Archives For May 2008

Lakers/Spurs Game 4 Chat

Kurt —  May 27, 2008

Tonight could be one of the best and most entertaining games of the playoffs — I just have that feeling.

Coming back home, the Spurs opened up the motion in their offense — that got some role players like Brent Barry open looks. They also had a fantastic game from Manu Ginobili, one that must have Phil Jackson thinking of giving Kobe some key moments on him defensively if it happens again (I’d be worried about all game only because Manu could get Kobe in foul trouble).

To counter, the Lakers have to stick with their men and be smart and quick in their rotations. The Lakers did a reasonable job on the big three last game (Manu was just hot) but they did a less impressive job on the role guys. Those guys can score with open looks — even Oberto. Darius had thoughts on this:

Tonight, we’ll need better off ball defense on the Spurs role players in order to get them out of rhythm. We can’t let guys like Barry, Finley, Udoka, or even Oberto get the type of wide open looks they got in game 3. These guys will make these shots at home. I know that they didn’t kill us in game 3, but they did hit some daggers and really had some shots that shut down potential rallies. (Note, I’m not even going to mention Ginobili or Parker. Those guys played the way they were supposed to play. Sure we can limit them more….I actually think we should give Ginobili the AI treatment and deny him entry passes all over the court and out to the 3pt. line where if he back cuts it’s into the teeth of the defense, but besides that just don’t let him touch it if you can.)

But as we said the night of the game, the problem was not the Lakers defense but really that the offense. Here, friend of the site KD is right — the Lakers need to get into the offense early, get the motion going rather than becoming a more stagnant team.

Tonight, that particularly means getting Odom and Gasol the ball in places they can succeed and players can work off of them. Bill Bridges had some ideas about this:

1. After 10 plus years competing against Phil, Pop has devised an anti-triangle defense that worked well in the last game. Play Pau straight-up, let Lamar shoot and use his man to give support to Bowen. Every body else stays with his man to prevent an open 3. Basically, the triangle’s weakness is that once that balls goes into the post, there is not much off-the-ball picks to free up shooters. Against other teams, Pau was doubled, resulting in a collapsing defense for either easy 3’s or cuts by Lamar. Played straight-up, Pau was looking for teammates who for the most part were standing around. This is the reason no outside shooter could get his shot off except for Kobe.
Only one sequence had the Lakers execute the last sequences of the triangle which call for sharp cuts to the basket by wing players with the ball in the low post. Kobe cut, received a bounce pass from Pau and dunked easily. Look for more of this especially from Lamar and Kobe. The issue is that to beat this defense will require advanced triangle. Not simple triangle. I bet Pau picks it up quickly.
2. Make Lamar an outside shooter. One of the primary sequences of the triangle is a pass out from the post to the weakside wing for a 15 footer from the PF. Think Horace Grant. The Spurs are daring Lamar to shoot this. Instead of giving the ball up and flashing to the hole, Lamar is trying to take it in himself against congestion resulting in a missed shot or charge. The Lakers need to consider switching hi-lo with Pau and Lamar and make Lamar work from the right low block as the primary (instead of Pau on the left low block) and either swing in for his hook or pass out to Pau (who hopefully can hit the 15 footer).

I had said after the last game I wanted to see Pau be more aggressive going to the hoop, but the more I think about it the more I think it is a mix of what Drrayeye and Darius thought as well — driving into a crowd isn’t the answer. The Lakers need to get Odom the ball in a better position for him to exploit mismatches, but when Odom gets in that spot he needs to attack with more aggression. Same is true of Gasol. Part of that could be on plays in transition or early in the clock before the Spurs defense sets, when mismatches can occur. Push the pace.

Along those same lines, the Lakers bench needs to come in, push the pace and get some easy buckets in transition (or in mismatches early in the clock). The Spurs bench players were energized at home, they played far more comfortably, and that seemed to make our bench guys recoil a little. Tonight they need to attack.

