Lessons From The Past

Darius Soriano —  June 4, 2010

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Many look to the 2008 Finals as being the experience the Lakers can draw on in order to have success in this series.  And while I agree with that to a certain point – there’s no doubt that loss helped foster the mental and physical toughness of this current Lakers team – I think it’s much more important to draw on more recent experiences as a stepping stone to where the Lakers are now. 

And that stepping stone would be the Phoenix Suns.  After the Lakers lost game three of the WCF, Bill Bridges noted this in the commments:

I think the loss was the best thing that could happen to a championship-seeking Lakers team.

Crazy, no? Wouldn’t it have been better if the Sun’s rolled over, continued to play matador defense, and let the Lakers out score them once again, on route to a sweep?

Had the Lakers rolled into the finals against Boston by outscoring the Sun’s while giving up close to 50% shooting, they would have not been sufficiently prepared for the Celtic’s intensity.

The Sun’s defense was a disaster in games 1 and 2, with no consistency and focus. Luckily for the Lakers, the Sun’s zone was so effective, that we just might see 48 minutes of it in game 4.

The Sun’s zone defense is the closest facsimile that the Lakers will now face to the Thibodeau strong side zone defense. Have you seen Boston’s swarming quasi-zone against Orlando?

The Lakers have an opportunity to practice sharpening up their passing for now at least two more games in a game situtation. They are going to have to be crisp and precise to score against Boston.

But it is on defense that this “practice” will matter. Practice stopping Nash’s penetration because Rondo is twice as fast. If you can stop Amare’s slip of the screen roll, Big Baby’s slip should be easy to stop.

We are also thankful for Robin Lopez’s big body to help us practice banging against Kendrick Perkins. If Bynum can’t hold his own against Lopez, how will he fare against the dour Perkins?

The Celtic’s bread and butter sequence has Ray Allen curling around a down screen who then drops it off to a cutting big man (say KG) who then finds the other big man off a weak side cut. This play challenges your ability to fight through screens, show hard and get back, and rotate smartly.

The Sun’s don’t run this exact set but the key to defending the Celtics and the Suns is the same; fight through the pick, get back from the show, and rotate quickly.

The Lakers have not got this defense right except for a short stretch in the 4th quarter of game 2. They have a great opportunity to learn in the next 2 games.

They’d better or else the finals will be a rude awakening. And f they don’t learn, they don’t deserve to go.

And commenter Evan tells us that Bill, essentially, was right on when comparing Phoenix to Boston and how we seemed prepared for what the C’s were doing on both ends of the court:

I noticed that the some of the Laker strategy on both ends in GM1 could be attributed to their experience with Phoenix, which is odd because obviously Boston and Phoenix are so different.

For example, Boston’s defense is predicated on loading up on the strong side, which to the casual observer looks like a zone, even if it’s not exactly a traditional zone.

But attacking it is very similar to attacking the zone. Against a zone, a weakside LA big (Lamar) flashes to the high post, creating high-low mayhem. Against the Boston defense, the weakside flash is also there out of the triangle, and the big hole in the middle that is typical of a zone IS THERE against Boston’s defensive scheme. (Help comes to the big, leaving either a big-to-big pass around the basket or, ahem, offensive rebounds.)

When the Lakers run the P&R, the roller (Gasol) dives to the free throw line, filling that high-post space that the weakside dive man filled when running the triangle. Same type of effect. This is how they beat the zone in Phoenix and it seems to have have helped them get underneath or below Boston’s outstanding perimeter pressure.

Secondly, and more obviously, on the few possessions where rondo had the ball in transition, a laker was picking him up by the 3-point line. If he gets any deeper, then you get those transition threes for PP and Ray. Thank you Nash and co. for 6 games of preparation, and thank you Westbrook and co. for demonstrating the transition game in general back in April.

We’ll talk adjustments and what to look forward to in terms of changes in the lead up to game 2, but for now I think we should join Evan in thanking the Suns for helping to prepare us for a team that, at first glance no one (except Bill Bridges) would compare to Boston, but ended up doing a lot of things similarly.

Darius Soriano

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34 responses to Lessons From The Past

  1. I think last night’s game confirmed the two things that I felt were Boston’s biggest problems going into the series: 1) They have no one that can give Kobe the types of problems that Posey did in 2008, and 2) Artest was going to make life very difficult for Pierce.

    #1 was evident early on. As JVG pointed out, Kobe got to the rim more times in the 1st Q than he did the entire 2008 Finals. He abused the Allens at will, causing all sorts of foul trouble (FWIW, I thought that only the last call on Ray Allen was a bad one, but every other one was legit, and there were other fouls that went uncalled).

