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Friday, June 13, 2008

Celtics Rally From 24 Point Deficit, Win 97-91 to Take 3-1 Series Lead

The Boston Celtics recovered from the largest deficit at the end of the first quarter in NBA Finals history to post a thrilling 97-91 victory that all but assures that they will win a record 17th NBA title. Paul Pierce led the Celtics with a game-high 20 points on 6-13 shooting but just as importantly he had a team-high seven assists and he played excellent second half defense against Kobe Bryant. Ray Allen had a very strong game, scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds while playing all 48 minutes. Kevin Garnett added 16 points on 7-14 shooting and a game-high 11 rebounds. Unlike the Lakers, the Celtics bring playoff tested veterans off of the bench; James Posey, a key contributor to Miami's 2006 championship team, scored 18 points, shooting 4-8 from three point range. He helped to spread the floor in the second half, which opened up scoring opportunities for Pierce, Allen and Garnett. The Celtics' reserves outscored the Lakers' reserves 35-15 and held the L.A. bench scoreless in the second half.

Lamar Odom got off to a wonderful start and he had 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists at halftime after shooting 7-7 from the field; he was almost completely invisible in the second half, finishing with 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists while shooting 8-11 from the field. Kobe Bryant shot just 6-19 from the field but he had a game-high 10 assists to go along with his 17 points and four rebounds. Bryant scored 10 of the Lakers' 18 fourth quarter points and assisted on three of the other four field goals that the team made, accounting for virtually all of their offensive production in the final stanza.

Pau Gasol contributed 17 points and 10 rebounds; like Odom, he was much more active and effective in the first half than he was in the second half. Game three hero Sasha Vujacic scored just three points on 1-9 field goal shooting and he struggled just as much at the other end of the court, getting burned by Allen for a driving layup that gave the Celtics a 96-91 lead with :16 left in the game.

This series is a battle between Boston's league-best defense versus the Lakers' high powered offense. In the first half, the Lakers' offense had the upper hand but in the second half the tide completely turned; it is very instructive to examine why both of those things happened. First I will describe how the Lakers built their huge lead and then I will explain what factors enabled the Celtics to put together their record setting comeback.

Odom's struggles in the first three games of this series have been well chronicled, so the Lakers smartly decided to get him involved in the offense on the very first possession of the game with a quick hitting play. Bryant brought the ball up the court, handed off to Odom and set a screen on Garnett. Odom drove to the hoop from the top of the key; slowed down by Bryant's screen, Garnett arrived late and goaltended Odom's layup attempt. Meanwhile, the defensive adjustment that Coach Jackson made in game three continued to pay dividends as Kobe Bryant nominally guarded Rajon Rondo while roaming around and completely disrupting Boston's offense. There are two ways to deploy a great defender like Bryant: one is to assign him to lock down one particularly dangerous player and the other is to put him a on a non-threat, enabling him to be very disruptive to the other four offensive players. Coach Jackson did both things with Scottie Pippen in the 1990s, sometimes having him guard a Hall of Famer like Magic Johnson and other times putting him on someone like Utah's Greg Ostertag so that Pippen could use his long arms, quickness and anticipation to shut down Utah's offense. "Kobe might be the best help defender I've seen since Pippen," Coach Rivers said after the game.

The Lakers converted the Celtics' missed shots and turnovers into transition scoring opportunities, which led to two Derek Fisher free throws and a pair of free throws that Bryant split. After Bryant missed the second free throw, the Celtics committed a loose ball foul, enabling the Lakers to retain possession. They ran a screen/roll play with Bryant and Gasol. Allen and Kendrick Perkins aggressively trapped Bryant well beyond the three point line, Bryant fired a jump pass to Odom in the paint and Odom made a beautiful touch pass to a cutting Gasol for an easy dunk. "You trap Kobe Bryant, he takes the trap, hits the man at the free throw line and it's (a pass from) big to big," ABC's Jeff Van Gundy explained. This action is very difficult to stop if it is run correctly and this is an example of perfect execution by the Lakers: The threat of Bryant shooting a three pointer and/or driving to the hoop forced the aggressive trap, Odom stepped aggressively into the void to force Garnett to guard him and Gasol rolled to the hoop uncontested. As we will see, later in the game the Lakers did not run this action with nearly the same crispness.

Vladimir Radmanovic fed Odom for a dunk and Fisher passed to Odom for a layup to put the Lakers ahead 11-4 at the 8:32 mark. Although Odom is often praised for his ability to handle the ball in the open court, he is actually most effective cutting to the hoop from the weak side and receiving a pass for an easy score; when he is the primary attacker from the strong side he often commits offensive fouls, turns the ball over or attempts wild shots. Sure enough, Odom got a defensive rebound at the 7:01 mark, dribbled coast to coast and threw the ball away. Still, the Lakers were in a good rhythm offensively and defensively and they continued to extend their lead; with Bryant roaming around on defense the Celtics struggled to get off high percentage shots and each of their misses and turnovers fueled the Lakers' transition game. If the Lakers were not able to score in transition then they efficiently ran their half court offense; a screen/roll play involving Fisher and Gasol collapsed the Celtics' defense, resulting in an open three pointer by Radmanovic that gave the Lakers a 20-6 lead. The Lakers also had success running Bryant into the post, where he drew double teams and fed open shooters.

