Preview & Chat: The Evil Empire

Kurt —  February 5, 2009

Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers

Records: Lakers 39-9 (1st in the West) Celtics 41-9 (1st in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.6 (1st in league) Celtics 110.9 (5th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (7th in league) Celtics 100.2 (1st in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Celtics Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

What does it really mean: I think a lot of debate on this site and others about this (and the Christmas) Lakers v. Celtics game comes down to this:

How much does it matter come June?

Certainly the win has importance in the tight home-court race (more on that in a minute). But what about psychologically? There are some Lakers fans who think the team needs these wins to gain confidence they can do it when it matters. Myself and others think that this game has virtually no impact on the Lakers (or anyone elses) psyche come the Finals.

I just don’t think the Lakers will put that much into a loss. They are playing their fifth game in seven days, second night of a back-to-back, without their star center. Win or lose, if these two teams meet in the Finals things will look different. (Maybe the Celts will have a player with a star tattooed on his head.) I think for professionals, this game may mean more than last night, but it does not mean as much as the first round of the playoffs.

We fans don’t like to see it that way, by the way, we tend to take the wins and losses harder. But we don’t have to wake up in the morning and start preparing for Cleveland.

Still, far smarter people than myself (say Roland Lazenby) seem to fall on the other side of the fence:

Yes, they beat the Celtics in Los Angeles on Christmas day. That has helped Jackson’s young players in dealing with their profound embarrassments of the 2008 championship series against Boston.
But those bad memories linger and will continue to do so.

Here’s the hard part: The Lakers will never put that series behind them unless they win the championship series this year. It would help if they claimed that title with a win over the Celtics. That’s all getting way ahead of the task at hand, of course.

Before they win another title, the Lakers have to emerge from a challenging field in the Western Conference.

Still, that doesn’t set aside the psychology of all this.

Home court will matter, and a new Celtics blog called Celtics Hub takes a detailed look at the remaining schedules of the Lakers, Celtics and Cavaliers. They see a tight race between the Celtics and Cavs, which is interesting only because the Lakers play fewer good teams. Check out the data and reach your own conclusions.

Keys To The Game: The Kobe & Pau show the last couple of nights has been impressive — the Lakers two biggest players steppeed up when the team needed tnem most. But it will take more than that tonight.

Remember back to the Lakers being up 24 points in a Finals game last year? Remember Christmas? The Lakers did that by ball and player movement. The Celtics try to keep the triangle on one side of the floor, not allow the ball reversals and quick cuts that make the offense hum. When the Lakers have fought through that they have exposed KG for his wanderlust on defense. Last June they just didn’t do it consistently, but tonight they get another chance.

On defense, the Lakers did a great job on Christmas with Kobe on Rondo, sagging off and helping while turning the PG into a jumpshooter. That is key — when he gets in the lane he is a threat to pass and score, but from 18 feet out you let him shoot all he wants. The Lakers need to play the screen and roll well with Pierce (they like to run a double-screen, one on each side of him from each big, so he can choose how to attack, that could be a problem).

The guys on the Lakers bench are really going to have to bring it.

Where you can watch: 5 p.m. on TNT. The good news about that is for a change the Lakers are part of the first game of the double header, so we’ll get to see the entire first quarter.

427 responses to Preview & Chat: The Evil Empire

  1. Love these quotes:

    Gasol – “Nobody backed down,” he added. “We were as physical as anybody.”


  2. Anyone else notice how the officiating tightened after the Kobe/Rondo double technicals? I thought it worked in our favor because Boston is so much more physical than we are, we were able to pick up a few quick fouls on them and it forces the Celts to back off a little. Possibly an advantage come playoffs?


  3. Kevin Garnett banged his fist on the table in agreement, and then interjected a reminder that seemed to be intended for the locker room across the hall: “We’re the champs, man.”

    “Coming down the streets, staying at the same hotel, I was up last night thinking about the game — wondering how my teammates would respond. It all came back,” Bryant said. “Enough is enough. We were able to match their physical play.”


  4. Still in awe.


  5. Great game! But I think the officiating needs to be tuned up a bit. Lots of inconsistency. Sometimes they called repeated “ticky-tack” fouls (as Reggier Miller said), and others they don’t call any “hard fouls.” Go figure.

    Also, I did not get the double T when Josh Powell got tied up. If he is not the instigator, then why T-him up? Makes no sense.


  6. 397-Mr. Worthy…I agree with you about the triangle down the stretch, but we’re not saying we want them to run the triangle. The pick and roll with Pau (or pick and pop) is a much better option than a Kobe iso resulting in a contested jumper. Pau has proven himself to be clutch down the stretch, so why not work the Kobe-Pau devastating combo when it counts?


  7. Great win. You could tell the guys were a bit gassed in overtime, yet they still found a way to pull it off. Gotta hit the free throws with more consistency, but I’ll take the W any way possible especially against the C’s.


  8. when kobe started taking those long jumpers, the celtics never really got their transition game going again. is there a correlation? i remember van gundy or fratello doing that to slow games down.