One other thing to look for tonight — the Ronny Yellowbook Cam. For some opposing views, check out Spurs Dynasty and Pounding The Rock.

Manu Ginobili was hot. Even-when-you-were-in-his-face-the-three-would-fall hot. Combine that with a more aggressive Tony Parker (getting into the lane) and Tim Duncan, and the big three accounted for 70% of the Spurs scoring. With those three all going motion returned to the San Antonio offnese, and Brent Barry helped open up the floor. All of that sparked the Spurs to an offensive rating of 112 (points per 100 possessions).

And I’m not that concerned about that too much, it was bound to happen in this series. The Spurs have those rings for a reason. But they will cool off a little in future games. More concerning was that the Lakers offense went into hibernation.

KD says the problem was Kobe took charge early and as a result Odom and Fisher (and to a degree Pau) went passive. That’s an old (like last season) chicken-or-the-egg problem with the Lakers. I personally put that less on Kobe and more on his teammates, they should not fold up because he decided to keep the team in the game early.

Some credit is due to the Spurs. They were more physical in game three (and the refs let them be) and were back to their long-time defensive strategy: defend the paint, defend the three-point line and make you shoot the midrange. The Lakers fell into that trap and did not attack the rim — on the season the Lakers made about 25 free throws for every 100 field goals they attempted, last night it worked out to about 9.8. The bench mob came in and, like all the Lakers starters not named Kobe, were ice cold. Take Kobe out of the stats and the Lakers shot 39% (eFG%), which really hurts on a team that wants to make you pay for paying too much attention to Kobe. Bowen (with Duncan backing him up in the paint) do a respectable job on Kobe, but the other Lakers need to take advantage of that focus. In Game Four, Odom and Pau have to be the aggressors and attack the rim, even if it means a few blocks. It also will mean a few made baskets and a few fouls on San Antonio bigs.

There are nights like game three when there is nothing you can do about a hot player on the other team (how other teams feel against Kobe all the time) but you still have to not let it rattle you and take care of business on the other end. That is what the Lakers failed to do in game three. We’ll see what changes in game four — because if nothing does the problems become much bigger.

• On a completely different track, but a very good one, the guys at Upside and Motor have a great idea — rather than have one of those online TNT yellowbook cams following Kobe, vote to have the camera follow Ronny Turiaf for a whole game. How much more entertaining would that be?

Lakers/Spurs Game 3 Chat

Kurt —  May 25, 2008

Past results do not insure future success.

No, that’s not the fine print from some infomercial stock-picking system. That is the warning for what will come today in game three — you can be sure this will be the best effort, the best game the Spurs will have played in this series so far. If you think a blow-out win at home is a good barometer of what will happen on the road against the Spurs, well, why don’t you ask Chris Paul and Byron Scott about that.

What has been amazing is that despite all the hype around the Lakers offense, through two games it is the Lakers defense that has been key (although the offense has been better, particularly in the second half of the last game). The Lakers have done a great job containing Tony Parker’s penetration so far, if you ask coach Anthony L. Macri, Jr., who wrote over at Basketball Prospectus:

In the second quarter, San Antonio made a more concerted attempt to get Parker catch-and-attack opportunities. The plan worked well in the sense that it did give Parker more penetration chances. The Lakers’ combination of Fisher and Farmer elected to push Parker toward the baseline as much as possible. This tactic limited Parker’s attack angles and pass openings. By forcing Parker this way, Los Angeles eliminated the vast majority of his options and caused the Spurs to slow their offense. In response, Gregg Popovich turned back to his tried-and-true traditional option: Duncan in the post. Unfortunately for Parker, this strategy turns him into a corner jump shooter, and the San Antonio offense ground to a halt.

