Archives For May 2010

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As the old saying goes, defense wins championships.  And since the mantra of the site is “the Lakers will only go as far as their defense will take them”, I think it’s best to start our Finals preview with the the Lakers D when the Celtics have the ball.  If the Lakers are to win this series, we all understand that they’ll also need to score the ball, but slowing down the Celtics’ attack will be just as important.  When you’re facing a defensive powerhouse like Boston, you can’t rely on your offense to win you games as they’ll never allow enough points for that to be a winning strategy.  So, the Lakers must get stops.  But how to get them?

Before we get into the sets that Celtics run, we need to explore the individual match ups in this series.  Yes, the success of the Lakers D will be dependent on the team structure and the schemes that the coaches deploy.  But, it all starts on the individual level and that means match ups.  So, the first question is who will guard who?  And even more specifically, who will guard Rondo.  When I exchanged emails with some of our long time commenters, nomuskles was wondering the same thing:

I’m interested to see how the Lakers decide to play Rondo. He’s much improved his scoring ability and decision-making. There’s been a lot of talk about how deadly Rondo has become this year. The crucial question is, can the Lakers make his life difficult and disrupt what Boston wants to do on offense? Against Phoenix, the Lakers showed that they are quite capable of mental lapses in coverage that resulted in wide-open looks for shooters. Being on the same page defensively is critical if the Lakers want to hoist another trophy.

When that question was put to Kwame A., he responded with the answer that most fans probably think is most likely:

The Rondo issue is a tricky one.  Fish really may do just as well as Kobe would guarding Rondo, but what makes me think Kobe should guard Rondo is the Ray Allen factor.  Kobe is not the type of defender that excels at running around screens and staying with a dead-eye shooter.  Kobe is much better on-ball, although Rondo ‘aint no duck walk’, Kobe needs to get the first shot at him.

Ultimately, I agree with Kwame A.  Kobe, at this stage in his career should not be asked to chase Ray Allen around screens and then stay with him when he’s on the weak side in spot up situations.  Plus, this is the way that the coaches have decided to guard Rondo since game 3 of the 2008 Finals.  In the remaining 4 games of that series and the 3 games that Kobe’s played versus Boston in the past two regular seasons (Kobe missed a game this year), he’s been deployed on Rondo.  So, if Kobe is on Rondo, the rest of the match ups should shake out this way: Fisher/Allen, Artest/Pierce, Gasol/Garnett, and Bynum/Perkins.  If the match ups do play out this way, the Lakers will not only need great individual defensive performances from all these guys but they’ll also need them to be keyed in to the Celtics offensive sets as they are a team that focuses heavily on teamwork and execution to get their baskets.

And when analyzing the Celtics sets through Synergy Sports’ database, it was this teamwork and high level of execution that stood out.  The Celtics offense actually is not that complicated.  They run P&R’s with Rondo, stagger screens for Ray Allen, isolations for Pierce, and post ups for KG/’Sheed/Perkins.  But within these base plays, there are several options on each action and the Celtics consistently seek out the extra pass in order to get a better shot.  This is where the Lakers discipline will be tested because even if they are able to shut down Boston’s primary option on a play, the C’s willingness to move the ball or reset their offense will test any defensive scheme and the Lakers will need to be able to rotate to the next player and shift their defense to account for these second and third options that are built into their sets.

A perfect example of this is evident in the baseline stagger screen action that the Celtics run for Ray Allen (and sometimes Pierce). Kwame A. explains:

Defensively, the Lakers have to create a plan to deal with the pin-downs when pierce/allen come to catch and garnett/davis are setting the screen.  These guys set great (illegal) screens, so Pierce/Allen usually have the option of an open shot, or they get the defense to get confused, both defenders go to Pierce/Allen and they both throw a great quick bounce pass to the mobile big who can roll and dunk or pick and pop.  It is a staple play and we will need to rotate weakside help over to prevent the dunk, hopefuly leaving rondo open on the weakside for an ugly jumper.

After looking at this play ran a bit more closely, what I saw was that Rondo starts out with the ball at the top of the key while Ray Allen starts out on the baseline either right outside the lane line or positioned right in the middle of the lane.  After Rondo calls out the play, Allen proceeds to run off a screen from one of the C’s big men and then curl to the opposite wing where Rondo then looks to hit him with a pass.  However, on this action there are a myriad of options and the Celtics will run this play looking for the one that is most open.  If that means hitting Allen curling to the wing than the pass is delivered there – where Allen is in position to shoot his jumper.  However if the big man guarding the second screener (who is usually Perkins) “shows” out to contest the pass to Allen, Rondo will hit that screen man with a pass as he’s the player that’s open or if  Allen does receive the pass but is covered well, he’ll also look to pass to the player that just set the screen for him.  In either case, the rolling big man either has an easy shot at the rim or he has the option to pass the ball to either the other big man that is diving to the rim from the opposite side or to the other wing player that is positioned cross court (usually Paul Pierce spotting up for a three pointer – as seen here in the first play of the highlight).