  9. Interesting note…Kobe was a -3 for the game, all other starters in the positive. That says even more about what a gutty win this one was…


  10. Wow… what a game! I know it’s raining here in LA but man it sure looks clear from where I’m standing.

    We struggled with some mental lapses which led to turnovers and missed defensive rotations (House and Allen) but we had enough positives to carry us through this game. Odom started out slowly, didn’t quite have a feel for the game. He had two missed free throws and that turnover trying to force the pass to Kobe…Fast forward to the 4th and overtime and I am incredibly impressed. He had strong drives he defended well, AND he hit those two clutch free throws. Needless to say, he brought his A game tonight.

    Pau was a beast. He still put up a few softies, but overall his effort on the defensive end was stellar. He boxed out and kept to the game plan of making them hit outside jumpers. His effort on offense was outstanding, that turnaround fade away on Baby Davis was Kobesque. I’m so proud of the way he played.

    Kobe was Kobe… I wish the team would stop trying to force the pass to him when obviously the defense is catered to cheat on him. Make it a high percentage pass and not telegraph everything. The end game iso has been talked about and I agree, wish we could get something better than that. But he made up for his bad shot selection by playing tight D on PIerce.

    One thing I noticed…Sasha is still struggling. He did hit that clutch 3 pointer to get us back into the game, but otherwise he didn’t look like the key bench player we are used to. I’m not sure if it’s the sprained ankle not being completely healed yet or what. But I’m hoping he gets his game back on.

    Farmar was awesome, just the sparkplug we needed when Kobe and Pau were resting. Thank goodness he’s got confidence to step it up, b/c everyone else was hesitant. That’s the problem when both Kobe and Pau are out of the game.

    Can’t say enough good things about the Lakers, so I’ll just leave it at this… way to man up tonight.


  11. @387: I don’t EVER want to see Radman on the court again. I cannot stand him and a DNP sounds just about right to me. Honestly, I’d rather have Powell or Sasha guard Pierce.

    Anyhow, great win tonight. I love how LO and Gas came up big tonight. Kobe was Kobe (when it counted) but LO and Gas came up huge. Fish was great too, but LO and Gas really stepped up. I guess LO was watching the halftime show where Karl and Kenny were trashing him bigtime. Good for him. I am glad LO finally came up big in crunch time. Five wins, no losses on this roadtrip have me feeling pretty good right now.


  12. about odom…

    he started the game by missing his first two FTs
    and closed it with two super clutch FTs…

    maybe odom is the two-face of basketball…

    i just hope that against the cavs, the super two-face will show up.



  13. Kobe was right. We didn’t shoot free-throws well at all, his game was off all night, we were tired from playing in Toronto yesterday, and we are missing Bynum. We can play so much better than we did tonight.

    Muahaha. Fear us, Cavs. Fear us.


  14. DID SOMETHING HAPPEN TO ARIZA? I heard that the did not play the 4th (I was on the road) and I did not see him at all in OT.


  15. I’ve been googling Ariza since the game ended, and there is nothing released on him yet. He was knocked over and seemed to be in pain… I’m guessing he was out for that reason.


  16. While basking in the sweet afterglow of victory, I will kindly disagree with Kurt’s statement regarding the meaning of the game and join with Lazenby.

    Psychology does matter in sports. A great deal. The mystery is that, because we are disconnected from the players, we can’t accurately identify when an influential swing in psyche has occurred or why. But the swings do occur and they do affect the outcome of games on the court.

    Why did the Lakers get blown away in game 6 of the finals? Were they suddenly less talented than the team that blitzed the West or that hung tight with Boston the first 3 games? No – it was pure psychology. Boston broke their spirit in the game 4 comeback and that was that.

    Why did LA destroy Toronto last January on the day they announced the Gasol trade – with no Drew and almost too few players to suit up? Psychology.

    Why did Dallas lose 3 games in a row to an inferior Heat team (besides the refs…)? The pyschological burden of being up big in game 3 and blowing the win crushed them.

    Why do Horry and Fisher consistently make clutch shots while more talented players (Christie, Malone, Peja, Nick Anderson, Bryon Russell) shrink? Psychology.

    Why did the Celtics lose 7 games immediately after winning 19 in a row this year? Did they sustain an injury? No – it was the pyschological swing of falling from the top of the world to being beaten by bitter rivals on the public stage.

    Now, the hand of psychology can only be accurately identified in hindsight, not predicted. LA might come out of this win overconfident and complacent, or confident and focused, or the same as before; Boston might get fired up and go on another win streak, or sustain another temporary fall, or neither. But, whatever happens, I think the psychological fallout of this game will be a factor. The players, coaches, even fans were heavy with desire, focus, and emotion. The result may not technically matter come May or June, but it will practically matter a great deal then – indeed this win might be a source of critical resolve in some critical future playoff test, when the players dig deep and realize they have faced adversity before and conquered. Odom may calmy approach key free throws, rather than nervously smile; Pau may embrace a crunch time post up, rather than expectantly look for Kobe.