The Lakers came out focused and intense in the second half, both on the defensive and the offensive end. In the first few plays it was obvious San Antonio wanted to get more middle penetration for Parker. However, the length and athleticism of the Los Angeles Lakers stifled Parker. In fact, the effect on Parker was so pronounced that the Spurs elected to put the ball more in the hands of Ginobili, with varying levels of success. Throughout the second half, the Lakers made Parker’s penetration a non-factor, so much so that he did not even look for his own offense. This was a recipe for disaster for the Spurs, and once San Antonio packed it in with eight minutes remaining, the game was over.

Then there is what the Lakers are doing to Tim Duncan, which Darius described in the comments:

The thing I like about our double teams of Duncan is that they are not hard double teams. We are not going over and fully committing 2 defenders to Duncan where the traditional kick out pass and then 2nd pass leads to an open jumper. All we are really doing is showing him the 2nd defender that’s waiting for him (usually Odom) and then zoning the backside with the other 3 defenders. This enables our length and athleticism to come into play…Odom is able to take away Oberto under the basket by using his length to disrupt passing angles and then our other defenders (Kobe, Sasha, Fisher, Radman) are quick and/or long enough to get into their rotations and contest jumpers. Did we give up a few wide open looks? Sure. But most of the time we are able to not only discourage Duncan from just taking Pau into the lane for the finish, but also still able to get back to shooters. (And on a side note, I also think this soft double is smart because it plays to the decision making of the Spurs. Duncan is too smart and unselfish a player to force anything against this type of defense. The right thing to do and what his reads tell him to do is: make the pass out and make the defense rotate. But we are recovering well enough that there aren’t really any open looks at the end of their ball movement and their roll players are mostly coming up empty.)

The guy who could open things up for the Spurs, who could create real problems for the Lakers, is Manu Ginobili. He is not quite the same with his injury, and he has not played spectacularly against the Lakers this season, but I think the Spurs will try to do more with him this game. They really have no choice. They can’t have him as a spot-up shooter, but right now he can’t even drive around Radman. Expect some new sets to get him the ball in a position he can succeed.

For the Lakers, this can be the nail in the coffin — win this and it is all-but over. The Lakers bench needs to play like it is still at home and continue to dominate the Spur bench. More importantly, the Lakers need to keep up the pace of the game or improve it — in the first two games the pace was in the low 90s, faster than the Spurs played this season but slower than the pace the Lakers prefer. If they can keep it up, it bodes well for today.

Finally, we will finish with this interesting point from Stephen in the comments:

Most NBA fans thought that the Colangelo/Stern tinkering w/the rules was going to give fast break teams an advantage and that the Suns were the wave of the future. What if the real legacy is allowing motion teams to thrive again? Players can now cut w/out being held,grabbed,etc. Teams using the old formula of waiting for a star to draw the double team and kick it out to an open 3pt shooter are routinely losing in the Playoffs to teams that spread the floor by sending players in motion and getting open looks. It reaally looks like the biggest indicator of Playoff success thiis yr is not who’s the better defensive team,but who moves more on offense.

Feeling Sort Of Comfortable

Kurt —  May 24, 2008

It’s hard, as a Laker fan, not to be in your happy place after last night’s Laker win. The LA offense returned to solid level of efficiency (109 points per 100 possessions) behind 58.8% shooting. And against the very good Spurs defense, those are good numbers.

But what was key was the Lakers defense — pushing Parker out of his comfort zones (6 of 15) and playing Duncan solidly (6 of 14). Manu is still not Manu (2 of 8). And, simply put, if at least a couple of those three aren’t getting their shots the role players don’t get the looks they want.

I didn’t sit, Tivo remote in hand, really focused on this game last night as I might normally. But, fortunately, we have KD at Behind the Boxscore to do that for us:

The defense, yeah, it was there too. I don’t know how to do this without sounding like I’m straying too far into hyperbole, but the dismissal of Smush Parker and lucky addition of Derek Fisher might almost be nearly as important as the dismissal of Kwame Brown and the lucky addition of Pau Gasol for the Lakers.

Parker was that bad, especially defensively, and Fisher is just that solid. Meanwhile, Brown was horrible offensively, while passable defensively – and though Gasol is an all-world talent, this team’s point guard switch did so, so much for these Lakers.