As you can see from the highlight, the quick ball movement and unselfishness leads to a wide open shot from one of the better spot up shooters in the league.  If the Lakers are to contain this action (and others just like it that involve Pierce on the strong side) they’ll need to fight through screens and help each other at every turn (while still recovering and/or rotating).  And this is where the doggedness of Fisher (and Artest) comes into play.  Fisher is one of the better players the Lakers have at fighting through screens to stick to his man or initiating enough contact that he’ll make the refs decide if the screen being set is legal or not – something that is important against a Celtic team that sets…um…some of the better moving screens in the league (as Kwame described above). And while Fish is undersized in being able to contest Allen’s jumper, he is (besides Sasha) the best at playing this action and it’s one of the main reasons I’m on board with Fish on Allen (with Kobe on Rondo).

But slowing these screen actions in the C’s half court sets are only one concern.  The other main way the Celtics get shots are in transition.  Rajon Rondo is a demon in the open court and he’s got some of the best court vision in the entire league.  This leads to him being able to get his own shot by getting all the way to rim on “one man fast breaks” and also controlling the tempo on the break so that when Pierce and Ray Allen run to the 3 point line he can hit them in transition for wide open threes.   So, in order for the Lakers to slow this aspect of the Celtics’ offense down, they’ll actually need to pull on their experiences against the Suns where  they too excelled in running to the three point line with a crafty PG feeding them for open jumpers.  Obviously Rondo is different than Nash in a lot of ways, but in this instance they’re quite similar.  If you close off the lane against him and then recover to shooters, the Celtics then become a half court team and one of their main ways of scoring the ball has been slowed (or even neutralized).

In the end, the Celtics actually embody a lot of the offensive traits that the Lakers have seen from their other opponents in these playoffs.  Like OKC, they have a tremendous talent at SF, a physically gifted PG (who is a much better play maker), and are a team that runs a lot of screen actions and pin downs to free up their wings.  Like Utah, this Boston team is well coached and disciplined and they have no qualms with pulling the ball back out and resetting their offense to get the look they want.  They’re more than willing to make the extra pass and thrive on making defenses work and react to their precision.  And like the Suns, this team is excellent in transition with a penetrating PG that loves to set up shooters that run the three point line while looking for bigs (KG/Perkins) that run to the rim.  Plus, in the half court (like Phoenix) this team will also run a lot of P&R where the PG is looking to penetrate the lane and either get his own lay up or collapse the defense so his shooters get good looks (and I haven’t even mentioned the pick and pops with Wallace – which is very similar to what the Suns do with Frye).  So, in a way, the Lakers should be prepared for what they see from the Celtics.  However, they must also understand that the C’s boast the best combination of players in these roles and that the combination of these traits – while not making them the best offense the Lakers have faced – make them quite dangerous.  And to beat them and slow them down the Lakers will need to show the Celtics that they play defense too and that the top 5 defensive ranking that the Lakers held for most of the season is not a fluke.  Whether they can do it or not remains to be seen, but I have confidence that the Lakers are up to the task.


Many have commented that there seemed to be a section missing on Artest vs. Pierce.  Sadly this portion was left out of the post and not added back in before it went up.  So without further ado, the missing section on the match up at SF – this section was to appear right after we discussed the C’s screen action in the half-court.)

But besides the screen actions and the P&R’s run with Rondo, the other main option of the Celtics half court attack is Paul Pierce.  The Celtics run a variety of screen actions and also place Pierce in isolation situations to take advantage of his all around offensive skill set.  Being the Celtic’s leading scorer, slowing Pierce down is going to be a key factor in this series.  In 2008, Pierce’s ability to beat the Lakers SF’s (RadMan, Walton) off the dribble and create space for his jumpshot made it so Kobe had to spend a lot of time on #34 – wearing Kobe down and making him less effective on both sides of the ball over the course of the series.  However, this season the Lakers have Ron Artest to put on Pierce and it’s this match up that has everyone waiting in anticipation.  And the regular season results from this match up seem to favor the Lakers.  In the two games this season Pierce averaged 13 points (5 below his average), while shooting a combined 4-11 on three pointers.  In the game that that the Lakers won, Pierce was hounded into comitting 4 turnovers and had 5 fouls (none bigger than the offensive foul that Artest drew at the end of the game that allowed Kobe to eventually sink his game winner.)  Now, we must understand that coming into this series Pierce is playing very well and it will take a great effort from Ron to slow him down.  Pierce is coming off (probably) his best game of the playoffs as he scored 31 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the series clincher over Orlando.  However, if Ron plays Pierce closely and takes advantage of the fact that Paul’s first step is slightly diminished, he should be able to stick with him off the dribble while also being able to contest Pierce’s jumper.  This will be easier said than done as Pierce is one of the best players at creating his own shot, but if Ron plays disciplined D (as he has these playoffs), I expect that we’ll be treated to a level of defense that we all wished the Lakers could have played on Pierce in 2008 where he earned the Finals MVP.

Tomorrow, when the Lakers have the ball…

Today has been one of those days where too many things are going on and I haven’t had time to get to the things that I’d like to.  That means I’m still working on the Finals previews as there is information that I’m still gathering that I think will be useful for you, the readers.  So, again, my apologies in the delay.

