Thoughts from Game One

Kurt —  April 23, 2007

There’s a reason that Kobe has long struck me as the sort of character seen in Greek mythology or classic novels — his greatest strength is also the cause of his undoing.

He could not be Kobe without his supreme self-confidence, without his unshakable belief that the next shot is going to fall regardless of if he made the last one, regardless of where he is on the court or how many people are defending him.

Laker fans lamented Kobe’s shot selections and deep threes in the fourth quarter, but he was taking similar shots earlier in the game. In the first half those shots fell, so nobody questions it; in the second half they didn’t. But you have to know Kobe won’t stop taking them.

In the first half, the Suns went with a soft double on Kobe, I’m not sure anyone had really done that against him since Toronto last year. It let Kobe get into a rhythm early. In the second half when Kobe first started to go cold he was still single-covered, he was just missing the shots he hit earlier. But his confidence never wavered and he kept shooting, trying to take over the game as the Laker lead faded. And as he pushed harder to take over, the Lakers got farther away from the game plan that got them the lead in the first place.

Then, as tends to happen, the complete “Kobe heat check” offense came when he felt he had to do it for the Lakers to win. After Kobe forced a few shots early in the fourth quarter Phil sat him for a couple minutes. When he came back in on his first play Kobe broke out of the offense, drew defenders and hit Odom with a pass under the basked, Odom missed (and missed the put back). Next trip down when the double came he passed inside to Kwame, who passed back out and the ball worked around to Odom in the corner, he proceeded to drive the lane and lose the ball.

After that Kobe’s unshakable belief that he could do it alone seemed to take over and that meant him taking forced shots even though the Suns had adjusted and were bringing the double team.

As numerous commenters here said at the time, in the second half in general and the fourth quarter specifically the Lakers got away from exploiting mismatches, like setting up Odom in the post. Or Walton. Or whoever Marion was covering, because going right at him was when they had their best success.

Kobe needs to recognize this and set up his teammates better, no matter how unshakable his confidence. That is how the Lakers can win the next game.

Some other thoughts:

• Kwame Brown was a +8 for the game, the only Laker playing major minutes who was a positive for the game. He was +14 in the first half. It speaks volumes about what he means to the Lakers defense, and how much not having him at 100% hurts this team.

• Defensively that was a solid game by the Lakers, the Suns finished with an offensive ratting of 103.3, 7 points below their season average. In the first half in particular, the Lakers make the Suns a midrange shooting team, and it worked.

• I didn’t put in a post until the day of the game how much Barbosa concerned me. Probably should have gotten to that sooner. He comes off the bench often matched up on a Laker sub like Smush or Sasha. That was a bad combo for the Lakers.

• The Lakers shot 19% in the fourth quarter. Kobe was 1 of 10 in the fourth quarter.

• Things I never thought I’d type: I’m pretty sick of the Pussycat Dolls.

• It seemed like the second half was at a much faster pace, but the Suns only had one more possession than they did in the first (46 to 45).

• The Suns are like Brazil in soccer, everybody’s second favorite team because of the style of play.

Kurt

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37 responses to Thoughts from Game One

  1. A very frustrating loss… just missed a great chance to win a game in phoenix. If the lakers don’t prevail in game 2… this series will be over before it is really started… We’ve got to sustain the effort for 48 mins. Smush was a real disaster even though he’s not to blame… as you can’t blame kobe… the guy was really sensational… too easy to take the 28 pts of the first half and ask him for the same in the second. Anybody’s human and gets tired… hopefully he can save some energy for the final 12 minutes tuesday with the game on the line. Luke and Lamar have to step up offensively and Jordan Farmar did a pretty nice job for a rookie’s first playoff game. But Leandro… oh Leandrinho!!! It’s so frustrating cause it was the guy I would have suggested for the lakers to draft that year (i guess he finished 28th and we had the 31st or something)… and i hadn’t even seen a single image of him… but the scouting reports were pretty clear on his athleticism and potential… Not to mention… other players I liked and hoped to end up in purple and gold before the last drafts: Gilbert Arenas, Josh Howard (both chosen very low… i guess on at least one we passed out… choosing Cook or Vujacic if i rembember well), David West (stolen by NO just a couple picks earlier)… and Deron Williams (I know we didn’t have a chance to get him… but wouldn’t have been perfect having him at lead guard alongside kobe??). Well… draft regrets aside… the future is very bright for this team… if we don’t waste the talent we already have (Bryant, Odom, Bynum) and succeed in adding the right pieces. Don’t be too sad lakers fans… maybe we won’t make it past the first round again… but we’ll be contenting at the top if not next year… hopefully in a couple years. Just need to be patient… and just take the losses so that when we’re going to be at the top again… the taste of victory will be even better!

