Archives For June 2008

It’s tough to describe the feelings that come with a game like this.  It’s an angry/depressing/confusing/doubting kind of feeling.  And you feel that way all while getting kicked in the face.  It’s being thisclose and giving it all away.  Do you remember those VW commercials, where the people are driving, making jokes, and all of the sudden…boom! they get in a car crash?  The airbags deploy, they get out of the totaled car and say “Oh ****”.  Well, in Game 4 of the NBA finals, Lakers fans were in that VW….only the airbags didn’t deploy.  These fans, and the team they root for, were victims in a terrible crash.  Everything was great, until it wasn’t. 

The first half was a portrait of why (so called) experts almost unanimously picked the Lakers to win this series and the title.  The Lakers finally displayed their all around offensive game while picking up their defensive intensity.  Scoring inside and from behind the arc with an aggressive mentality that had been present in other games, but not with this level of execution and precision attached.  The Lakers attacked the lane on offense and closed it down on defense.  They had a 21 point lead at the end of the first quarter and led by 18 at halftime.  It was 24 minutes of a type of basketball fulfillment that we hadn’t experienced since (maybe) the Denver series.  And all of it without the league MVP playing more than a set-up role (more on this later; the good and the bad). 

And Lamar Odom found his stride.  He was finding angles to the basket on penetration and finishing at the rim.  He was getting outlet passes and pushing the ball on the fast break.  He was even making the mid-range jumper.  He was trying to make up for 3 sub-par games all in one half and was doing a pretty good job of it too.  He was teaming up with Gasol on great plays and working a two man game that was eating up the Celtic’s interior defense.  And X’s and O’s wise it was all actually pretty simple: 

When in the Screen/Roll game, Kobe was coming off the screen and just backing off and accepting the double team.  Lamar would then flash to the high-post and receive the pass.  Then he attacked the single defender in the lane (usually Perkins or PJ Brown) and either scored or drew that defender and touch passed to Gasol or passed to the man in the corner for the open jumper.  This is classic basketball.  It was exactly the same type of scenario that got Sasha the open 3 pointer at the end of Game 3, only on that play KG doubled Kobe without a screener involved in that play.

And speaking of Kobe, in this game, rather than being in full attack mode, Kobe was playing the team game that earned him the MVP.  He was taking on defenders and creating for his teammates. But when he looked to score himself, his shot was not falling. He missed a couple of jumpers, he missed a runner, and just decided he would play the facilitator role.  And it was easy for him to do as the Lakers offense was running on all cylinders.  They didn’t need Kobe to do anything more than create shot opportunities for other guys and keep defenders occupied while other guys stepped up on offense.  We were playing dominating basketball.

But it would not last….

In this series, the 3rd quarter has been the Lakers downfall.  Including the 31-15 beat down that turned Game 4 around, the Celtics have outscored the Lakers 116-73.  In a series where the coaching match-up was supposed to be a major advantage for the Lakers, it’s the Celtics who have come out in the 2nd half of games with the adjustments and the production to change games.  And in Game 4, the 3rd quarter proved to be the difference again.  An 18 point halftime lead was reduced to 2 points.  The Lakers missed too many jumpers and became disjointed on offense, and it was actually an injury to a Celtic that spurred this on.  At the 9:34 mark of the 3rd quarter a shoulder injury suffered by Kendrick Perkins turned this game in the Celtics favor.  Enter James Posey.  Posey would do 2 things to truly hurt the Lakers.  First he buried jumpers.  He hit jumper after jumper.  From the top.  From the corner.  Just thinking about it makes my eyes hurt.  Second, he shut down that effective 2 man game that worked so well for Lamar and Pau.  Posey was doing a much better job of denying Odom the flash to the FT line area and we no longer had an easy outlet for Kobe.  This disruption of the play that was fueling our offense in the first half would not have been a problem if Kobe would have been making his shots. But it was not to be.  Our 3rd quarter demise had started.  And while Phil would say during his interview between quarters that “The momentum will come back” to the Lakers side, an uncooperative crowd and a determined Celtics team would not let that be.