However, not all is lost on the preview front.  At 5:30pm Pacific (8:30pm Eastern), I’ll be talking about the upcoming Finals match up with the Celtics on Roto Experts‘ Hoops Edtion Show on Blog Talk Radio.  So come by and visit by clicking this link and listen to me attempt to defeat the Celtics solely with the power of my voice.  Or, more likely, talk about the match up in general.

On the written word front, I’ll have part one of our series preview later this evening when we discuss when the Celtics have the ball…

For nearly every Lakers fan, the first thoughts about the Finals match up with the Celtics are memories from 2008. Revenge is on the mind and we’re all a bit blood thirsty. But when we at FB&G start to roll out out series previews, we’ll be looking heavily at the two regular season games between these two teams. And when looking back at those two games, the thing that stands out is how close the games were. Both teams won a game but did so by a single point. Each team won their game on the road. Both games came down to last second shots (one that was made and one that we’d all like to forget). In one of the games Kobe didn’t play and both games occurred before Nate Robinson was playing for the Celtics. So without further ado, here some video highlights of the regular season games vs. the Celtics. You know, to reinvigorate the hate a bit more.

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The Lakers are going back to the Finals.

Exactly one year (to the day) after beating the Denver Nuggets and advancing to its second consecutive Finals looking to right the previous year’s wrong, the Lakers defeated the Phoenix Suns 111-103 in game 6 of the WCF and are now going to their third consecutive championship series and looking to exact revenge.  The series that everyone has been looking forward to is right around the corner.  But before we think about that next match up, we need to properly take in the events from Saturday and appreciate what the Lakers have done.

First and foremost, the Phoenix Suns deserve our congratulations and a load of credit.  The team that overachieved all season reached the Western Conference Finals and gave the Lakers everything they could handle over the course of the series.  After two blowout losses to start the WCF, the Suns fought as hard as possible in the last 4 games and just came up short.  And while they may not yet have a championship caliber team, they compete with the heart of a champion and they’ve earned the respect of basketball pundits and fans everywhere.  They’re just a great, great team.  And special recognition needs to be given to Steve Nash.  I think commenter Tra said it very well in the comments:

Much Respect to General Nash. I Salute You. The man is so under appreciated. I understand that we have several Good (Paul, D. Williams, Billups, Parker …) , and up & coming (Rose, Rondo, Westbrook, Jennings …) Point Guards in the Association, but if I had to choose 1 to go to war with in a game 7, I would choose Nash over all of them. His Shooting Accuracy, Determination/Competitiveness & High Basketball IQ more than makes up for what he lacks on the defensive side of the ball.

But as great as Nash is, game 6 wasn’t about his brilliance, it was about the otherworldly play of Kobe Bryant.  Over the course of the season we’ve seen game winners, fantastic performances in the face of injury, and that incredible will to win.  But tonight encapsulated the specialness that is Kobe Bean Bryant.  In a closeout game on the road and a home crowd that was ready to explode on the next positive play that their team could produce, Kobe quieted them.  Repeatedly.  The man with the iron will and the ice water in his veins showed how tremendous skill and unshakable focus can combine to create a nearly unbeatable force on the basketball court.  Usually the cliche “he wouldn’t let his team lose” is oversold, but tonight it was dead on when describing Kobe.  37 points (on 25 shots), 10 of 11 at the foul line, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a +19 in 41 minutes of game time.  He was the dominant force in this game.

And oh what a game.

The contest started out as a shootout as both teams beat some pretty good (but not great) defense with plain better offense.  Both teams played to their strengths as the Suns pushed the ball up court, found open shooters, and knocked down threes.  Meanwhile the Lakers were getting the ball inside as 6 of their first 8 points came in the paint on two buckets by Bynum and a steal/dunk by Ron Artest.  And throughout the entire quarter, both teams just continued to make shots as neither defense could find a solution to the other teams offense.  Be it long jumpers, foul shots, post ups, or fast breaks, both teams just had it going.  By the time that the first 12 minutes elapsed, the Lakers had 37 points and the Suns had 34.  And while Phil Jackson may have called it ragged and surely thought the pace was too fast, for the fans watching in the arena or at home, it was simply a terrific show.

But as the game wore on, only one team would continue to put up the points.  As the pace slowed and both teams settled into more half court sets, it was the Lakers that found ways to but the ball in the basket consistently.  Sure, Kobe was doing his thing, but in support of #24 was Artest, Bynum, LO, and Jordan Farmar.  Over the middle portion of the game, it was these Lakers that continued to punish the Suns’ zone with penetration, jumpers that the Suns were willing to give up but finding results that were difficult to live with, and inside play that the Suns just didn’t seem to have an answer for.  As the Suns’ D shifted towards Kobe (who was still making shots) and Gasol (who wasn’t), Artest (and others) thrived by knocking down shot after shot that just continued to boost the Lakers lead.  So, by the time that the 3rd quarter ended the Lakers were ahead by 17 and looked to be in a pretty comfortable position.