  2. warren (philippines) April 23, 2007 at 8:07 am

    I think the game plan for game 2 is more or less the same. Post Odom, start Farmar, rest Kobe, encourage Kwame, boost up Luke and this time – PLAY RONNY TURIAF.

    I don’t understand why he wasn’t in much in this game, but he should’ve provided Kwame some help and rest. Bynum was ok. I just wanted to see Ronny do more. He is synonymous to energy. He is simply an energizer bunny.

    The game was tight from the very first minute, and it worked. Tight is the game we play if we intend to beat Phoenix esp in Arizona. Smush should rest his ego awhile and allow this team to succeed. No way he can defend Barbosa. Evans could chase him around all the time.

  3. I hate to say this. But I feel the game was lost when Smush came in in the thrid quarter. That lineup (it wasn’t only Smush) was anemic and Jackson didn’t adjust the lineup quickly enough. The Kwame immediate pass back to Kobe after gitting a great entry pass into low post position was pretty lame too. What’s was up with Kwame there?

  4. warren (philippines) April 23, 2007 at 8:35 am

    Hey guys? If defense IS the Lakers #1 need, then we need a defensive player to improve us next year right? Just what we need – another discontent star.

    Odds aren’t that high and likelihood of it happening is as much as that of KG’s impossibility but still I can’t help but wonder how we’d fare with this guy on our roster. He’s very athletic, not eager to score but does anyway, he plays the 3 spot, he shoots the jump shot fairly well and he cries like a baby without the minutes. 6-9, 225lbs., heck of a defender and would blend in very well with Kobe and Lamar – AK47.

    I think we can get him though being in the West bothers the chances of it pushing through…

    Vlade Radman, Mo Evans, Brian Cook and our 19th pick

    for

    Andrei Kirilenko and Utah’s 25th pick

    I could throw in Sasha or Smush as an add on.

  5. warren,
    You’ve always got ideas, but please consider the needs of the club you are suggesting we trade with. The Utah Jazz do not have a lot of room for error (a small market team with less than average cash) and, with Jerry Sloan, don’t make too many mistakes. Please don’t insult their intelligence by passing off our castoffs.

  6. nice warren, I think that might work, and it is an actual solution, as opposed to fantasy!

  7. Just a few comments on what I think we could change to help us win:

    - Barbosa has one move… put his head down and run towards the basket as fast as he can. The best defense to this is to have one of our big men step out and take the charge. He literally runs straight at the basket. It’s a no brainer. And Warren is correct that the best defender on him would be Mo Evans.

    - Take Kobe out at the end of the third for a good chunk of time. This is typically when the Suns rest Nash as well. As we’ve noticed a lot lately, Kobe can’t play the entire game with his one-on-five offensiv strategy. He is completely drained at the end of games. We just need to make sure we have enough offense oin the floor. A combo of Mo Evans, Luke Walton, and Lamar Odom should work. I still think we need to get another consistent scorer in the offseason.

    - Live and die by the offense. If other players shots aren’t falling, keep shooting. We cannot abandon the offense when things don’t go our way. Kobe needs to recgnize this. Things always go from bad to worse when he gets the “mamba” mentality at the end of games.

    - When we get leads, we NEED to manage the clock. Don’t run down the court jacking up shots early in the shot clock. PASS it around, SET UP open shots. A lead can dwindle within minutes when we take long shots and get caught in transition. Come on Phil!!!

  8. Walton will need to be a little more offensive minded in the next contest.

    When was the last time the Lakers held an opponent under 100 points?

