The goal was to get a win. There was no bonus for style points. So, on the most basic of levels, Sunday’s game was a success for the Lakers — there will be a game Tuesday.
The Lakers executed well enough to win, but that is different than executing well. The defense and rotations were unimpressive, but the Lakers were still able to hold the Celtics to an offensive rating of 102.1. The good news is that the Lakers were able to push the pace some (96 possessions) and they got a few easy transition baskets — when Gasol runs he can get mismatches early in the clock. Jordan Farmar attacked the rim like few other Lakers, and we got better games out of Gasol and Odom.
After five games this is what I think has been key and will be come Tuesday night: The Celtics stick to their game plan and what they do, the Lakers go in and out of their plan. The Celtics have some lapses, but for the most part are more true to who they are. They play hard on defense. They find a weakness they think they can exploit on offense (say Pierce covered by Radman) and they go right at it. Every time down.
The Lakers seem to come in and out of focus. I thought Henry from TrueHoop had a great line about the Lakers in his live chat from game five:
Ball movement for the Lakers is like jogging for most people: They do it occasionally, and it makes them happy. Then they go back to not doing it.
Part of that is the ball pressure and good defense of the Celtics takes the Lakers out of their first and sometimes second options. But that’s when things breakdown, and the Lakers end up settling for long jumpers (27 threes in game five is way too many). The Lakers get frustrated and stop attacking the rim, looking for the kick-out first. The list could go on and on.
As we head back to Boston for game six, if the Lakers are to win, they have to stick with the game plan. Do what they do and not get pushed out of it easily — if the Celtics continue to take away Kobe on the strong side then other guys have to step up with crisp weakside action. The Lakers do not have a good matchup for Pierce, but they have to at least play off him some and make him hit a few jumpers rather than just layups. Pierce is too good a player to stop, but they need to slow him. They can, if they stick to their defensive system.
It’s about executing what they want to do.
Two other quick thoughts:
• I hope Ray Allen’s family is okay. He is in our thoughts.
• There has been a lot of questioning of Kobe’s leadership skills and a lot of “He’s no MJ” in the media. And on one level, that is right, he is not MJ and has not played at that level for that long.
But we have mythologized MJ and see him only as the guy who won six finals. His leadership was called into question, just not in the finals.
Remember, for three years before the Bulls won their first title they lost in the playoffs to Detroit and the “bad boy” Pistons, a team that played very good physical defense and took the Bulls out of what they wanted to do. That Chicago team and Jordan needed to learn how to win, they just did it in the conference finals rather than the NBA finals. Jordan took his lumps, but with the passage of time we tend to forget that.
This team and Kobe are on a different path. Their winning it all may or may not happen this year, but they are growing from it. We forget that the Bulls dynasty also had to learn a lot of lessons, but they learned them before the Finals.