Lakers/Spurs Game 2 Chat

Kurt —  May 23, 2008

We can only hope that game two is as entertaining as game one. Notice I didn’t say as close, I said entertaining.

I’ve said before one of the things that excites me most about this series is the chess match between two all-time great coaches. Except that we may not get a lot of adjustments tonight, at least from the Spurs. I quote commenter SpurredOn, who has joined us this series:

From a Spurs perspective, I follow my team closely and Pop isn’t likely to make any for game two. He’ll tell his squad to do the same as game one, just execute better on offense. The shots were there so take them. Holding LA to 89 points at Staples is excellent, and even if LA shoots a bit better and gets up to the mid 90s, that’s a Spurs type road game. He likely wants TD to be more aggressive with his open shots and Parker to handle the ball more vs. Fisher. If he has any tricks up his sleeve, it’s likely he won’t show it until the series returns to SA, regardless of whether the Spurs win game two or not.

As for the Lakers, I didn’t love the Kobe/Gasol pick and roll, the Spurs defended that well. Darius wants the Lakers to stick with a key play that did work from the second half, but with a twist.

One of the plays we used to come back in the second half was the elbow pick play where Kobe comes off a Gasol screen, curls to the lane to receive the pass, and after the catch probes the defense either looking for his own shot or dumping it off to Gasol. This play worked over and over as Kobe was able to attack a helping Duncan off the screen and leave a trailing Bowen to either try and recover to Kobe or falling back and trying to body Gasol on his roll to the bucket. Running this screen action was a good adjustment by the staff because when we ran the high P&R the Spurs stifled us. So, I expect the Spurs to find ways to answer this elbow screen action by sagging in a defender from the wing to show Kobe another defender before Duncan or by using the opposing big to collapse on Gasol to have Duncan and Bowen sandwich Kobe; basically having 3 defenders playing our two offensive guys (Kobe and Gasol). If the Spurs do this, I expect Phil to have Odom and a shooter on the open side of the triangle (the side Kobe is curling to). Then I expect Phil to have Odom cut/flash off the sagging defender and the wing shooter to slide up the sideline in order to create a passing angle for an open 3. Basically this will have Kobe with the options of shooting, lobbing to Gasol, passing to a cutting Odom, or hitting the sideline man for an open 3. I just drew this up on a sheet of paper and it looks solid. This is a play, that even though we used it in game 1, we should make the Spurs stop it and if they can, then make subtle adjustments off of it and keep making the Spurs work in this set.

Personally, what I want to see from Gasol is more intensity from the opening tip — more Deer Hunter Face. As for Kobe, I’m comfortable that he knows what he’s doing, even if Tex Winter hasn’t completely figured him out.

The pace of the last game was good, 91 possessions, which is a little faster than the Spurs like (it actually splits the difference between the Lakers and Spurs season averages). While the Lakers didn’t get many classic fast-break points, they did get some plays where pushing the ball forced the Spurs to just pick up the guy near them and mismatches were created. The Lakers second unit in particular had success with this and I hope we can see more of it.

One of the reasons that group had success was the pairing Farmar and Sasha at the guards with Kobe at the three caused the Spurs problems. Those three together were +9 in the third quarter. I hope we see more of that combo.

The Laker defense, which was pretty lax in the first half, tightened up those last 18 minutes of the game. The Lakers’ rotations got faster and they started beating the Spurs to where they wanted to be. LA needs to start doing that earlier. It also helped that the Spurs shooters just went cold, it would be nice if they would do that again.

For an opposing viewpoint, check out Pounding the Rock and Spurs Dynasty. Of course you should read David Thorpe at ESPN.com. If you haven’t read Henry at True Hoop’s post about the troops in Iraq playing hoops, you must. And as other stuff comes up throughout the day I’ll probably add links in bullet points below

Enjoy this game, it should be entertaining.

• This comic at BDL made me laugh.