    Kobe will certainly adjust and utilize his teammates better when the hard double comes…

    I liked LO’s aggressiveness, it’s a key to the series…

  9. We put a healthy scare into the Suns and they have to know that we have their cryptonite: a slow tempo featuring the ball being pounded inside. We only lost control of the game for 7-9 mins, but when your margin for error is so small that one little stretch can do you in.

  10. I love having Kobe on this team. I think Phil needs to be clearer with his message to Kobe.

    The strategy of “facilitator for the first 3 quarters and then scorer in the 4th” is too cut and dry.

    You can see it in Kobe’s game. He either completely stops shooting, or he shoots and doesn’t look for other guys.

    Ultimately I would think that Phil can get the message across to Kobe that he can get alot more open looks by moving the ball around. The street ball one-on five inthe end of games just simply doesn’t work. Kobe can score more than anyone else in those situations, but he simply cannot take on the entire opposing team himself. It’s really frustrating to watch when he stops the offense, and ball fakes 3 or 4 times before jacking up a highly contested fade-away.

    Live and die by this offense. Kobe can shoot all he wants, but not without his team involved.

  11. well said DR

  12. Yeah Kobe shot alot but this isn’t Brian Cook we’re talking about here..we know he shoots alot..but what happened to all the post play and offensive boards of the first half? If you double and triple a guy you should be absolutely screwed for boxing out yet they never made them pay

  13. My point Goo is that Kobe is partly to blame for the Lakers getting away from that post play. At the end Odom and Kobe were setting up on the perimeter, not in the post or mid-post as they had done. When the going got tough Kobe wanted to take over and wanted to do it from his comfort zone on the wing.

    Next game, they simply can’t deviate from the game plan. As Kwame a. said, there is little margin for error with this Laker team in this series, and as great a player as he is Kobe was part of the problem in game one. I think we’ll see adjustments in game two.

  14. Kobe NEVER takes a shot in the flow of the offense. Every time Kobe looks to take a shot it involves taking his defender one-on-one……why dont we ever set on or off-ball screens for him? Maybe even take a shot off of a pass? If this isn’t part of the triangle, then maybe some of it should be. To think, Kobe with OPEN shots rather than contested? He’d shoot 60% and score 50 every game.

  15. It all ties to Phil adjusting to the players he has on the team. The team should be creating plays to get Kobe open on offense… but instead Kobe is creating the play himself. It’s boneheaded.

  16. Charley Rosen has a good breakdown of the game and what the Lakers were trying to do…

    http://msn.foxsports.com/nba/story/6726932

  17. DR: Just as local radio homer Vic the Brick tries to dismiss Nash as a one-dimensional distributor, you are severely underestimating Barbosa if you think his only move is to put his head down and drive straight to the hoop. LB’s primary weapon is his speed, but he’s also got a fairly diverse offensive repertoire. He is deadly from the three point line with a quick release, as you saw yesterday, and he is completely fearless when it comes to taking and making those shots under pressure. He also has a solid pull-up mid-range jumper, and can catch and shoot off a screen from all over the floor. His first step is phenomenal, he can finish going right or left, in traffic and absorbing contact. He also is a very smart offensive player—he knows to correctly wait for a screen to be set before driving, so as not to cause his screener to pick up an offensive foul, and he moves very well without the ball and racks up numerous buckets on backdoors and run-outs. He does not have any post-game to speak of, but make no mistake—he could easily be a starting 2 guard on many teams. I certainly wouldn’t put him in the upper tier at that position (Kobe, Ray Allen, Michael Redd), but he’s in that 2nd rung of quality shooting guards. The Lakers have no answer for him.

  18. SoCalSunsFan is correct, to call Barbosa one dimensional is wrong. He can do more, it’s just against Smush and the Lakers D he didn’t really have to. Yes he is blindingly fast, but he uses that speed well. He is not a bull in a China shop, there is finesse to what he is doing. And he is a perfect fit for their style, I’m not sure he’s the same player in the triangle.

  19. SoCalSunsFan -

    Perhaps the most damning thing for the Lakers in this series is that they can’t focus on stopping one or two Suns. They have so many weapons, it’s very difficult to stop this offense.

    If the Lakers think that the Suns are going to miss that many threes in the next game, they are highly mistaken. When one or two Suns struggle, another one or two take over.