But, like all very good NBA teams, the Suns made their push.  And they can thank Sasha Vujacic for giving them their inspiration.  Because after Goran Dragic made a nice step back jumper with Sasha trying to contest the shot, Dragic was able to bait Sasha into hitting him in the face with his arm.  After Dragic fell down like he was shot, the Phoenix crowd was suddenly back alive and the Suns had Dragic at the line for 2 FTs (flagrant 1 on Sasha) plus possession of the ball.  And after Dragic knocked down the freebies and then got two more points on a lay up after the inbounds, the Suns had shaved off 6 points from the Lakers lead and the run was on.  After a miss from Odom, Dragic got another layup and the Lakers lead was down to 9.  Farmar put a temporary stop to the bleeding with an 18 foot jumper on the next possession, but that would be short lived as after misses by both teams Frye hit a jumper and Amar’e got a dunk.  And suddenly what was a 17 point game was now a 7 point one with the Suns’ momentum building and their crowd roaring.

However, this is where having Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher pays off.  Both of these players have been in these battles and know what it takes to win on the road in these types of games.  And in the final 7 and a half minutes, it would be these two 13 year veterans that would carry the Lakers home.  First it was a Fisher jumper to push the lead back to 9.  That would be followed by a Kobe jumper and then another by Fisher that continued to match the Suns’ buckets at the other end.  And in the Final 2 minutes, Kobe would take over for good.  Making an array of jumpers that will live forever in his highlight reels, Kobe was simply…Kobe and closed the door on the Suns.  A leaning quick release flick from straight away?  A hanging, clutching jumper from 15 feet on the right baseline?  A 22 foot fade away as he spun away from a double team on the extended right wing?  Yes, yes, yes.  Again, simply amazing.

And while not everything was perfect and there will be improvements that are needed in the Finals, that is something to think about on another day.  Today is about celebration.  It’s not often that a team makes it to three straight NBA Finals.  And it’s even more rare to have one of the all time great players on the team that you root for.  So for now cherish these things; celebrate them as this is not the norm.  We have until next Thursday to talk about the Finals (and we’ll do plenty, believe me) so for now cherish this moment – I know that I will.

And since I can’t resist, check out the Lakers highlights from this win.

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There are few things as difficult as winning a closeout game on the road against a strong home team.  And since this is the exact scenario that the Lakers face this evening, we can only expect this to be the most difficult game of the series.  The Suns are facing elimination and they have a dangerous team that plays its best basketball on its home court and are not going to go down easily.  In order to win this game, the Lakers are going to have to bring their best effort, their highest level of execution, and an attention to detail worthy of a champion.  If they do these things, they’ll be well on their way to a series win.  If they don’t, an “anything can happen” game 7 awaits on Memorial Day.

Just like when the Lakers got to game 6 of the OKC series and by the time it was game 4 of the Utah series, the X’s and O’s of this match up are now well established.  Yes there are wrinkles that each team can add to their game plans, but in the end it will come down to which team can force the other team into more mistakes while maximizing the strengths of their own group.

For the Suns it will come down to the effectiveness of their P&R and how well they can get the stops that fuel their transition offense. All series the Suns have been at their best when Nash is working his wizardry while running the P&R with Amar’e and Lopez and when they’re able force the Lakers into jump shots that fuel their transition attack where open threes and run outs are easily achieved.

So, from the Lakers perspective, they need to continue to find ways to score against the Suns’ zone defense (or their man to man sets) and make them take the ball out of the hoop so that they then face a set up, half court defense.  This means the Lakers must stick to what works against the Suns’ zone by flashing players in and out of the high post and keeping Kobe on the weak side where he can attack the soft spots of the defense with either his jumper or penetration when the ball swings to his side of the floor.  The Lakers can also use some of the ball screen actions that help to free up Kobe; the screens that help him create easier looks for himself while also generating the defensive help scenarios that get his teammates open shots.  Also, an aggressive and assertive Gasol will go a long way towards victory.  If he’s attacking the basket and looking to finish with desire, it will be just what’s needed to establish his presence in the paint (so no flip shots after barely leaving your feet, please).

On defense the Lakers must continue to stick to their defensive principles by marking the Suns shooters in transition and showing the Suns different looks in the half court.  I’ve touted Nash’s virtues a lot in this series, but one thing that’s gone unsaid is his ability to adjust to whatever scheme you throw at him.  Like the all world quarterback that’s seen a steady diet of cover 2 or the batting champion that’s seen too many inside fastballs followed by the backdoor slider, Nash catches up to what your plan of attack is and then beats it.  We saw this in game 5 with the switching on the P&R and in games 3 & 4 with how he responded to the Lakers disrupting his passing angles to the dive man.  If the Lakers want to slow down Nash, they must throw the kitchen sink at him and not give him the same look every possession.  So, I’d like to see a variety of switches, fighting over screens, going under them, and also some trapping (especially when Nash runs the P&R to the sideline).

Bench play will also be vital in this game.  The last time the Suns reserves were on this court they scored 54 points and steamrolled their Laker counter parts while also more than holding their own against the Lakers starters.  When this group enters the game, it’s imperative that the Lakers not let them get rolling.  So mark Dudley and Frye at the three point line, try to contain Barbosa and Dragic off the dribble, and box out Amundson.  We’ll see if Sasha gets another shot in this game but it would be nice if Farmar and Brown made a useful contribution for the first time since game 2.  My expectations for this group are now back to “just keep it close” and nothing more.  If they can hold a lead or not allow a deficit to balloon, I’ll be more than happy.