    A win is a win, but sometimes it is more. Tonight seemed to be one of those nights. LA will come out of this stronger and Boston weaker. I expect a swing of psyche for both.


  17. so sweet. so sweet.

    I can only hope that this loss sends the celts into another tail spin.

    I will sleep very well tonight.


  18. Reed – spot on. Totally agree.

    Multiple things factor into every game. Skill, talent, physical fitness/athleticism and psychology.

    This game will go a long way to helping us in the Finals if we face the Lepers. The sweep also gives us home court advantage in a tie.

    Great win.


  19. Re: Psychology, I also think it crushed the Sun’s the year before the last after the Spurs’ loss. It was all about perception as well, the Sun’s were percieved to be the more talented team or at least as talented and it became all about the ‘system’ that was being run, a kind of idealogical battle. In retrospect though does anyone else think that in reality the Spurs’ just had better players?

    I definitely think now that Manu, Timmy and Tony are the better three out of Shawn, Steve and Amare. I find it very sad that currently people have been dumping on Nash because of his two MVPs without remembering that that guy was the business. He made that team and whilst whether or not he should of won is debatable, its not debatable that he was at the very least a top candidate. He was amazing. Now Nash is slowing down I think we’re seeing how good he made that team look, so good that we thought they were far better than they were…


  20. I think Ariza didn’t play late simply because he was clearly off and Walton was doing the job. You go with the hot hand in big games (or the playoffs) and it was not Ariza. Just one of those nights.


  21. I have a great deal to say, but this is not the time. For so many reasons this is an especially great win for the Lakers. Let’s enjoy it and think about it for awhile.


  22. So much has been said, I don’t have much to add. (after re-reading my comment, this is a lie.)

    On a lot of levels I agree with Reed…players get up for games and when they win those games it matters. Whether or not those games affect the standings takes a back seat to how the players feel about themselves after. That’s why there are such things as moral victories and wins that really feel like losses…it’s all in how your mind deals with the outcome.

    As for this game, I’m with Kwame: Odom came up huge. At halftime, I really wanted Odom to go into attack mode and he answered my prayers with his second half effort. He was active on both ends and his exchange with KG just took him to another level mentally. After that, you saw his focus narrow and he was doing (almost) everything right. Good on him. That’s my guy.

    I also agree with Kurt. This was a win that only comes from the mentally tough, veteran team. I think back to the SA game that we lost on Fisher’s foul earlier this season and think this is the same exact type of game only there was no foul and/or made bucket at the end. Against the Spurs, we were down nine points in the 4th quarter and we battled back to take the lead. Against the Celtics, we fought the entire 4th quarter and battled on every possession. Sure, it took some Kobe heroics (that 3pointer that gave us the lead is an impossible shot..really, Pierce was right on his shooting hand). And sure we missed some FT’s and gave the ball away when we should have been more careful. But SO WHAT. We battled, came back, took the lead, and then in overtime made the plays. Soft teams don’t do that. Mentally weak teams don’t do that. If any national media member, any LA Times guy, any person on these boards plays the toughness card after a game like this, I really don’t know what team you’re referencing. Even if we would have lost this game, I would have been proud of the way we fought. I will sleep easy. Even though my fiance thinks I’m crazy for yelling at the TV for 3 hours tonight.


  23. The talking heads will continue to pull the toughness card because that is their story line for our season.

    As much as I hate on Walton, he played some good D on Pierce down the stretch.

    LO is hands down the reason we won this game. It was really cool to see him get fired up and then go into attack mode. If we can find a way to get tonight’s LO consistently, watch out.


  24. wow, that was something special again. wasnt mentioned so far, but we have the upper hand on the c´s now because we hold the tiebreaker in our hands (if the records are the same at the end of the regular season). we are tough and we can bang, no question about that anymore. light up odom and pau and bring in powell and then we cant be intimidated by those boston fatty-faces aka porkins, powe and davis.

    i hope kobe takes a crap in lamars closet and pins a note saying: “best regards, the crab king!”, on it. just to make sure he will show the same attitude against the cavs. LO will be a hughe factor against them, he is the one who will have to bother james with his length and strength.

    i am so pleased with this win and i am so proud. not to mention i am so glad i dont have to read about the lakers lacking toughness, heart and what not, …



  25. What a game… Pau wasn’t that brilliant in the regular time, but he was outstanding in the OT with that 2 crucial blocks (same he did on Christmas blocking Allen at the end)… just awesome!! and that 10-14 in FG was good too… i think Pau needs to shot more in the games… Kobe did 10-29… i think it’s very significative… anyways… we won… thats the main thing!

    Lakers 2009 Champions!!!


  26. Have not read the thread yet.

    I stopped by Celtics blog, and they are mostly complaining about the refs and Jeff Clark is lecturing Laker Fans who showed up on manners/banning them.

    The outcome was satisfying, but the physical/play attitude–particularly on the 5th game in 7 days–is a nice, and perhaps more important, positive.