    Barbosa, Marion, Stoudemire, Nash, Diaw, it doesn’t matter. They have so many options. And it’s sad that the Suns sixth man looked better than the Lakers second best player.

  20. Check out this box score from earlier this season. We didn’t have Kobe, and Odom put up 34 points. As you can see, Barbosa once again had a great game, but the Lakers still came up with the victory. This also makes me believe that Kobe and Odom aren’t utilized the way they should be on this team. Or, they just basically negate each other’s effectiveness with a similar style of play. Check it out…

    http://www.nba.com/games/20061031/PHXLAL/boxscore.html

  21. DR,
    The Lakers started jacking up shots early when Smush came into the game. From an offensive AND defensive standpoint, I think Smush has now outlived his usefulness.

  22. It’s looking as if we will won’t be seeing the Smusher for the rest of the series or as a Laker again.

    High five, anyone?

  23. I do have to question some of the decisions by Phil Jackson. Barbosa was killing everybody the Lakers tried on him, but Smush Parker was especially terrible early in the 4th when the Suns closed the gap, he should have been pulled way earlier.

    And when the Suns finally tied the game with 7 or 8 minutes left, PJ’s line-up to counter that was Farmar (rookie, although he did a good job overall), Vujacic, Cook, Odom and Kwame Brown. That’s exactly one guy that can get his own shot or could even be classified as a borderline good scorer. Cook hadn’t played at all, Vujacic barely and badly, and Farmar isn’t quite there yet. And Odom, who is much more dangerous against the Suns down low, had the ball up top all the time. Plus, this is not really a strong defensive unit either.

    Why not let Kobe have his breather earlier and then have him, Walton and maybe Mo Evans out there for the stretch? Why not try to go big with Kobe-Evans-Walton-Odom-Brown? I’d rather have Kobe guard Barbosa, giving him a few feet and challenging his shot, than Barbosa breaking down the whole defense like he did against Parker and Farmar.

  24. Any stat of Barbosa over the five games he played against us? Does he play consistently well against us? or is it a one game explosion?

    I thought Smush was a pretty good defender last season but has not improved since. He cheats a lot on D trying to get steals and gets burned for it. Quick hands are’nt enough to play D, positioning has a lot to do with it.

    Farmar matches well against Nash and I think Kobe or Evans can keep up with Barbosa. The rest of the match ups, we don’t have problems as Kwame, Luke and Lamar matches well with the Suns’ biggies.

    Just an observation, Nash cheated on defense quite a lot during post-up plays involving our biggies in the second half (an adjustment on D by the Suns?). He doubles hesitantly and yet none of our guards tried to move towards or away from the basket to be open for passes or create an oppurtunity. As soon as our biggies does his move, Nash had the luxury to commit to the double which resulted in several turn overs (twice against Kwame with Nash swiping the ball). How I wish, aside from Kobe, we have guards who can make the Suns pay for doubling by shooting threes or getting cut-in lay-ups. Whatever happened to Shasha’s shooting anyway?

    With that being said, I think the team should stick to the game plan of going one-on-one inside, neither of the Sun’s biggies can guard Lamar, Luke and Kwame one-on-one. Yes, even Amare can’t (beaten by Odom and Kwame at times).

    One last question, do any of you guys think we have a problem in spacing? Specially in defense? I also noticed that there were a lot of dribble penetrations that we got beat. Or is it just the pick and roll plays that our guys can hardly defend.

  25. warren (philippines) April 23, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    Here’s my contention on the Utah deal :

    1. Andrei Kirilenko is not happy with his role
    2. He is the Max Paid player of the team earning 75M in the next 5 years
    3. Utah has only 10 players in their 2008 roster with salaries already at 58M
    4. Utah is a small market team with less than average cash with Jerry Sloan as coach therefore the City cannot afford a max player playing only 16mins per game. Might as well be a combo of 4 players whose contracts expire / whose minutes might be meaningful.
    5. Salary Cap relief is the main concern (less than average cash statement) therefore AK will relieve them 30M flexibility until 2010/11 season. Plenty of time and cash to re-sign Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur as the core.
    6. Much needed youth, versatility and shooting provided by Radman, Mo Evans and Cook.