    #2 was more of a subtle affirmation throughout the game. Yes, Pierce was the Cs’ leading scorer, and he shot a decent FG%, but RonRon made him work for everything, and he was never able to get into one of those grooves that streaky scorers like that need to get into. Pierce actually handled the pressure better than I thought, but it’s not going to get any easier for him.

    I anticipate that Doc will put Pierce on Kobe more often – he almost has to, since Pierce is the only one who gave Kobe any trouble whatsoever – but that’s a dangerous game to play with your leading scorer and overall best player. Plus, it could adversely affect Allen as well, as the Lakers will inevitably post up Artest with Allen on him. And while Artest isn’t the world’s most polished low post player, if nothing else he may batter Allen to the point where his shot is affected.

    One thing to watch for – all that cross-matching means that there are going to be players lost in transition on both sides, which could lead to more open looks and easy baskets than would otherwise happen. It will be incumbent upon the players to recognize that and be extra aware of where their mark is at all times.

  2. Funky Chicken June 4, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Cue the irony. Who would have thought that the worst defensive team the Lakers faced would prepare them for the best one, or that the best offense would prepared them for the worst offense (by ppg)?

    I was among those who fretted after games 1 and 2 of the WCF that as great as it was to see the Lakers step up, they were getting terrible “training” for the Finals. At that point in the conference finals, it was true. However, the Suns’ adjustments made them not only more competitive in the series but a much better facsimile of what we are now facing in the Finals.

    As Phoenix did, I would expect the Celtics to pack in their defense and force the Lakers to hit some outside shots in game 2. Hopefully, Ron will continue his recent stroke, as will Fish.

    If the Lakers can hit a few jumpers, they will force the C’s to come out to defend the shooters, opening up the middle; and when the middle is open in game 2, I think the Celtic bigs will be more active with help defense. That, in turn, will create opportunities for lobs to Pau and Andrew at the rim, or offensive rebound opportunities that will continue to demoralize Boston, leading to Perkins’ 7th technical foul some time in the middle of the third quarter….

  3. I think last night’s game confirmed the two things that I felt were Boston’s biggest problems going into the series: 1) They have no one that can give Kobe the types of problems that Posey did in 2008, and 2) Artest was going to make life very difficult for Pierce.

    I agree, and would repeat, from the other thread, that the Lakers have now played the Celtics four times with Bynum and Gasol both in uniform. Boston’s point totals in those games:

    83
    89
    87
    89

    The Lakers are 3-1 and the only loss was when Kobe didn’t play.

    Bynum’s physical presence is very helpful around the rim, even if he is not putting up big numbers.

    In addition, we should remember that Garnett was up against Beasley/Haslem, Jamison/Varejao, and the Lewis/Bass in the Eastern playoffs. In the 2008 Finals, he spent a lot of time on Odom, with Perkins on Gasol. Now he is spending more time matched up against Gasol, and that is a whole different thing. Finally, Gasol (like the rest of the team) is extremely charged up about this series. Hollinger’s column today talked at length about the Lakers’ advantages in hustle/desire/physicality related-stats.

    Also repeating from the other thread: I got the sense that the Celtics didn’t realize how different the matchups are until they actually had played about three quarters. They know now.

    In terms of tactical adjustments, I think you will see Pierce on Bryant some, as Brian noted. If so, depending on what kind of help the Celtics bring, I think Kobe should try to attack Pierce off the dribble, to clear space for elbow-extended jumpers, and I would try to some high screen/roll action with Pau. I also would like to see Kobe try to post up Pierce. Since Pierce is so big from the waist down, teams rarely attack him on the box. But if Kobe can sit, and pivot, I think he can get a good look at a fallaway, since Pierce can’t jump. In any case, if Rivers does do this, I would attack Pierce and make him work.

    (Yes, it is silly for a guy posting on a blog to tell Kobe Bryant how to play offense) ;-)

  4. Just noticed the pic above after I posted. Look where Pierce’s feet are and look at Kobe’s view of the rim. My previous post, about Kobe vs. Pierce, is held up in moderation.

  5. We have been prepared for a Rondo type player, and a Pierce type player (OKC, though Durant is a little different), and the Celtics D with the Suns zone in a way, but we are going to have to find a way to keep Ray Allen off of the 3 point line for future success – every time he makes a 3 its not just points for the Celtics, its an energy builder too. Contested two point jump shots from KG, Rondo, Allen, and Pierce, and the Celtics will have a real hard time winning four out of six. I also think Odom was prepared by the Rasheed factor by guarding Frye. While Frye didn’t really post much (and Sheed could), that rotation on his 3 pointer is going to be important.