But the Lakers still had hope.  They also had a not so secret weapon.  In the 4th quarter, we would need Kobe.  But in a strange way, we didn’t have Kobe.  Gone was the killer from Game 3.  That guy was replaced by a player that looked tired.  After playing his heart out in Game 3 and literally carrying the Lakers to a win, our best player looked gassed in the 4th quarter of game 4.  He was working his butt off on defense trying to handle Pierce (when an ineffective Rondo was pulled, there was no longer a non-shooter for Kobe to roam off of) and he didn’t seem to have any energy left to pull out the heroics that he has graced us with over his career.  What made it worse was the fact that his teammates could not pick him up the way they had earlier in the game.  Gone was the crisp ball movement and sharp off ball movement.  Gone was the aggression that they had displayed that made his first half woes irrelevant.  Rather than play the aggressive game that had given them a 24 point lead earlier, the Lakers’ players played passive.  And while we had some good stops early in the period, and played a close game the rest of the way, the Celtics were able to score when they needed to and we could not.  Looking at a heartbroken Sasha after Ray Allen made that layup was a microcosm of what every fan was thinking.  We would lose.  It was only a formality.

It’s tough to explain how it feels right now.  But I can say one thing:  This series is not over.  Next season is not here for us yet.  Boston has proven to be the better team at this point, but a parade has not happened, no titles have been won.  Game 5 is Sunday and I know how every Lakers fan should feel about that.  Let’s win the game…

Game 4 Chat

Bill Bridges —  June 12, 2008

Game 4 Chat

The pressure is off LA, slightly. One of the big reasons for the tight play of some of the Laker players was due to the sheer pressure of the game. Losing game 3 was, historically speaking, equivalent to losing game 7. If offensive efficiency is affected by players feeling comfortable and loose, then game 3 performance was exactly the opposite.

Both defenses also did a good job. The key adjustment for LA being the defensive switch putting Kobe on Rondo. Many on this board had been looking for this switch prior to game 1. We got it in game 3 and is likely to continue until Doc makes an adjustment. What could be the adjustment? Instructing Rondo to try to take Kobe off the dribble might be one – although his ankle may hinderance with this plan.

The poor offensive performance on both sides were amplified by the short turnaround after a trans-continental trip. Better rested, outside shots on both sides should fall a little easier.

I anticipate the Celtics going to KG on the low block with purpose tonight. Review of the 3rd quarter should have had light bulbs popping throughout the Celtic’s hotel. In a few short minutes KG got 3 of his 6 field goals – on a strong jump hook in the lane, turn around, and an open J from the corner.

On offense, KG and Pierce played poorly. But then again LO, Pau, and Fish also did. Game 4 might hinge on which of these players turn their offensive game around.

ddray has asked for more support and better Karma from Laker fans:

Laker bloggers seem obsessed by the dark side and pet agendas.
Many of our Laker bloggers don’t seem to understand or support the roles of many Laker players–suggesting that certain Lakers be benched or traded when these players fail to play according to some athletic fantasy that only these bloggers vaguely understand themselves.

Pau Gasol is a chamelion–a power forward playing out of position. Pau can score, pass, rebound, block shots, and defend–but not all at the same time. He rarely outshines other players on his team–even though he can. One game he might score 30–sometimes in the first half. Another game he might take down 19 rebounds–9 of them offensive. Another game he might frustrate an opposing player and hold his scoring way down. In game 3, Gasol played great defense on Garnett, and scored/rebounded in the fourth when needed. In a game against Utah, he made decisive game winning plays, such as a controversial rebound/putback that won the game.
Pau is castigated for not blocking out. It is difficult to block out a player that weighs 80 lbs. more than you-but there are other ways to get rebounds.

Lamar is Lamar. He has been an X factor all year. He does not match up well against Boston as an offensive threat, but can still play defense and rebound.

VladRad has had games like Sasha games three for the Lakers–and can make other contributions. Unlike Lamar, VladRad can hit the three–so he can spread the floor. VladRad can go to the hole, rebound, and play defense–but not like Lamar. They are complementary role players that Phil can deploy.

Luke is one of only three Lakers that has been to an NBA final before. He matches up well against Boston widebodies. Luke and Ronny Turiaf can both make the 15-20 foot shot that Boston defense allows–even if they haven’t shown that ability with any consistency yet.

 

 

 

 

These players have defied the odds and have made the finals when most pundits predicted that they would miss the playoffs entirely. They DO deserve our support.

Steve Javie is officiating, known as a visiting team’s official.