The other key to this game is rebounding.  In the Lakers three wins they’ve out-rebounded the Suns by 5 or more.  Limiting the Suns offensive rebounds, the extra possessions and points that come from them will need to be a focus on every defensive sequence.  In the last game, the only Laker starter with less than 5 rebounds was Fisher.  It will take a similar team effort on the glass tonight.  The guards need to close down the foul line and grab the long rebounds while the bigs and small forwards get into the paint and body up on the Suns.

We’re at the point in the season where nothing is easy.  The Suns have already said that they expect to win this game and go back to Los Angeles for game 7.  However, if there’s any team that can close a team out on the road it’s the Lakers.  In the past two seasons the Lakers have beaten OKC, Utah, Denver, and Orlando (for the title) on the road to win clinching games.  They know what it takes and have experience in this exact situation.  The opponent may be new, but that just gives them another foe to add to the list.  Both teams will come in with confidence, but only one team will leave with the win.  Here’s to it being the guys that we root for.

One last note for us fans – enough with the complaints about the officiating.  This is one aspect of the game that we nor the players nor the coaches can control.  And since that’s the case, there is little point in complaining about it (and that goes for us fans the coaches and the players).  I’ll be the first to admit that the refs are far from perfect but I think it’s also clear that the refs miss calls on both ends.  The Lakers have not lost games because of the referees just as they haven’t won them because of the men with the whistles.  The teams that have played better down the stretch have pulled out the games and won.  Again, I’m not advocating for the refs and I think further exploration into how the refereeing can improve is important for the continued progress of the league.  But it’s tiring to continue to have this be such a major talking point.  The positives stemming from the greatness of the players and caliber of basketball being played far outweighs the negatives from some questionable calls.  I truly think we need to get back to appreciating the excellent basketball that’s being played.  End of rant.  Now, let’s get that win and move on to the Finals.

Thanks For The Tip

Darius Soriano —  May 28, 2010

I don’t know about you, but I’m still reliving and celebrating Ron Artest’s put back to win game 5.  Not only was that Ron’s biggest single play in his short tenure with the Lakers, but it was a very meaningful basket for this team with ramifications beyond just a single victory.  Sure, the basket only counted as two points and only won a single game.  But if that basket doesn’t go in the Lakers would then have found themselves in an overtime period against a team that just came back from 18 points down in the second half; a team that would have been riding a wave of confidence and energy that would have been tough to overcome even for a team playing on its home court.  What would have happened in that period is anyone’s guess, but if the Lakers lose that game they’d really be in a tough spot as they’d be facing an elimination game on the road against a great home team.  So, needless to say, Ron’s basket was bigger than just a single made hoop.

And thinking about all of that made me feel fortunate.  I mean, the Lakers again had things break their way when they easily could not have.  And when reflecting on that, I realized that the Lakers have actually been quite fortunate these entire playoffs.  As you’ll see below, this isn’t the first time that the Lakers have come out on top in a last second situation these playoffs.  And in each one of those contests, the winning play was the result of a tip-in/put-back.  So, without further ado, enjoy these clips from the Lakers last second wins from these playoffs:

We all remember game 6 of the OKC series, right? Imagine if this play doesn’t go the Lakers way. Suddenly the Lakers are tied with an upstart Thunder team with nothing to lose and heading back to LA for a game 7 where anything can happen. And sure the Lakers’ success at home would have made them heavy favorites, but I don’t even want to think about what could have been if things had played out that way. Thank goodness for Pau working through traffic to rebound Kobe’s miss.

And what about Wes Matthews missed tip in from game 3 of the Utah series? Based off how that series was playing out, I know few doubt the Lakers would have come out on top over the Jazz in round two. But also understand that the result of this game essentially broke the Jazz’s spirit. Had Utah won this game, the series is suddenly 2-1 in the Lakers favor, but the Jazz would have had a win under their belt and some confidence to build on for the future games. The difference between 2-1 and 3-0 is huge in a series and with this missed tip the Lakers again came out on top. I mean, we all see how the WCF turned when Phoenix got their first win.  The media (and maybe righfully so) was burying the Jazz the same way they were burying Phoenix after two games.  And look how the Lakers/Suns series has gone after game three.  I think we should be extremely thankful this play went the Lakers’ way.

And then we have last night’s play from Ron. I’m sorry, I can’t help myself and I just have to post it again. When you look at the replay, look at where Ron is when Kobe elevates to take the shot and then where he ends up to execute the put back. That was pure hustle and desire on Artest’s part.