An interesting play happened at the 3:50 mark: Bryant and Odom ran a screen/roll play and Bryant passed to Odom, who danced around in place with his dribble before sinking a jumper. As I noted in an earlier post, Chris Paul was credited with several assists during the playoffs on plays like that; in this case, Bryant was quite correctly not awarded an assist because Odom did not make an immediate action to shoot after he received the ball from Bryant--but with this kind of scorekeeping subjectivity it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons between players' assist totals.

The Lakers continued to play at a very high level at both ends of the court and they took a 30-12 lead after a couple Gasol free throws that were made possible by Bryant passing out of a double team in the post. Another well executed Bryant-Gasol screen/roll led to a cross court pass by Bryant to Trevor Ariza, who buried a three pointer that made the margin 34-12. "Very few players can throw the diagonal skip pass on the money," Van Gundy said; I think that Bryant, LeBron James and Tracy McGrady are the three best current practitioners of that difficult play. The Lakers closed out the quarter with Bryant driving to the hoop, drawing a double team and passing to Gasol, who made one of two free throws after being fouled. The Lakers led 35-14, the biggest first quarter lead in NBA Finals history. They shot 11-17 from the field (.647) and held the Celtics to 6-22 (.273) field goal shooting. Bryant scored three points--all on free throws--but he had four assists and created several other scoring opportunities for his teammates. ABC's Mark Jackson declared, "Kobe has been the difference offensively. He puts the ball on the floor, almost like Steve Nash, once he leaves the floor he's looking to make the right play." When the Celtics trapped him he did not force shots but instead passed to the open man.

With the Lakers enjoying a big lead, Coach Jackson was able to give Bryant his usual rest at the start of the second quarter, as opposed to having to keep him on the court to prevent a collapse. The Lakers held their own for 3:47 with him out of the game and still led 40-19 when he returned. The play of Trevor Ariza at the end of the first quarter and during the early part of the second quarter deserves mention. Ariza was very active on the boards, played energetic defense and contributed not only the three pointer after Bryant's pass but also a putback dunk while Bryant was not in the game. The Lakers took their biggest lead of the game when Bryant drove to the hoop, drew all five Celtic defenders into the paint and kicked the ball out to Vujacic, who made his only shot of the game, a three pointer that put the Lakers up 45-21 with 6:45 remaining in the first half. Neither team scored in the next 2:04 and then the Celtics went on a 12-0 run in just 1:43. Pierce, Allen, Garnett and Posey each scored during that spurt, while the Lakers shot 0-3 from the field and committed a turnover. Just like the Lakers' defense helped fuel their offense early in the game, their inability to get stops prevented them from getting out in transition to score easy baskets. Although Fisher drove to the hoop and converted a three point player to push the lead back to 48-33, that Boston run provided the Celtics with a crucial confidence boost. Coach Rivers said after the game that he told his team at halftime that this spurt showed that they could mount a comeback in the second half.

After Allen missed a three pointer, the Lakers returned to the reliable Bryant-Gasol screen/roll and once again a trapped Bryant passed to Odom who fed Gasol for a dunk. The Celtics answered with a free throw after a defensive three seconds call and a Posey three pointer to make the score 50-37. The Lakers outscored the Celtics 8-3 in the final :59 to lead 58-40 at halftime after Jordan Farmar made a running three pointer at the buzzer.

The Celtics have outplayed the Lakers in the third quarter throughout the series and Coach Jackson told his Lakers at halftime to not settle for having the lead but rather to go out and win the third quarter. That proved to be easier said than done. The Celtics scored four quick points before Bryant made a jumper, his first field goal of the game. Baskets by Rondo and Garnett cut the lead to 60-48 but Odom hit two free throws, Radmanovic scored on a layup off of an Odom feed, Bryant made another jumper and Fisher hit a jumper to make the score 68-48. It seemed like the Lakers had weathered the storm but in fact that was their last hurrah. The Celtics made a couple adjustments that turned out to be critically important: Pierce took over the primary defensive assignment on Bryant and Coach Rivers put Eddie House in the game in place of Rondo. Pierce is bigger and stronger than Allen, so he can guard Bryant on the post without the Celtics having to send a double team. Although Bryant hit those jumpers early in the quarter over Pierce--and Bryant had a productive fourth quarter--this switch enabled the other Celtics to really focus on staying attached to their men. Pierce volunteered at halftime to take this defensive assignment and Coach Rivers and Allen readily agreed. Putting House--and James Posey--into the game greatly improved the Celtics' offensive spacing and prevented Bryant from roaming defensively the way that he did in the first half. These adjustments made the Celtics more efficient at both ends of the court; by improving their offense they shut down the Lakers' transition game and that helped the Celtics defense because the Lakers then had to score against the Celtics' half court defense.