- Bill Bridges

Game 3 Thoughts

nomuskles —  June 10, 2008

It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t the breakout party for the vaunted triangle offense that Lakers fans have been waiting for. The brand of basketball played by both teams in game 3 was an insult to eyes and ears everywhere. Sometimes, that’s just how it goes, but this was no better than watching the Spurs and Pistons duke it out, that’s for sure.

The consequences of this game are difficult to predict. The Lakers proved that for one game, at least, they won’t throw up the white flag without a little snarling of their own. Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf, and Kobe Bryant refused to be intimidated by individual Celtic opponents tonight. While they aren’t anywhere near the driver’s seat, the Lakers got a little bit of their swagger back. More than that, it’s anyone’s guess. Will that same energy and desperation be on display Thursday at 11th and Fig in downtown Los Angeles? That question is going to hang in the air for the next 43 hours like smoke in a 1960s bowling alley.

From the starting bell, the Lakers showed a completely different willingness to take the ball to the hoop and punish the Celtics for camping out in the paint. Many possessions Kobe and Lamar had a thought bubble over their head that said, “Oh, you better bring more than three green jerseys to stop this drive or I’m simply going to find a way to overpower you.” While Boston managed to turn back 8 Lakers shots, this major adjustment in attitude affected the way the team played the rest of the game—both offensively and defensively. With their backs against the wall, the Lakers didn’t rope a dope, they came out swinging. There was no butterfly, only the bee. And for one game, the Celtics got stung by Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

What I saw:

-Kobe took it to the rack with increased efficiency and his tough midrange jumper over the defender was falling. This made a huge difference.
-The Lakers were much more adamant about running the offense through Pau, but he wasn’t that much aggressive one on one. His aggression came on the offensive glass in the 4th quarter, playing energetic defense, and going after rebounds. Reminded me of his bounceback game against the Spurs.
-The Lakers, especially Kobe, crashed the boards and helped limit second chance opportunities. Differential was 45-44 Boston.
-The Lakers missed way too many free throws. (21-34, 62% is quite Shaq-like)
-Sasha Vujacic was playing very confident basketball. It always amazes how much difference a change of venue can make. He finished (7-10, 3-5 from 3pt land) with 20 points.
-Vujacic, Walton, and Farmar had a nice stretch together. All of them posted good +/- numbers.
-Kevin Garnett (6-21) and Paul Pierce (2-14) both had horrendous shooting nights. Don’t expect a repeat of that performance by either man the rest of the way.

What did you see?

-nomuskles

Obviously this is a must win game for the Lakers. Although fans of Boston sports know that a comeback from 3-0 is possible in a series, Lakers fans would rather not test that and would prefer a home win tonight to get this series back on track. All that said, we must remain confident. We are a great team. We have not lost a home game in months. And while the Celtics performed well on the road against Detroit, they were taken to 7 games against both Atlanta and Cleveland and really showed that they could be rattled on the road. They are not immune from having let downs on the road and tonight they face one of the best home teams in the league. I know the players believe; we should believe too. And on that note here are some keys to tonight’s game from several of the regular contributors to the site, in bullet fashion:

 

 

*The Lakers have not performed up to its (lofty) standards on the offensive end so far. A lot (and I mean a lot) of credit must go to the Celtics’ defense, while some of that dropoff can also be attributed to just missing shots and not playing in any type of rhythm for major stretches in both games. While the Lakers have had some early success in both games (and a nice run in the 4th quarter of Game 2) we must find ways to sustain that effort for longer stretches tonight. There are 2 keys to making this happen and they work hand in hand. First is establishing the post. Pau proved that he could score in the post on both KG and Perkins. He was decisive with the ball and attacked with aggression when given the opportunity. The problem was, those opportunities did not materialize in the second half as we continually went away from the post and were very perimeter centric. We need to continue to get the ball inside and let Pau create for himself and for others. He has a quickness advantage on Perkins and has the size to nullify some of KG’s length and athleticism (and as he showed on that baseline drop-step/spin move, he is not scared to challenge KG when it’s there for him). We need more of this in order to establish our half court offense. But, the Lakers can not just rely on half court sets to beat this Celtics team. The Celtics are one of (if not the) best half court defensive teams we have seen all year. When their defense is set, they do a great job of taking away passing angles with ball denials and shutting down driving lanes. So, we need to create more early offensive chances. That means rebounding the ball (something we were a lot better at in Game 2, 37-36 advantage Celtics) and pushing the ball. This is where Lamar can get on track by rebounding and pushing, and this is also where we can get Kobe more chances to work in space and attack where he sees fit. During our comeback run in the 4th quarter in the last game, Kobe basically got the ball in the open court, created for himself or broke down the defense and created good looks for our 3 point shooters. Basically, we need to play faster when we can, and when we can’t push pace, we need to establish the ball in the post.