All great finishes and all in the Lakers favor.  Like I said, I’m just grateful to Pau, Artest, and (sadly for him) Wesley Matthews.  Hopefully, the Lakers don’t find themselves in too many more situations like this in the future where a last second play has to go their way.  But if they do, I can only hope that they’re as fortunate as they have been so far these playoffs.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Phoenix Suns Game 5 NBA Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles


From Henry Abbot, Truehoop: With about a minute left in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Pau Gasol chased down an offensive rebound in the corner. Steve Nash is loaded with veteran tricks. Gasol had his back turned. Nash resolved to get a steal by sneaking up behind to poke it away. It almost worked! But at the last instant, Gasol saw the approaching Canadian and whipped a pass to Ron Artest, who was just about to ignite a hailstorm of criticism.  Nash was now horribly out of position, still in the corner. Three Lakers — Artest, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant — were spread across the arc of the 3-pooint line, and every single one of them about as open as NBA players ever get.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: First things first: this series isn’t over. Granted, it might feel that way to Suns fans tonight. Just as their team was reaching out to steal Game Five, a guillotine blade came out of nowhere to chop off their hand, not only foiling the crime but leaving them bleeding and miserable. The wound won’t be easy to cauterize. All the same, the Suns this evening came achingly close to something neither they nor the Lakers have managed in the Western Conference Finals, which is winning a road game. The Lakers still need one more victory either in Phoenix, where they were deeply uncompetitive in Games Three or Four, or back in Staples in a Game Seven. Their ability to do so isn’t a given.

From John Krolic, Pro Basketball Talk: We all know who Kobe Bryant is — one of the most successful, dynamic, creative, and audacious scorers to have ever played in the NBA. Kobe’s passing has always been very good, but he’s generally preferred to take over games with his scoring throughout his career.

Yet in crunch-time on Thursday night, while passing virtuoso Steve Nash kept the Suns in the game by making tough shot after tough shot, Kobe was the one making pinpoint passes and trusting his teammates to make big finishes.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Wednesday afternoon at practice, Phil Jackson repeated one of his favorite expressions about the game, that everything can change “on a trifle.” The small things can add up. Little moments turn into bigger ones. The same can be said for playoff runs. On the path to a championship, there are those moments able to turn history if they go the other way. If the Denver Nuggets can get the ball in bounds during last year’s Western Conference Finals, or Courtney Lee doesn’t blow a layup at the end of regulation in Game 2 of the Finals.

From Rey Moralde, The No Look Pass: Every second counts in a basketball game. When players and coaches say that “they have to play all 48 minutes in a game”, they truly mean it. No better example than what happened in what was probably the most exciting game of the postseason so far. The Lakers truly escaped this one as a very game Phoenix Suns came close to bringing home a 3-2 lead back at the desert. And in a 48-minute basketball game, there are plenty of chances to make up mistakes that had happened earlier. If one player misses a shot, they can take another one later to make up for it. If one player turns the ball over, he’ll do better to finish the play and NOT turn it over. Basically, you keep playing. And this game was an example of getting second, third, fourth, fifth, eighteenth chances in this basketball contest.

From Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: It’s kind of ironic that one of the Suns’ core defensive strategies is to force Ron Artest to shoot the basketball. It worked when Artest hoisted up a pair of bricks with the Lakers up three with a minute left, but with Grant Hill and Steve Nash draped all over Kobe Bryant on his last-second fadeaway three, Jason Richardson forget to box out Artest, who swooped in to catch the air ball and in one motion flung the ball into the basket for the deciding score at the buzzer. And just like that Ron Artest, a player who had not scored on an offensive put back all series and had made just a single shot all night in eight attempts, shockingly became the hero in this 103-101 Game 5 victory that puts the Lakers up 3-2.


From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Basketball veterans Steve Nash and Ron Artest are both looking for their first trip to the NBA Finals. After Artest’s buzzer-beating put-back of Kobe Bryant’s miss gave the Lakers a 103-101 victory and a 3-2 Western Conference finals lead Thursday night, a stunned Nash stood under the basket with his hands on his head. Artest jumped into Bryant’s arms to celebrate the winning shot — after his seven misses in eight attempts, including two open but too-quick jumpers late in the game — having brought the Lakers one victory from their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.

From Kevin King, OC Register: The moment was utter togetherness for a team that had been out-togethered by the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference finals … and by a lot of teams this season, frankly. But the on-court celebration Thursday night was finally the gathering of a championship team, not just a pile of championship talent. Danger faced together and overcome is a remarkably unifying experience. “It’s part of the road to glory,” Lamar Odom said. At first, it was only the players to touch the ball on that last play: Odom, who’d inbounded the ball to Kobe Bryant, headlocked Ron Artest and Bryant while those two first embraced in the aftermath of Artest’s winning put-back.

From Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times: If there’s a faster point of redemption in Lakers playoff history, it wasn’t coming to mind, not after Jack Nicholson looked so stunned, Kobe Bryant looked so irritated and Ron Artest looked so confused.Staples Center had fallen silent after Jason Richardson banked in a three-pointer with 3.5 seconds left, not long after practically the entire crowd begged Artest to stop shooting when he missed two open looks from the left side near the one-minute mark.