  26. warren (philippines) April 23, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    Here are the effects if the deals push through: (Lakers)

    1. It will put LA to 69M in salary (assumptions taken that Walton signs as Bird FA 5M / year and Mihm takes on veteran’s minimum peeged at 2.5M).

    2. It will solve LA’s major prob – defense. AK is 6-9 and plays the 3 spot. He can bring the ball up and is very flexible. Talk about how deadly the front court is now. Kirilenko, Odom, Kwame.

    3. Back court prob needs to be addressed as Farmar will now be subbed by Vujacic or if he’s in the deal, Smush. Ew.

    4. Walton can come of the bench and be a spark. Or, he can play the 1 spot in the Triangle. Wow Wow. (the Ron Harper type)

    5. Bynum is kept waiting for a Big man to become free in 2009. Perhaps Odom + Bynum for KG?

    6. AK is definitely two steps forward the right direction.

  27. warren (philippines) April 23, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    My rogue-esque ideas are coming from a desire to vastly improve the Lakers. This year is a very good learning experience and realization that CHANGE is COMING. Even Phil recognizes that they will be busy this summer.

    Assuming The Lakers upset the Suns, they’ll have their hands full on San Antonio. Even if the Spurs get upset by Denver, the Nuggets are no joke. It’ll be cruel to play the Suns then the Nuggets back to back. Cruel Cruel World.

    If what you do is merely mud-sling my ideas, please present those of your own. At least matt was brave enough of his Billups interest and I believe he explained his point well. I may not agree to the fullness of it, but I appreciate the idea as they are. I’m trying to get into the head of Dr. Buss here or at least Mitch Kupchak. The very least, he can get ideas from here and make it work in the real world.

    “If there aint nothin good comin out from yo mouth, dont open it.”

  28. Lakers just have to remember that they cannot panic. We played the “gameplan” for 36 minutes and were handling the Suns, then something very strange happened… Kobe played poorly… and they let the game slip away. Just stick to the gameplan and hope that Kobe doesn’t suck next 4th quarter (I think the odds are very low of him playing like that again).

    Lamar was very aggressive. We have to have that. Him being aggressive as he has been against the Suns negates Shawn Marion. Marion uses so much energy defending Odom that he is ineffective on offense. Lakers need to use this strategy on Nash. Make him play defense. Get him tired. He does not have to guard anybody when we are taking outside shots all day. Next game, Farmar needs to be told to drive it right at Nash every chance he gets and not worry about offensive fouls. Or use the “big” lineup we briefly used against the Clippers (to perfection) of Kobe at the 1 with Mo at the 2, Luke at the 3, Lamar at the 4, and Ronny at the 5. Nash would be toast. Who would he guard?

    Whether we can remain in this series or get blown out depends now on our mental toughness. We know what we have to do, its just whether we want to do it or not.

  29. skigi,
    Got your back. You are right…except for one thing – leave Smush on the bench. His effectiveness has continually declined as the year has worn on.

  30. Craig W. –
    I never said put Smush in the game. I say don’t even activate him. At this point, Shammond or McKie would help us more than Smush. I think Farmar or Kobe with maybe just a little bit of Sasha is what Nash should be looking at next game.

  31. Farmar is playing with a lot of heart. He looks poised under pressure situations. His run to the NCAA Finals with UCLA helped him out tremendously. He was the leader of that team. His numbers have not been outstanding in his starts but you can see it in his body language compared to Smush’s. Farmar gets called on a lot of ticky-tack rookie calls though and needs a solid back up. This kid Farmar has a bright future with this team and I would not count out the scenario of him working his ass off this summer and being the Lakers starting PG next year.

  32. 24. (pgblooded): It’s not just against the Lakers, Barbosa just won the NBA’s sixth man award today for a reason.

    I think Smush looked like a good defender last year in part because Chuck Atkins was so bad the year before that. Smush tried and got some steals, which was a big improvement at the time. But as teams played to his weaknesses he never developed much. And I think this all got into his head, and he has regressed.

    That’s a good observation about the guards not taking advantage of the Suns double.

    And finally, the Laker defensive spacing is inconsistent, at best. It’s been that way all year.

  33. Kurt,

    Thanks for the comment on the Laker’s defensive spacing.