The Celtics made a 23-5 run in the last 7:08 of the third quarter to cut the Lakers' lead to 73-71. How did they turn things around so completely? With Pierce making it more difficult for Bryant to post up, it was even more important for the Lakers to generate something with the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll play that has been so successful throughout the series. Unfortunately for the Lakers, the last time that they ran that play well came at the 7:08 mark, when Bryant passed to Gasol, who fed Fisher for an open jumper. The Lakers still led 73-64 at the 1:41 mark when Bryant fed Gasol in the paint and Gasol missed a dunk. "You're too big and skilled to miss that shot," Mark Jackson exclaimed. After House hit a three pointer, the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll produced nothing because Gasol did not dive to the hoop aggressively and the other three Lakers stood around like mannequins, forcing Bryant to shoot a jumper right before the shot clock expired. Coach Jackson said afterwards, "We didn't have guys that stepped up and helped out in that second half." The Celtics outscored the Lakers 10-0 in the last 2:01 of the quarter, a run punctuated by an uncontested dunk by P.J. Brown after a defensive breakdown with :01 left.

Towards the end of the game, Van Gundy offered this explanation for why the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll did not work as well in the second half as it did in the first half: "The Celtics have made some great adjustments in their pick and roll defense. They're softer on the screener, which has taken away that high-low pass that we saw in the first half." I agree with Van Gundy to an extent but I also think that the Lakers did not execute properly in several ways: Gasol did not set his screens with authority, he failed to roll aggressively to the hoop and no one popped to the free throw line the way that Odom had been doing. Gasol's passive play enabled the Celtics to simply stay on their own men instead of having to either trap or switch. Therefore, Bryant was left handling the ball with the shot clock winding down and no good options. After the third quarter, Coach Jackson told Michele Tafoya, "We just did things offensively that put us in bad situations. They got their transition game going and their half court game going."

Bryant and Turiaf ran a screen/roll to start the fourth quarter and Turiaf was fouled after receiving a feed from Bryant--but Turiaf missed both free throws. The Celtics tied the score at 73 after a post up move by Leon Powe. A Bryant drive put the Lakers ahead again but Pierce answered with a jumper. The teams continued to trade baskets--a Bryant jumper, a Garnett jumper, an Odom layup on a feed from Bryant--until Pierce missed a jumper, the Lakers pushed the ball up the court and Bryant's fast break dunk made the score 81-77 Lakers. Posey answered with a three pointer; the Lakers had real problems covering Posey and House at the three point line because they also had to keep track of Pierce, Garnett and Allen. A Gasol jumper put the Lakers up 83-80 with 4:55 left but then things fell apart for the Lakers. After Garnett made two free throws, a Bryant-Gasol screen/roll once again led to nothing after Gasol basically just stood around; Odom ended up with the ball in the post and he fired up a wild shot that did not even come close to hitting the target. A House jumper gave the Celtics their first lead of the game, 84-83. The Lakers again ran a Bryant-Gasol screen/roll; this time, Bryant passed to Gasol, who made a weak pass that Allen stole. Pierce missed a three pointer but Allen got the offensive rebound and later in that extra possession he scored on a sweet reverse layup to make the score 86-83 Boston with 3:16 left. Vujacic and Farmar each missed jumpers before Garnett caught the ball in the post, made a strong move and shot right over Gasol to put the Celtics up 88-83 with just 2:10 remaining. Bryant then made two free throws, so the Lakers needed a stop and a score. Instead, Pierce used a screen to get into the paint and draw a foul on Gasol. "That's bad defense by Gasol," Mark Jackson said, adding that after the screen it was Gasol's responsibility to zone the area and prevent Pierce from turning the corner. Pierce split his pair of free throws, so the Lakers were only down 89-87 after Bryant drove past Pierce for a tough layup in traffic--but then Posey stabbed the Lakers with a dagger three pointer. Bryant drove to the hoop, drew the defense and passed to Fisher, who nailed a jumper from just inside the three point arc. "That's a critical mistake by Fisher," Van Gundy said. "If you're going to shoot from that distance make it be a three."

Pierce drew another foul and made both free throws but Bryant fed Gasol for a dunk to cut the margin to 94-91 with :40 left. On the Celtics' next possession, Garnett came up to set a screen for Allen, who waved him off in order to go one on one versus Vujacic. With the other Laker defenders staying attached to their assignments, Allen got by Vujacic for a layup and a 96-91 lead. The Lakers then made a tactical error by passing the ball in before calling a timeout; by rule they now had to burn a second timeout in order to advance the ball. In the end that did not matter because the Lakers were not able to score anyway.

Game Summary:

After scoring 58 first half points the Lakers scored just 33 second half points. With House and Posey spreading the floor, Bryant was not able to roam on defense, the Lakers were not able to get stops and their transition offense died. Meanwhile, putting Pierce on Bryant curtailed Bryant's post up opportunities and made it imperative for the Lakers to get something out of their screen/roll game--but when Gasol and the other Lakers played tentatively the task fell to Bryant to create something out of nothing. After their great first quarter, the Lakers shot 21-60 from the field (.350) the rest of the way to finish with a .416 shooting percentage.