 

 

 

*On defense, the Lakers need to play a much stronger game than what they’ve played so far. We need to play position defense and quit the reaching, grabbing, swiping, and hacking. The Celtics are a good FT shooting team and we can’t bail them out by getting into the penalty early. That means we need to quit fouling when players are not in a position to score and that means that we need to eliminate the off ball fouling. Also, defensive possessions end with a defensive rebound. We have played strong defense on many possessions, only to have Boston get an offensive rebound and just reset their offense. As I mentioned above, a major key to us being able to get out and run on offense is securing the defensive rebound. Every players focus should be securing the ball. The bigs need to box out and the guards need to close down the FT line. We need all 5 to the glass tonight.

 

 

 

*We need an improved effort from our bench. Traditionally in these playoffs they have played much better at home than on the road. We will need that improved effort from them tonight. One of the big keys to this series so far has been the effort and effectiveness of the Boston bench. The Lakers need to get that same effort, effectiveness, and execution from their bench. In short, we need a Leon Powe game from one of our guys tonight. Remember, this is a bench that has put up huge chunks of points in games throughout the season. They are capable; they must show it. As for a couple of specifics, I hope to see more Turiaf on Powe tonight. Turiaf is a similar player to Leon and I hope Phil uses him in the same way that he used Sasha on Korver/Ginobili in previous rounds. Turiaf can match Powe in energy and can bang with him on the glass and I hope he gets a chance to prove it. And while I hope to see Ariza some tonight for defensive purposes, I think we can only use him while Odom is out of the game. Phil said after Game 2 that he took Trevor out of the game because his presence was stagnating to the offense. With both Trevor and Lamar in the game, Boston is able to sag off of 2 Lakers and further control the paint with its help defense. So while Trevor’s defense can come in handy, Phil will have to be careful with how he dispatches him tonight (and if to at all) because of the impact it can have on the offense. But overall, we need sharp bench play. Our guys are young and should have fresh legs after a pretty quick turnaround and a long trip.

 

 

Overall, as I mentioned above this is a must win game. But we have the ingredients to beat this team and it’s a testament to our team that while playing below our usual standard, we have had the chance to win the first 2 games in the closing minutes. For more insight, please read the thoughts of David Thorpe and Mike Moreau over at the WWL.

 

 

 

Commenting Note: Kurt has been out, but he has entrusted this site to us, the community that makes Forum Blue and Gold the great blog that it is. And in that spirit, I ask that we maintain this site in a manner that is respectful to everyone. So respect the guest posters. Respect the commenters. And for those that leave comments that do not show an understanding of the posting guidelines, your comments will be moderated and/or edited/deleted.

Darius

 

Update: Just wanted to mention that I received news from Kurt that Mom, new baby girl, and family are all healthy and happy. -Gatinho

The Dark Lord

Gatinho —  June 9, 2008

Previously unheralded outside of hardcore hoops circles, Tom Thibodeau is now being feted as a defensive genius and the architect behind the resurgence of the Boston Celtics. As Karl Rove was to GWB, TT is to Doc Rivers. How else do you explain it? A bottom rung defensive team, populated with defensive sieves like Paul Pierce, supplemented by the likes of Ray Allen transformed into the basketball equivalent of the Steel Curtain. Sure KG had been a fine defensive player and Posey certainly helps. But it takes talent, tactics, and time to become a great defensive team. How can any coach take a brand new group of guys and implement a defensive system in one training camp that is more effective than the vaunted Spurs defense who’ve played together for years?

You have to cheat.

Michael Johnson had supreme talent, and dedicated a decade of hard work to become the best sprinter of our age. In a few short years Trevor Graham juiced up an undersized sprinter in Tim Mongomery, deficient in raw talent, into a world record holder. Much like Trevor Graham, Thibodeau weighed his options. “I don’t have years to turn this team into a defensive juggernaut, their window is too short. I need a short-cut”.

