Open Thread – game 4

Kurt —  April 30, 2006

Rather than me providing more comments on game three, look for a comment this morning from Gatinho, who was in Staples Center Friday night.

Today may not be a classic must win but it can define this series – win and we can almost start printing “hallway series” tickets.

The last two wins certainly have brought a lot of mainstream media attention to the Lakers. The one theme you keep hearing over and over is along the lines of, “look how Kobe is sharing the ball now and the Lakers are winning, this is how they should have played all year.”

For those just coming to the Laker bandwagon, or just starting to get a good look at this team, know that said line of thinking is not a very accurate reflection of this season. The Lakers challenge of getting teammates involved in the offense was really a chicken-or-the-egg problem – Kobe didn’t fully trust them but they did little to earn that trust.

The rest of the Lakers were still learning the triangle and they weren’t confident, and the team’s execution of the triangle reflected that. Their spacing would be bad, their shots poor ones – or just missed despite a good look and when they got in trouble they’d throw the ball to Kobe with six seconds left on the shot clock and expect him to bail them out. Plus, during the grind of the regular season, they took quarters and nights off defensively.

Kobe, for his part, was willing to take on whatever load his teammates would not. His confidence can and did carry the team at times, but it also could get in the way of growth some nights. Ultimately, Kobe wanted to win more than anything, and for much of the season the best way to do that was for him to take over games and hope one other player would add some support. The perfect example of this is the 81-point game against Toronto – the Lakers were down 16 when Kobe took over that game. They ended up winning.

They needed to win those games, to get to the playoffs, but as the season progressed we saw more and more signs that the team was starting to get the offense, they became more confident. By the last dozen games of the season, the team had started to really hit its stride.

And that’s what we’re seeing against Phoenix, the more mature, confident Lakers that bring their defensive focus every night and are using the triangle offense to exploit the opponent’s weakness. Kobe is playing within that system. But to say they are doing because he is now sharing the ball is the overly simplistic and basically wrong answer.

As for game four, I’m curious to see what the Suns will try – they’ve tried to run, and the Lakers made the mistake of occasionally running with them in game three, but it was not enough. They’ve tried doubling in the post and on Kobe, but he’s passing out and the other Lakers are now hitting their shots. With the current Suns roster, I’m not sure what other bullets are left in D’Antoni’s gun.

Again, I’d say the two keys for a Laker win are not to run with the Suns – 94 remains the under/over for possessions in my mind. (So far, all three games have been under but the last one was 92 and the Lakers let the tempo pick up at times, something they can’t allow.) Also, they must continue to defend the three-ball, making sure those shots for the Suns are not clean looks.

The comments will be flowing; I’ll be in as much as I can (although I’ll be getting back to the house right about tip off). It is a Sunday, so fewer people may be online, but this has been fun and today could be one of the best Laker experiences in a while.