Bryant struggled with his shooting overall but he shot 4-8 from the field in the fourth quarter and, as noted in the second paragraph, he accounted for 16 of his team's 18 fourth quarter points.

No team has ever recovered from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. The Lakers may bounce back to win game five at home on Sunday but it is very unlikely that they will win two straight games in Boston. This game will become a staple feature on ESPN Classic and NBA TV and will forever be a part of Celtics lore.


I think that comparing Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan is pointless--I prefer to compare Bryant to other active players. However, it is wrongheaded for John Hollinger to say that this game proves that Bryant should never be compared to Jordan (although I do agree with Hollinger's main assertion in that article, namely that Rivers coached a great game). When Jordan won six championships he was paired with a Top 50 player and future Hall of Famer in Scottie Pippen, so he had another great player who could shoulder a big load offensively and defensively. The case for Jordan's superiority over Bryant should be made based on a comparison of their skill sets, not on the basis of Bryant not being able to lead an inferior supporting cast to victory in the Finals over the best team in the league. Jordan had playoff games during which he shot worse than 6-19 from the field and the Bulls won anyway because they had Pippen and/or because other members of the supporting cast stepped up. Here are three examples: Chicago 103, New York 83, Chicago 87, Seattle 75 and Chicago 75, Miami 68

In contrast, the only future Hall of Famers who are sharing the court with Bryant in this series are all wearing Celtic green: Garnett, Pierce and Allen. That means that the Celtics can target Bryant in ways that the Lakers cannot target any of Boston's "Big Three." Bryant is alternately asked to be a roamer defensively to disrupt Boston's offense and then he is asked to be a stopper against (at different times) Allen and Pierce. As detailed above, it is up to Bryant to create most of the Lakers' offense, while the "Big Three" not only share that load but also have veteran reserve players who can step up. So why did I pick the Lakers to win this series? I thought, based on how the Lakers played down the stretch of this season and in the first three rounds of the playoffs, that Bryant had just enough help around him to lead the Lakers to victory over the Celtics; it now looks like that is not in fact the case.

Just to make sure that I am being perfectly clear about this, I agree with Hollinger that Jordan was a greater player than Bryant but I disagree with his assertion that this one particular game proves that point. If this game proved anything it proved that Bryant needs more than one one-time All-Star to lead the Lakers to a series victory over a deep team that has three future Hall of Famers.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:45 AM



At Friday, June 13, 2008 10:15:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

All the years Ive watched Allen I always felt he was a soft player. He really showed me something tonight. Playing the whole game and getting four steals and 10 rebounds showed me he can be clutch and has been the x factor of this series.

Everyone praises Bryant...he Jordan, hes better, hes a better shooter...Ive heard all of these ridiculous things. 3 points in the first half for Bryant is absolutely unacceptable because he needs to score in the flow along with his teammates. That 24 point lead should have been 34 because Boston didnt come to play in the first half.

Boston also has controlled the pace beautifully. The Lakers havent had the 100 point games theyve had in the previous rounds. Bostons defense is riveting and the other Laker players have no clue whats going on.

The Jordan/Bryant comparisons are absurd and I wont entertain them anymore. I know its fun and everyone says he is close but please.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 10:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good recap, David, thank you.
The game was great, and as I was rooting for the Celtics, I really enjoyed it.
I thought Bryant had a very good game, which in my view doesn't have to do with numbers but with decisions. And he made very few bad decisions, and a lot of good ones. He didn't score more because his primary option was to get his teamates involved, which worked well in the first quarter. He tried to keep at it in the second half, but as you correctly said they didn't respond. Finally, he resolved to score when his team needed him to, and despite excellent Celtics defense he had a good shooting percentage in the fourth.

This game also showed me what you've been claiming for long now, and that I couldn't see at first, which is that Bryant's supporting cast isn't as good as it seems. There is definitely no Pippen equivalent on this team, I was wrong to think otherwise.

As for the Lakers, I hope for Bryant that he will not listen to the critics and try to win game 5 on its own, but rather realize that he should keep playing the same and hope his teamates adjust like in the first quarter.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 10:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of people are saying that Jordan was better but they use weak/wrong arguments.
Wrong argument: Only Jordan was able to lead a team without a superstar bigman to a championship.
Why do you need a superstar bigman? Low post scoring/interior defense/rebounding.
The Bulls had interior defense and rebounding, that's obvious. But they also had one of the most potent low post forces in the NBA.

Here's my take:
1. I have mentioned before that Jordan was easily a top 5 low post offensive power. None of the "heir apparents" can say that.
He was also an excellent passer out of the double team, and an excellent freethrow shooter. None of the other top 5 low post offensive threats can say that.
This, for me, ends the discussion. For the sake of argument, let's continue.
This isn't mentioned nearly enought but Jordan was freakishly strong.