  6. J Michael Mooney June 4, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I love smart Basketball peeps. This blog has many. The lakers will win this series if they continue to check Rondo and his run-outs. The C’s thrive on long rebounds off of long ill advised three point attempts. They buried the Magic and the Cavs who love to shoot them.

    The lakers must locate Rajon immediatley after a rebound and pick him up early. Keep him out of the paint by harrassing him constantly. He still is a very young player and will make mistakes. It is hard to believe but the Lakers must muddy it up with the C’s and turn it into a half court game where they can use length and Artest to their considerable advantage.

    The Suns prepped them well because Stoudimire is much more advanced than an older KG. Slipped P’Rolls and kick-outs to challenge defensive rotations.

  7. Oops. It just appeared. Sorry for the mix-up.

  8. I have an idea for a chant. “where’s Lebron”. That’s dissing 2 birds with 1 stone.

    Didn’t this game feel a lot like gm1 vs the suns? Expect gm 2 to be much tougher and closer, now that the celts know what they’re in for.

  9. On topic of the headline and not the actual post, I need to drop this link for those like me who hadn’t seen the clip during the broadcast – Kobe on how he learned from the all-time greats:

    http://freedarko.blogspot.com/2010/06/yoru-brain-gets-warm.html#comments

    Amazing dedication and a very analytical eye. Plus you can really see the joy he gets from immersing himself in the game like that.

    As far as lessons for game 2 go, I also think we’ll see higher intensity by the Celtics for more than one quarter this time.

    Fortunately, none of the things that won the Lakers game 1 seem impossible to replicate. Kobe and Gasol didn’t play way above their mean, they can do it again. I hope for the same results with Artest, Bynum, and the backup guards plus improvement from Odom, whom I’d match minutes with Big Baby as close as possible (+ a few extra minutes of course, but I especially like that match-up for Odom).

  10. Another comparison to the Phoenix series:

    Just as the Lakers switched the P&Rs with Nash and co. in games 5 and 6, especially when the P&R was initiated late in the shot clock, you saw some of that big-on-small switching when the Cs ran their famed Ray Allen down screen set. You know, the one where Allen stands underneath the basket, cuts along the baseline towards the three point arc, expertly wraps himself around an (occasionally dubious) screen, and frees himself for that beautiful quick release. Yeah, that action. Except on more than one occasion, the Lakers switched the screen. Fisher stayed with the big (usually KG) and Pau ran out at Allen.

    This works well for a couple of reasons:

    1. Pau and Lamar WILL contest the three, in which case you have Allen going one-on-one against a mobile big. Not ideal, but better than a three point parade ala 2008.

    2. The Cs like to run clock before initiating their sets. So often times there’s less than 10 seconds in the shot clock when Allen receives the pass from Rondo. This discourages the Cs from punishing the Lakers for the switch by pounding the ball into a big with the Laker guard on him (although they did accomplish this once, if I remember). Unlike Nash, who would get into the P&R early and then work the possession with a big on him after a switch, the Cs and Allen are left with a late-clock one-on-one situation.

    I’m not sure how the Cs can adapt to this outside of starting the action earlier in the shot clock, which would allow Allen to exploit the mismatch and create for others or allow time for the post-entry to the big (Garnett) with a laker guard on him.

    Otherwise, the Lakers may have found a way to neutralize the bread-and-butter set in the Celtics offense. Perhaps this defensive strategy is partially due to the big-on-small switches they worked on in games 5 and 6 of the WCF.

  11. Is anyone else perplexed as to why Gasol would say what he said about Garnett today? I think it might prove to be a pretty bad move if you ask me, regardless if it were true or not. Remember how Kobe responded to the “he’s getting old” argument early in the playoffs?

  12. I am one of the few who doesn’t really think the Lakers will win because of anything they learned in ’08 but simply from the additions of Bynum and Artest and the subtraction of Posey. I know I have been criticized on this site before for these feelings… but i think this game is mostly about talent and how your talent matches up with the other teams talent.

  13. To a point, I agree with you Aaron. However, both Orlando and Cleveland were stacked above and beyond the level that Boston is. And Boston hammered them both because they were a much more well-coached team of veterans who happen to have a style of play that benefits greatly from Cleveland and Orlando’s weaknesses.