But of course in Thibodeau’s case, he didn’t really cheat. He gamed the system. We’ve been there before. A new tax code comes out. It is clear what the spirit of the code is, the intent. Still, only a fool doesn’t try to find the inevitable loophole to defeat the law’s intentions. Tom Thibodeau is no fool.

Imagine, as the statistician-turned GM Daryl Morey has done, that you digitized every possession of every game. Tagged every sequence and ran it through a massively parallel computing environment. You could search for the most effective plays versus certain defensive schemes, the most efficient player combinations, or other helpful metrics. But this would still require long-term, painful work to improve personnel incrementally. You need a faster solution.

What if you could run the following query through Morey’s machine – as Thibodeau had ample opportunity to do while at Houston. Which fouls are optimum? In other words, which fouls are the refs most likely to call and which fouls are they least likely to call. Even more subtle, which actions that are not really fouls draw fouls and which actions that are really fouls not draw foul calls?

Can such a query be performed on Morey’s server farm? Undoubtedly. What would the results be and would a team trained on fouling without being called have an advantage on defense?

The results might show that statistically speaking the refs tend to call fouls (whether actual contact was made or not) where a defensive player makes an obvious swipe at the ball. Our hunter/carnivore past has blessed humans with a cerebral motor control areas and an occipital lobe designed to focus on motion – much like cats. A wide swipe at the ball whether for steals or blocks (read, Ronny) draws attention and fouls – contact or not. Thus the Celtics rarely swipe at the ball. What they do is grab arms, wrists, jerseys with the minimum of motion – much like a master jujitsu artist. Kobe gets by Pierce on his way to the hoop. Pierce doesn’t swipe, he grabs Kobe’s right wrist. That Kobe twists in air and shoots and scores with his Left hand is a testament to Kobe. That Pierce almost stopped Kobe’s score and didn’t pick up a foul is a testament to Thibodeau.

Contact with the hands, however incidental on a player with the ball draws a foul. Swiveling your hip into the player to throw off him off stride rarely gets called. In fact, on the play, you can clearly see Paul Pierce swiveling his haps ala Shakira into Kobe’s torso as Kobe rises for the running jumper. Maybe Karma rewarded this display by depositing Perkin’s heft onto the back of Pierce’s knee. The Celtics don’t hand check. They hip check.

Morely’s computers might show that off-the ball moving screens are rarely called. In fact, if Ray Allen and Pierce are running around screens. Don’t just set a stationary screen. Like a pulling guard, jut hips, elbows, and shoulders to pick off the defender. If you lay him out great. If he has to fight extra hard or take a more circumnavigatory route, acceptable. Now on this play every once in awhile you’ll be called for a foul. Do it every single play and the percentage of calls drops to a basis point.

These are only the obvious differences between the Celtic’s defensive tactics than others. Undoubtedly Master Thibodeau is employing many more subtle tricks. Of course, while not being illegal (going by the dictum that if the refs don’t call it, it is not a foul – unless Derek Fisher is landing on Brent Barry) this gaming of the system is insidious and ugly. San Antonio actually played great defense against Kobe without fouling him. What if you could play great defense AND foul him without being called. Wouldn’t the Spurs have won a few more games then?

Maybe it is the sign of the times. Belicheck coaches the best football team of the decade but still feels the need to cheat. Yeah, you can play great zone defense (disguised but still zone) with great late help. But isn’t it nice to be able to hip check or hold if all else fails?

Phil Jackson alluded to this in his post game press conference. The Celtics defense is “illusory”. A foul doesn’t appear like a foul and isn’t called one. Just because you didn’t see the ninja doesn’t mean a dagger isn’t in your belly.

So where do you go from here? The NBA is full of copy cats. In the zenith of 7 Seconds or Less, a dozen teams were busy remaking their teams to emulate the Suns. If the Celtics win the title, how many teams will study the tape and incorporate the off-the ball moving screen, the wrist hold, and the hip check into their defensive repertoire?

Much like the success of the Detroit Bad Boys heralded an era of ugly, brutal defensive ball – exemplified by Riley’s Knicks, Thibodeau’s success might lead the league, unexpectedly, into an period of low percentage shooting. The hope is that the server farm is a force for good and light as it has been a force of darkness, that the league office will notice the blatant subterfuge and instruct the officials with video tutorials for next season. A little too late for the Lakers this season. They just have to be twice as good.

-Bill Bridges