From T.J. Simers, Los Angeles Times: Here I’m thinking as old as he is, maybe Tony Bennett or Billy Joel sings it, Derek Fisher talking about “All I Do Is Win,” a song that says it best about what he’s done and continues to do for the Lakers. Then he drops DJ Khaled on me, and if I ever learn how to use an I-Pod, I’m sure he or she will be on it, reminding me how much fun it is to watch Fisher pick apart an opponent. I know, I know — he’s finished, the weak link in the Lakers’ starting lineup, every point guard in the league taking advantage of him, and you hear it so often you start to believe it.


From J.A. Adande, The deeper these Western Conference finals go the more they feel like episodes of “Lost” with its overall theme of redemption, be it Jack, Hurley, Channing Frye or now Ron Artest. Words can’t describe the look Lakers coach Phil Jackson gave Artest as he returned to the bench after an ill-advised 3-point shot he took with a minute left in the game and the Lakers leading 101-98. And words can’t capture the sound the Staples Center crowd made when he launched it … although, after reading that the “Lost” tech guys mixed cicadas with New York city taxi receipt printers to make the smoke monster noise, I’d like to see them try. Maybe they could mix the reaction at a wedding when the bride trips and falls on her face with the screams of riders on Disney World’s Tower of Terror ride.

From Dave Mcmenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: What you’ll remember about the Lakers’ 103-101 Game 5 victory over the Suns 10 years from now will be Ron Artest’s redemption-deeming desperation tip-in at the buzzer, but that’s hardly what won the game for Los Angeles. What will be obscured and maybe even forgotten 10 days from now, after the win that puts the Lakers just one win away from their third consecutive NBA Finals appearance — “The Big Show,” as Andrew Bynum calls it — is the total team effort and increased execution that put them in position to win on Ron-Ron’s save save.

From Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports: Ron Artest had just bricked up an ill-advised, final-minute 3-pointer when everyone in the Staples Center had screamed for him to chill out and kill the clock. Oh boy, here was Ron-Ron. The shot was total hubris, an unnecessary, unforced, not-thinking decision in a career defined by them. Artest had just missed an open jumper, grabbed his rebound and, pride wounded, was trying to prove something to someone. This was Ron the Unreliable. This was Artest the Headcase.

From Mark Spears, Yahoo! Sports: Jason Richardson pulled his tie straight then continued to stand stoically in front of his locker. The Phoenix Suns’ bus was idling in the loading dock, but Richardson wasn’t moving. He stared blankly into space, replaying in his head what had gone wrong. Some 30 minutes earlier, Richardson had watched his own heroic moment disappear under Ron Artest’s miracle: a buzzer-beating putback banked in after Artest had beaten Richardson to Kobe Bryant’s air ball. The shot gave the Los Angeles Lakers a 103-101 victory and a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals while pushing the Suns to the brink of elimination. Moments before, Richardson had banked in a 3-pointer to seemingly send the game into overtime. Artest then turned the Suns’ elation into shock.

There are so many things to say about this game.  It was exciting.  It was hard fought.  It was high quality basketball.  It was two teams understanding the importance of the contest and then playing their hearts out to try and bring home the victory.  In the end, the Lakers were the team that came out on top and the Suns lost a game that must feel like a kick in the stomach.  Because after the Suns tied the game with a Jason Richardson three pointer that left only 3.5 seconds left on the clock, Ron Artest was able to play the hero by sticking a truly difficult put back off an errant Kobe Bryant attempt to win the game.  But we’ll talk more about all that a bit later.  For now, I cede the floor to Zephid so he can tell the other story to this game:

Overcoming adversity. That’s what Phil Jackson teaches our teams in the regular season, by not calling timeouts, by letting his teams “figure it out themselves.” It is not mental; it is more akin to spiritual. That willingness to give everything of yourself to win a game; to fail, and to learn from failure.

Ron Artest, so maligned for his performance this series and before, just showed what it means to overcome adversity. He is a competitor; he wants to land to knockout blow. You can’t fault him for shooting those shots; he was wide open. But he failed. Big time. Reading up in the comments, you can see the derision directed at him for those shots. No doubt he himself felt just as bad if not worse about his own performance.

However, he overcame the adversity. Everyone knows that Kobe is going to get that last shot; all five of the Suns definitely did. With all their concentration on Kobe, they forgot that the simplest of plays can make the greatest of difference: Artest came entirely across the lane, fought for the rebound, and put up an extremely difficult shot high off the glass. He could’ve easily just skulked on the weak side and waited for the game to go into overtime. But he learned, through failure, that success comes to those who overcome adversity.

But let’s not forget the other stars of this game. First and foremost, credit the Suns for never giving up, for battling hard, and putting forth everything they had to win this game. That’s the one thing that cannot be taken away from the Suns; they battled.

So many other Lakers shined. Kobe Bryant, the leader, came through throughout the game and in the clutch, keying our offense when we were going stagnant. With a game high 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists, as well as 4 blocks, he successfully outdueled Steve Nash and put our team on his back in the 4th. Derek Fisher, like Artest, so maligned during the regular season, has hit so many momentum altering shots that I can no longer keep track. 7-12 for 22 points with 4 assists to boot? On a day when Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar gave almost nothing, Fisher showed why he’s the starter, why he’s the veteran, and why he has Phil’s faith. Lamar Odom, so derided for his mental lapses and lack of effort, took the battle to the Suns, grabbing 5 offensive rebounds and making some aggressive moves with his hook shots to the tune of 17 points and 13 rebounds.