2. Before his baseball vacation, Jordan was shooting above 50% from the field.
During his "selfish ballhog" years (pre-championship) he was shooting 52%.
He was routinely double and triple-teamed during this time, not to mention he didn't have a reliable 3-point shot yet.
Not even Kobe during the Shaq years came close to matching that. Ray Allen shoots 48% on his 2-pt shot.

3. He was a very, very good rebounder, and I'm not just talking about his impressive numbers.
He could rebound in heavy traffic much more effectively than someone like say Shawn Marion(who has impressive rebounding numbers).
This brings us back to point #1, he's freakishly strong.

4. He was always among the league steals leaderboard, always among the top shot blockers among wingmen.
As evidenced by the multiple all-defensive first team selections, and his DPoY award, he was a lock down defender too.
This accomplishment in itself is remarkable. Iverson gets the bulk of his steals on gambles, and gets routinely burned.
Bowen can lock down his opponent, but doesn't get much steals, or even rebounds. Jordan did all of that.
Yes, he averaged more steals and blocks than Kobe(even during the Shaq years, when Kobe could afford to roam).
He could also defend much bigger opponents because he's freakishly strong.

5. He had a season where he averaged 3.58 turnovers a game, but he was playing PG and averaged 8 assists per game.
He has higher assist averages than Kobe but I'd like to focus more on the turnovers.
For a ballhog who had the ball in his hands most of the time, Jordan only averaged 2.7 turnovers per game.
As a starter, the only time Kobe averaged less than 2.7 turnovers was during the 2003-2004 season when he averaged a career low in minutes, and played only 65 games.
It's not mentioned often, but Jordan has freakishly large hands. Huge hands!!!

6. Freethrow % never lies. Regular season: Kobe 83.9%, MJ 83.5%. Playoffs: Kobe 79.8%, MJ 82.8%.
I'm not sure if we can attribute this to hand size or fatigue.

7. Threepoint %. Regular season: Kobe 34%, MJ 32.7%. Playoffs: Kobe 32.3%, MJ 33.2%.
MJ attempts 1 less three pointer per game than Kobe in the playoffs. I was actually expecting Kobe to come out on top here, but it looks like they're even.


At Friday, June 13, 2008 12:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If this game proved anything it proved that Bryant needs more than one one-time All-Star to lead the Lakers"

Gasol's ofensive game has been subpar in the finals, I agree, but I don't think people is judging him fairly.
Remember that this has been the first time Gasol has played a large post-season, and that he came just a few games before the playoffs. He didn't have that much time to adapt his game to the team, and he has been asked to defend players so good and different as Boozer, Duncan or Garnett. Letting all of them in low fg%.

Also, I expect him to improve his game next year, with Bynum doing some of the things he's not good at.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 12:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is something of a rhetorical question (and we can't really know the answer), but has Doc Rivers been coaching well or just getting lucky?

That is, Rondo played only 17 min and his +/- was -10. Did Rivers accept that his starting PG is a major liability in this series & yank him, or was he saved by Rondo's injury?

Also, the more I think about it, I think Phil Jackson ought to be getting some more blame for this series. Yes, we called his Kobe-to-Rondo defensive switch in Game 3 brilliant, but was it really? Wasn't it an obvious thing to do?

I mean, both the Cavs and the Pistons disrespected Rondo and used his nominal defender to doubleteam. I attended several of the games in Cleveland and remember Rondo routinely being given open looks by the Cavs defense (which he often missed or foolishly passed out of). Although I don't recall that he Cavs employed their extra defender as a roving safety/center-fielder/pick-your-metaphor as Jackson has used Kobe, but I do believe they used their "extra" man to shut down Ray Allen coming off screens (to great effect).

As for the Pistons, my memory is that Billups did *some* roving but also tried to help with defending Allen off screens.

In short, by the Finals it should have been clear that Rondo can and should be dared to shoot, as he either won't or will do so poorly. Yet I don't recall Jackson forcing him to do so much in Games 1 & 2. Sure, Rondo seemed to be having a great game driving and dishing in Game 2, but if anything, that only should have counseled in favor of a move like switching Kobe to him earlier. Would Rondo have tried driving so often on Kobe?

Jackson knows that Kobe is one of the NBA's premier defenders & that he can read the game exceptionally well. Why then did he wait until Game 3 to take advantage of the fact that Rondo need not seriously be guarded (a fact that both the Cavs & Pistons understood & took advantage of)?

Indeed, this failure is even more glaring given that the Lakers had a full week or more to prepare for the Finals. Spotting the weakness that is Rondo should have been easy, and figuring out the Kobe counter (while very smart) probably should not have taken two entire games.

PS Great analysis, as always. In particular I liked your observation that if Kobe were Chris Paul, the scorekeepers would have credited him with an assist on Odom's shuffle-dribble-then-shoot move in the 1st quarter.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 1:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

awesome -- kobe shoots 6/19 & team blows historic game ... and your post still praises him more than Pierce, Garnett, or Allen!!!

you are consistent if nothing else

here's my analysis... halftime la up 18...but (despite the assists) the scoring-crazy kb24 isnt happy with his own stat line (0 fgs, 3 pts), so he asserts self shooting (mostly missing)... and the lakers revert to their 2006 offense of watching him...