    Regarding Leandro, I know that he is generally consistent league wise. I just wanted to double check his performance against the Lakers to give us an idea if single coverage will be enough or playing him within the team concept of defense (double teaming, switching, etc.) is merited.

    I think there is a reason why some of us think that he will give our guys problems throughout the series.

  34. warren (philippines) April 24, 2007 at 1:45 am

    for: pgblooded

    Even before the series started, as we were anxiously awaiting last weekend, I had already simulated the match-ups in terms of how each part functions. I had suggested that Nash be allowed to shoot (give him 15-20 shots or something) so that we can focus on the endless pick and roll with him and Amare.

    The Suns like to play “fun” basketball. The offense is free-flowing and the pace is blitzing quick. Reminiscent of the show time Lakers of the 80′s. Once defense is emphasized, the tempo seems to slow down. Here we see a rather tight squad (somewhat unaccustomed to a slowdown) and do their thing – the pick and roll. We did the slowdown in a little bit over 3 quarters until everything fell off like “kastilyong buhangin”.

    Going back to match ups, we could use more of Turiaf to bang with Amare. Odom whilst injured is doin a heckuva job with Marion. Walton wont be a problem as he can protect James Jones easily. As I surmised before Game 1, Barbosa IS the major mismatch. With Farmar starting, it would almost mean that Smush is the one designated. If this goes on, I can see another book comin out next fall – Of how the Brazilian Blur “blurried” the Laker defense. Thanks all to Smush who pretty much won’t be in our roster next year.

    This being said, I beg to insist that Evans be given the job to “chase around” the Blur. He is athletic enough and pretty much the only Laker athletic enough to compete. He will still get his 18 pts or so but at least this time it wont be cherry picking. Not to take away anything from the guy coz he shoots very well and is lightning quick.

  35. This town seems to be going out of its way to both place blame and denegrate our Laker team.

    If we’re going to blame, let’s be even-handed enough to give credit as well.

    The Laker coaching staff came up with a great game plan that was executed very well during the first quarter. The starting five Lakers outplayed and handily outscored the starting five Suns due almost entirely to better defense.

    The players themselves kept their composure. All of the players appeared to give it their best effort.

    Strategic problems appeared and continued to grow as the Lakers executed planned substitutions in the second quarter. Shammond Williams might have continued Farmar’s role somewhat on defense and gotten the ball to Bynum. He wasn’t even on the squad. Ronnie Turiaf might have continued or even extended the defense, minimizing the inevitable lapses by the Smusher–but he was on the bench! It is hard to imagine what the Laker coaches were thinking. The Suns regrouped and came roaring back. Kobe reacted by going “playground”–and it worked. Unfortunately, he seemed to forget that we were only in the first half.

    Though the Laker players that started the first were there in the third, their defensive intensity was not the same, so they quite successfully matched score for score–only losing a few points off of their lead. From a strategic point of view, it began to appear that the Lakers were a one trick pony.

    It could have been an opportunity to foil Suns adjustments with Turiaf replacing Kwame–or going zone for awhile with Sasha. Instead, it merely set the stage for a reprise of substitution misfits–now anticipated by the Suns braintrust.

    The Lakers difficulties with Barbosa were well known. It is hard to imagine Smush Parker cast in the role of a Barbosa stopper. What were the coaches thinking?

    When all of the starters returned in the fourth, they began to get their defensive stops, but they were tired. Kobe needed some rest so he could do his magic in the last few minutes. Walton and Odom were ready to do their parts. Mo Evans was ready to do his part. Turiaf was ready to play a role. All it needed was a coaching decision.

    With no apparent help on the way or coherent plan, Kobe withdrew to his revered “playground” even as Phoenix more completely focused their defense on him.

    By the time Phil reacted, it was too late. He was stuck with “Kobe the rescuer.”

    Before the game, Phil said he wasn’t sure of the team.

    I thought that the team came to play, but the Zen Master seemed totally lost and confused on the sidelines. Rather than admitting a strategic faux pas or two, Phil seemed more than willing to blame the team.

    How can we blame players for being themselves?

    After the game, I wasn’t so sure of the coach.

  36. Kurt, it appears that you might have the most-read Lakers blog in the Philippines!

  37. 36. I do well in Spain too. So, I’ve got couches to crash on when I go traveling internationally again.