In a game we needed to win, our main players showed up and took this hard fought game. Could we have played better? Certainly. But it’s when we don’t play at our best that the team shows its heart.


This truly was an amazing game, though.  Besides the game winner and the Suns’ fantastic push to get back in the game after being down by 17 on two different occasions, the intensity level and chess match between both teams was just great theatre.

A few observations from a game that will probably only be remembered for Ron’s redemption:

*The Lakers defense tried to switch up their approach to playing the Suns’ sets.  Literally.  On a lot of the Suns’ P&R actions, the Lakers not only hedged hard, but had their big man stay with the ball handler for that extra second and ultimately switch on a lot of the ball screens outright.  This led to Bynum, Gasol, and Odom playing Nash one on one in space on many possessions.  Meanwhile, the rest of the Lakers weak side defenders crowded the paint on Amare’s dives to the rim while the strong side help defenders stayed glued to the Suns shooters.  This strategy paid dividends early in the game as it allowed the Lakers to better cover the passing angles that Nash loves to exploit on the P&R (limiting his assist numbers) while also keeping the defensive rotations more manageable.  This led to the Lakers playing much better on the ball defense with a ratcheted up intensity that we haven’t seen in several games.  However, with the Lakers’ bigs playing Nash a lot he was able to go off scoring the ball…

*Nash ended the night with 29 points – easily his highest output of the series.  And even though the Lakers were limiting his assist numbers early, he still ended the night with 11 dimes.  I know that as Nash has aged and his defense has remained sub-par those facts make it easy to place him below guys like Deron, CP3, or even Rondo on the PG totem pole.  I also understand that there will always be some Nash backlash from his back to back MVP awards.  However, it’s nights like these that show you how great a player and competitor he is.  His shot making, court vision, and feel for setting up his teammates is simply amazing and it will be a sad day when he’s no longer around and we can’t watch his exploits on the hardwood.  Yes, he’s the opponent – the enemy – but he’s one hell of a ball player.  Tonight, he did everything he could to lead his team to victory.  His team fell short, but it wasn’t because of his lack of effort.

*Phil extended his rotation tonight and it paid dividends.  On a night where Farmar (13 minutes, 0-2 FG, 0 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds) and Shannon Brown (6 minutes, 1-4 FG, 2 points, 1 rebound) didn’t play that well, Phil called Luke and Sasha’s numbers and got some quality minutes out of those two players – especially Sasha.  In 9 minutes of game action, Sasha played inspired defense on his countrymen Goran Dragic (getting under his skin with his trademarked pestering style), made 2 of his 4 shots, scored 5 points, and had a few other hustle plays (including a chase down tip from behind on Leandro Barbosa on a Suns’ fast break).  I know there have been many that have wanted to see what Sasha could do with some burn and tonight he rewarded the coaches with some solid play.  Whether or not Sasha can play well in his next stint is an unknown, but tonight should give the coaches some confidence to give him the chance.  And while Luke didn’t have a good game statistically and missed a bunny underneath, he did pick up a key charge on Amar’e and moved the ball well on offense.  You know, he did Luke Walton things and overall I was okay with his brief stint.

*On offense, the Lakers did make some subtle adjustments in attacking the Suns’ zone.  They did a much better job of flashing players in and out of the high post in order to set up the passing angles to set up the high low action that really hurts the Suns’ scheme.  Gasol and Odom combined for 9 assists working from that high post area as they were able to slide in to the creases and make themselves available to receive the ball.  The Lakers also started to set ball screens on the guard that was defending Kobe at the top of the zone.  This allowed Kobe a bit of extra space on his jumper and then forced a second defender to help – creating some open passing lanes for Kobe to hit open teammates.  Kobe matched Pau and LO by getting 9 assists of his own and a lot of that was based off how the Lakers positioned Kobe on the floor (using him on the weak side against the zone) and then the screens they set to free him up.

*Speaking of Kobe, the man is amazing.  I mentioned his 9 assists, but he also had 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 4(!) blocked shots.  Kobe was everywhere tonight and he did everything for his team.  Just as I credited Nash for being a player that competed his hardest to try and get his team the win, the same is true for Kobe.  His level of play is astounding (even for his standards) and he’s controlling the game like few perimeter players can or even ever have.  He’s just superb.  I mean, look at his series stats: 33 points, 9.6 assists, 7.4 rebounds, 53.5% shooting (stats from Marcel Mutoni).

We’re now at the point where the Lakers have a 3-2 series lead and only need one more win to advance to the NBA Finals for the third straight season.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Tomorrow can be a day to forget that fact and focus on what the Lakers need to do to actually get that precious victory.  But tonight, celebrate like the team you root for did after Ron sunk the game winner.  Smile.  Be happy.  This was a fantastic game and the Lakers came out on top.  Yes there were things that were bad about this game (you know that I know what they were based off the comments in the game thread), but those things can be discussed another time.  Enjoy this win.  Games like this don’t come around too often – especially not in crucial contests in the WCF.