At Friday, June 13, 2008 2:55:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

It feels as if Doc Rivers "lucked into" the adjustment of playing House instead of Rondo, because of Rondo's injury in Game 3.

Either way, it was a good adjustment.

As a fan, the only thing worse than the Lakers losing is the stupid "MJ would not have allowed this to happen" comments, which you addressed, David. People look to those guys as if they are ideals instead of real people. Like you said, Magic did his share of boneheaded things, but he is still considered one of the best of all-time.

It's going to be real telling how the Lakers react in Game 5. Do they have the heart to go back to Boston? I personally don't think Kobe is going to go down without a HUGE fight.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 5:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Allen played very well and I agree with your praise of Boston's defense.

Regarding MJ versus Kobe, you know that I have never said that Kobe is greater than MJ. That said, MJ never took a team to the Finals that is as weak overall as this Lakers team. That doesn't make Kobe greater than MJ but it explains why the Lakers could not sustain their lead for four quarters.

The comparison that should never have been made is that Odom is Bryant's Scottie Pippen. Also, as I've said all along, Gasol is a good player, not a great or elite player.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 5:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are absolutely correct about Kobe's decision making and this is perhaps the aspect of basketball that is most misunderstood by the people who are (over) paid to commentate about it. Bryant shredded Boston's double teams in the first half with his decision making and pinpoint passing. In the second half, the Celtics ramped up their defense and the Lakers' supporting players seemed to lose their focus, as I mentioned when I described how Gasol did not set good screens or roll aggressively to the basket. Odom completely disappeared and the other guys either stood around or missed open shots.

Kobe is not going to try to win game five on his own. If he is single covered, then he will correctly attack and look for his shot; if he is double covered, then he will correctly pass to the open man. Whether or not he or his teammates will make enough shots and play good enough defense is another story.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 6:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You make some excellent points that pretty much summarize why I have never said that Kobe is greater than MJ.

However, I disagree with your comparison of their three point shooting. The NBA moved the three point line in from 23'9" to 22 feet from 1994-95 to 1996-97 (the shot has always been 22 feet in the baseline corners where Bowen makes a living but during those years the arc was flattened out in the other areas). MJ shot 238-589 (.404) from three point range during those three seasons and just 343-1189 (.288) from three point range during the rest of his career. Kobe is a better long range shooter than MJ was.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 6:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that it will help Gasol's game to shift back to pf and have Bynum match up with centers/low post players.

I can't speak for what other people are saying but my main criticism of Gasol is not his defense--which, as you note, has been pretty good for the most part--but that he plays soft offensively in terms of shying away from contact and not finishing plays at the rim when a defender is there. Gasol can catch and finish in a roll situation when there are no defenders around, something that Kwame could not do--but when there is a defender in his path Gasol shoots weak shots instead of going up with two hands so that the play results in a dunk or a foul.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 6:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that Doc Rivers' coaching has been unfairly criticized for quite some time and I mentioned that in my series preview. A team does not come back from a 24 point deficit unless it has good leadership. Furthermore, a team does not win 66 games unless it has good leadership.

I think that Jackson hesitated to put Kobe on Rondo because of concerns that Allen would get loose against Fisher, Vujacic or anybody else that the Lakers put on him--and that, in fact, has happened, but when the Lakers were playing well offensively they could accept Allen being hot in exchange for Kobe's roaming helping to shut down most of the rest of Boston's offense.

I think that the moves that Jackson can make are limited by the fact that Boston has the better, deeper team. The one thing that Jackson can do is keep moving Kobe around defensively to try to cool off various Boston players and he has done that: we have seen Kobe guard Rondo (as a roamer), Allen, Cassell and Pierce.

Offensively, Jackson has tried to get Odom loose by running easy plays for him and they ran a lot of the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll plays that I said would be critical. Unfortunately for the Lakers, their execution of the screen/roll in the second half (particularly after the midpoint of the third quarter) was very poor. Boston of course deserves some credit for that but I can't understand why Gasol stopped rolling to the hoop or why Odom (or someone else when Odom was out of the game) was not flashing to the free throw line to force Boston to defend that option. If I had been at the postgame news conference, those are the questions that I would have asked.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 6:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Did you read my headline and the first paragraph? Praising Kobe was hardly the theme of this story.

As I indicated, this series is a battle between Boston's defense and L.A.'s offense; my post explained why the Lakers were able to take a big lead and why the Celtics were able to come back. Bryant shot a low percentage but he made good decisions throughout the game and he accounted for 16 of his team's 18 fourth quarter points.

