don’t mind it because that sets up everything else that we do."



Aqzi

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 11:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sonny:

It is unfortunate that the vast majority of so-called experts fail to pick up on these nuances of the game but I am glad that you enjoyed my analysis of the Bryant-Lewis sequence.

Bryant's feed to Gasol near the end of regulation was not only a big play--which I did mention in the post--but it also was a very difficult play that Bryant made look easy.

 
At Saturday, June 13, 2009 11:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Aqzi:

That is a great quote. Back when Nash was annually leading the league in assists I said that, purely from a skill set standpoint, Bryant is as good of a passer as Nash is--meaning that there is no pass Nash can make that Bryant cannot make. The difference is that Bryant's primary role is to average 28-30 ppg, something that Nash cannot do.

 
At Sunday, June 14, 2009 1:14:00 PM, Anonymous dmills said...

David,
Although you and a few others are putting out great stuff, sadly it's the Espn's and Yahoo sports of the world that actually shape sports opinion. Sad and pathetic, but true nonetheless.

 

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