Bryant Saves the Day (Again), McHale Explains Why the "7-11 Defense" Does not WorkThe L.A. Lakers defeated the Toronto Raptors 109-107 in the featured game of NBA TV's "Fan Night" on Tuesday. Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 32 points on 11-20 field goal shooting, dished off a team-high six assists and nailed the game-winning jumper with less than two seconds remaining; Bryant scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, including six of the Lakers' final nine points--and that kind of sustained production in the final 12 minutes with the game on the line is more significant than Bryant's final shot, even though that coup de grace will no doubt be replayed countless times. The fact that the Lakers repeatedly need for Bryant to be so extraordinarily productive and efficient just to win games against mediocre teams belies the commonly held myth about the extent of the Lakers' depth.
The game itself simply reaffirmed what I have said regarding the Lakers' roster but the most fascinating part of the broadcast was a brief interlude that took place during a timeout. NBA TV played a soundbite of L.A. Clippers' color commentator Michael Smith reminiscing about his days playing with Kevin McHale on the Boston Celtics. Smith recalled that McHale--who now works for NBA TV--would "script" his first five post moves of the game (much like former San Francisco 49ers Coach Bill Walsh went into each game with a script of offensive plays). NBA TV's Ernie Johnson asked McHale about this and McHale confirmed that he essentially scouted every low post defender in the league and came up with a script for each one based on that player's strengths and weaknesses. McHale might hit him with a jump hook first and then the next time down the court he would fake the jump hook and spin baseline. McHale worked against his defender's tendencies and instincts to get the defender off balance and hopefully tag the defender with a couple early fouls; McHale quipped that if a defender had two fouls in the first quarter then the defender would play "7-11 defense": stand still with his hands straight up in the air (as if he were in a 7-11 that is being robbed). McHale would then shoot right over the top of him and tell him "That 7-11 defense is not going to work."
Pau Gasol certainly has good low post moves and Andrew Bynum has improved in that regard but instead of offering indirect public complaints that they should be getting the ball more it would be nice to see those two seven footers consistently finish with authority around the rim and properly position themselves defensively on the screen/roll plays that have been killing the Lakers recently.
Bynum had a strong game against the Raptors (22 points on 8-12 field goal shooting) but here are his field goal percentages in his previous 10 games: .727, .467, .625, .625, .563, .429, .750, .556, .333. .200. It is great that Bynum had three performances of .625 or better but he also had four games in which he shot .467 or worse. Considering the number of spoonfed dunks and easy putbacks that Bynum gets as a result of Bryant being double-teamed, Bynum's shooting percentage should be much more consistent. Moreover, the Lakers' coaching staff is concerned that Bynum's effort defensively and on the boards seems to be directly linked to how many points he scores.
There are subtle--and not so subtle--signs that Coach Phil Jackson is not pleased with Gasol's game right now. Jackson recently cut short one of Gasol's postgame media sessions in order to have Gasol speak one on one with Charles Oakley, one of the NBA's top enforcers in the 1980s and 1990s. Jackson also responded to the Lakers' three game losing streak and Gasol's pleas to get the ball more by playing Gasol for just 30:31 versus Toronto, Gasol's fewest minutes played since February 1; Jackson sat Gasol for virtually the entire fourth quarter. Gasol finished with 17 points and nine rebounds but he shot just 4-11 from the field, including an airball layup after a slick dish from Bryant plus another point blank miss at the end of the third quarter; Gasol's whining after that play earned him a technical foul--replays showed minimal or no contact on the play, certainly not enough contact to prevent a seven footer from scoring--and a seat on the bench next to Jackson. Here are Gasol's field goal percentages over the previous 10 games: .357, .583, .444, .556, .588, .429, .545, .364, .357, .615. Just like Bynum, Gasol has been inconsistent: five games of .545 or better but five games of .444 or worse.
Bryant's shooting has been inconsistent since he broke the index finger on his shooting hand in December but--unlike his bigs--he shoulders the added responsibilities of being the team's primary playmaker and of being the only player on the team who is willing and able to carry the offensive burden in the fourth quarter. Bryant tries to involve his bigs in the offense early in games but he understandably calls his own number down the stretch if those guys are not being productive.
If Gasol and Bynum scripted some plays a la Kevin McHale, induced their defenders into "7-11" mode and finished strongly around the hoop then Bryant would not have to save so many games at the end. Instead, it seems as if they are content to go through the motions, wait for Bryant to swoop in to the rescue--and then complain afterward that they did not get enough touches. Pat Riley once referred to "the disease of me," the way that overinflated egos can prevent a team from repeating as champion; the Lakers won the title last year with Bryant as the clear first option on offense, Gasol as the second option and everyone else getting scoring opportunities based on how the opposing team dealt with Bryant and Gasol. Bynum played fewer than 20 minutes in 15 of the Lakers' 23 playoff games last season and he scored in double figures just five times--Bynum was a role player, not a key contributor and certainly not an offensive focal point. We have already seen Pau Gasol be the lead guy on a team for six years, make the All-Star team once and fail to win a single playoff game; we have seen Andrew Bynum go along for the ride as the Lakers won a championship. Those guys need to remember exactly what the Lakers' winning formula was last year and fill their roles as opposed to getting delusions about what their roles should be.
posted by David Friedman @ 11:01 PM