If you watched the entire game and read my account then you should be able to understand that throughout the game Kobe fed the ball to open teammates. Compare how aggressively Gasol set screens and rolled to the hoop in the first half to how he played in the second half. Some of Kobe's "bad" shots were shots taken at the end of the shot clock because the other Lakers stood around for 20 seconds. Coach Jackson said after the game that the other Lakers did not give Kobe enough help; he is a coach who has criticized Kobe before, he called Odom "confused" at one point and he called Vlad Rad a "space cadet," so if he thought that Kobe had shot too much I'm pretty sure he would have said so.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 6:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are correct that people look at the retired greats "as if they are ideals instead of real people."

I could be wrong, but I think that the Lakers will play very well in game five and that they will force the series to be decided in Boston.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 7:07:00 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Regarding the Odom - Pippen comparison, Jackson has said that Tex Winter calls Odom "NSP" as in, Not Scottie Pippen.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 8:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i've seen a leaked nba script for the series...

lakers win games 5 & 6, celts win game 7

At Friday, June 13, 2008 9:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

lakers choked up the game kobe played okay i dont blame him as much as gasol farmar andothers it is easy to hit shots when no pressure on you then when it is kobe went 6-19 not good shooting he had 8 assits and he tried wrongly in my opion to go overboard in getting his teamates involved. jordan was better descion maker than kobe in the sense even he was passing all game if it was desperation time jordan made the buckets for his team to win once kobe is in a passing mode he stays in it much too long he should of tooken the game over when boston started comeing back. gasol made a soft pass at the end and sasha d was terrible and played terrible too many euro league players on the team. lasker probably win game 5 lose game 6 now i never thought boston would come all the way back.

you right madnice the comparison is absurd ive always stated that kobe is all time great player but he is simply no mj jordan not loseing a 24 point lead in finals nor is he going to over pass like kobe did.

At Friday, June 13, 2008 10:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was pretty sure that Bryant shot the 3 better than MJ, but I didn't know about moving the three point line. That explains it. Although to be fair to him, he did say that he didn't want to focus as much on the three point line because that would change what he wanted to do on offense.

I think Gasol is playing excellent defense too. Lamar Odom is still rebounding well. On the choker-clutch scale, they are both at the choker side.
You will get frustrated at Gasol's softness and Odom's decision making much like Garnett fans get frustrated with his "jumper all night long" offense.

I think it should be mentioned that posting up, driving, finishing hard, is very tiring. A jumpshot is the easiest thing you can do on offense. The simplest explanation is that they cannot sustain that level of play for the entire game.

You have mentioned in a post before that Bryant and Duncan were the two most well-conditioned athletes. They happen to be the two most clutch players as well. LeBron is a freak.
Melo doesn't play defense so is pretty fresh for clutch offensive performances. Ginobili is pretty clutch when he only gets to play 28 minutes.

I think the "Kobe roaming" defense backfired because it tires out Kobe more (thus missing shots). A big reason why Allen was guarding Kobe was because he doesn't need to exert much effort for his jumpers. Pierce looked exhausted guarding Bryant because his offensive game is a lot more tiring than Ray's.


At Saturday, June 14, 2008 1:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I read that somewhere. Winter is 100% correct.

At Saturday, June 14, 2008 1:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have not read a script and don't believe that one exists. I think that the Lakers will win game five and lose a close game six.

Even if things go the way you predicted, that would hardly mean that anything has been scripted. The team stats in this series are pretty close even though the score is 3-1 Celtics, so the Lakers are certainly capable of winning two games in a row.

At Saturday, June 14, 2008 2:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe had 10 assists, not eight.

MJ had some pretty rough shooting games against the Knicks in the '93 playoffs but he had an all-time great like Pip to pick up the slack.

How can you be sure that if MJ were in the Finals with Gasol and Odom instead of Pip and Rodman that MJ would not have lost a 24 point lead? Perhaps you are right but how can you possibly prove that or even cite evidence to support that statement? MJ never took a team this weak to the Finals, so we have no basis to say what he would or would not have done. Every time he made it to the Finals he had Pip plus at least one former All-Star who still had game plus role players who contributed in big games (Paxson, Kerr, Kukoc, Harper).

We agree that MJ was greater than Kobe--but the reality that Gasol plays soft in key moments, Odom's concentration drifts and Boston's bench is better than L.A.'s has nothing to do with comparing MJ to Kobe.

You act like MJ was some kind of superhero but MJ played on sub-.500 teams, he had a 1-9 record in playoff games before Pip joined the Bulls and he actually made mistakes sometimes: he missed shots, he made bad decisions, he turned the ball over--just like every other great player did. We're watching Kobe now, so we see everything that he does, but you are simply remembering MJ and in our memories things always seem better.

MJ was great but he was not perfect.

At Saturday, June 14, 2008 2:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As you said, Gasol, Odom and Garnett can all be frustrating to watch at times. Garnett has two future HoFers to pick up the slack, so his unwillingness to post up consistently has not been a fatal problem for the Celtics. Gasol and Odom's weaknesses are more glaring because when they are both going south Kobe cannot carry this team past the Celtics by himself.

I didn't think that fatigue was a big factor for Kobe in game four but it might have been; he certainly had to carry a heavy load.

Pierce is taking on a Jim Brown persona in the Finals: he limps around like he can barely move, he looks like he is worn out--and then he drives by someone for a three point play or he blocks Kobe's fadeaway. Pierce struggled with his shot in game three but other than that he is having a great series and he will certainly be named Finals MVP unless the Lakers improbably come back to win this series.

At Saturday, June 14, 2008 8:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

10 asissts i thought it was 8 oh well mj might of had a couple bad shooting games in playoffs he was more dominant and was more assertive than kobe has ever been he would of never let a 24 point lead evaporate at home like kobe did by overpassing when he should of been dominating or at least been more aggresive it never happened to jordan especially in finals or any series jordan had 54 in game 4 pippen 13 pippen played great in series and so did jordan but the players on lakers did enough kobe didnt score or had 3 or 4 and they was up 24. when boston was comeing back he should of halted it he overpassed jordan never overpassed like kobe does, simply put jordan put his imprint on games way more than kobe ever has i respect kobe and think he is a great nba basketball player he is no mike ive always stated this everytime he starts playing well or like he was in first three rounds the media goes into this frenzy next mike this next mike that and ulimately get let down like they have agian unfortunately maybe kobe will end up on the bird and magic level right up there with jordan but not on his level clearly.

im not saying jordan was perfect he miseed like 10,000 shots or something i remeber a commericial he talked about this but in key moments and clutch moments 90 percent of time he came through kobe has never shown me that in game 4 he took a step back to me, jordan owned the finals he hasnt. all kobe fans and observers need to accept he is not as good as mike and compare him to the rest of the nba greats jordan is on his own stratephere where no one else is maybe lebron one day could get there because he is so young and if he could develop a perimeter shot like jordan or even kobe has he has a chance since he already been to the finals, the gap between kobe and jordan has opened up more it closed a little the way kobe played the first 3 rounds but he lost a little to me after the game 4 performance. he still great just not mike.

At Sunday, June 15, 2008 1:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Kobe had 10 assists--and if he had Chris Paul's scorekeeper he would have had about 15 or 16 :)

You are missing the larger point. I agree that MJ was greater than Kobe. I have never suggested otherwise--but game four did not "prove" anything one way or the other.

You cannot prove that a team led by MJ would not have lost a 24 point lead if his two best sidekicks were Gasol and Odom and his team was playing against a team that had three future HoFers plus a deep bench. MJ never led a team as weak as the Lakers to the Finals.

When MJ was Kobe's age he had not already won three titles and been to two other Finals. Kobe has an opportunity to equal or pass MJ but that depends on what Kobe does in the rest of his career. To this point, Kobe has not accomplished this.

It is extreme to say that MJ and Kobe cannot even be compared--of course they can be compared. MJ was the best player in the league for many years, just like Kobe has been. Their body types and skill sets are similar; Kobe is more "like" MJ in those ways than anyone else.

If Kobe had scored 40 and the Lakers lost then you would have said that he played selfishly; instead, he got his teammates involved, still had a big fourth quarter and now you say he passed too much. Kobe cannot "win" in the eyes of his critics because his critics are not objective. Gasol and Odom completely disappeared down the stretch in game four and Odom has been invisible in this series other than the first quarter of game four. Kobe cannot beat three future HoFers by himself, just like MJ could not beat Bird-McHale-Parish by himself in 1986.

At Sunday, June 15, 2008 2:15:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I'd like to add another ridiculous media position to the slag heap: Doc Rivers has out-coached Phil Jackson. Have you heard the spy-cam's on Rivers to his team? 'We're better than them. Try hard! Make plays! Don't give up! Get your rest!'

His players have played better, better in the clutch. He might as well have recited nursery rhymes. Is telling your players to 'Make plays' coaching? Is it good management for a sales manager to tell his sales force to go out and 'make sales!'?

And most egregiously, the media believes Rivers' brainstorm to insert House and Posey for Rondo and Perkins was nothing short of genius.

Well, tell me, is there *anything* else he could do? Anything? Rondo and Perkins were not performing, and most importantly, they were *both injured!*

Maybe Rivers' coaching coach told him before the game: 'If a player is not performing, substitute! If a player is injured, substitute!'

At Sunday, June 15, 2008 3:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


While I would not say that Rivers is outcoaching Jackson--Rivers has more talent to juggle--I think that you are being a little harsh on him. The networks are not supposed to broadcast real strategy from the coaches, so most of what you are going to hear in the miked up segments is going to be pretty bland. Also, I think that you are underestimating a bit the importance of motivation even in professional sports, a theme that I have been discussing with another commenter regarding Flip Saunders. Rivers' players swear by his Xs and Os skills and his motivational abilities and I think that Rivers has really gotten a bum rap in the media, particularly from self-proclaimed basketball expert Bill Simmons. A lot of media figures nowadays confuse the ability to be glib with the ability to actually understand and analyze basketball. Simmons can be entertaining at times but his belief that he could actually run an NBA team better than a real GM is funnier than anything he has ever written. Hopefully that is all part of his shtick and he does not really believe that.


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