    While I tend to think that the intangibles (“Heart”, “Toughness”, etc.) are sometimes exaggerated, they’re still hugely important. If it would be a stretch to say that hustle can neutralize talent over the course of a series, it is certainly no stretch to say that hustle can neutralize talent over the course of a game (and it can certainly win a series–just consider Lakers/Pistons 04).

    The Lakers out-hustled and out-muscled the Celtics last night and it showed in the stats.

  14. 13. Not only that, but Fisher’s intangibles make even Chuck Norris cry.

  15. 12) – Yeah, Pau should have left that one alone. There is no need to motivate the other side even more. Yes, its true. We see it. Still there is no need to go that route. It is obvious he has a seething dislike of KG. I understand why. But that wasn’t smart.

  16. 15 and 12…. yeah, you’re probably right but i think the media is definitely blowing out of proportion. the question asked was “how has garnett’s game changed over the years?” clearly he isn’t as explosive. kobe isn’t as explosive. no one playing in their 13-15th year of the league is as explosive.

    and you know how pau talks, i’m sure it wasn’t baiting or in a trash talking sense. he just answered a question in an analytical and articulate way. he said he was a great player and competitor and would bring his best game at the end of the answer as well.

    media just trying to spice things up.

    apparently, boston is 0-3 against the lakers when kobe, pau and bynum are in the line-up. all this talk about how if boston wins, the lakers championship in 09 means nothing because if boston had a healthy KG, they woulda won. well, if the lakers win, their 08 championship means nothing cuz they can’t beat LA with kobe, gasol and bynum in the lineup.

  17. To quote John Wooden

    “Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.”

    “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.

    R.I.P Coach Wooden

  18. If a veteran of KG’s status needs to be woke up by some comments made by an opposing player in the NBA finals. Then A. father time has caught up to him as it does to everyone or B. he is not playing against A. Jamison or R. Lewis, but two legit 7 foot bigs in LA. I tend to think that B is the correct answer and I dont see Bynum or Gasol getting shorter in the near future.

  19. I know this has been already noted, but this is what made the Celtics’ offense so stagnant: LA just shot 10 three-pointers.

    That’s a 3-pt shot in every 4.8 minutes.

    Consider Boston’s ECF opponent, the Orlando Magic.
    In Games 1 & 2, Orlando shot 22 (making 5) and 18 (making 7) three-pointers respectively. That’s averaging 20 3-pts attempts in 2 games, 7 below their season avg (27.33 3-ptA), and they loss for a combined 7 points (4 and 3).
    Boston, on the other hand shot 14 and 15 3PTA respectively, a 14.5 average in 2 games, which is 3.3 3PTA below their season average.

    In Game 3, everything was different.
    Orlando shot 30 3PTA to Boston’s 11, 9 of which Orlando shot either in the corners or wings, which we all know, result to long rebounds and less effective defensive scheme, considering the shooter has to sprint to get back into the defense.
    The Celtics won the first quarter in that game by 15 (27-12), by pounding inside and having good ball movement, due to ORL players scuffling back to get to their defensive positions. This paved the way to open 3-point opportunities for both Allen and Pierce, although they didn’t settle for it and just went to the rim.

    This was a typical Orlando shootout, since they had 22 through 3 quarters of play. That’s 22 3PTA in 36 minutes! 1 attempt in every 1 and a half minute!

    We go to Game 4 of the Orlando-Boston series and we see Orlando getting 28 (making 10) 3ptA to Boston’s 18 (making 5), but you would wonder how the Magic won this game.

    Don’t let that stat fool you, because Howard had a monster game, as in Godzilla-monster. 32 points 16 rebounds and 4 blocks, which froze up Celtics’ inside play.
    But the Magic won by FOUR POINTS only, thanks to 18 misses on the 3pt line, 11 of those from the corner and wing 3ptlines.

    So, what happens when Howard is a beast inside and the 3-pt shooting Orlando gets hot? A Game 5 romp.
    This time, everything connected. Howard was a beast (21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks), and the Magic shot 25 3PTA and made 13 of them, 9 of them were corner and wing shots. The result was an offense that had to start with in-bounding the ball, therefore giving the time for Magic to set its defense.

    And of course, we proceed to Game 6 where everything got back to normal (as was the story for Game 1-3).

    I would say the same thing about Cleveland series, now I’m gonna do it in a more simple term.
    In Game 1, CLE shot 12 3PTA (3 corner/wing shots, 7 less than their season average) to Boston’s 16 (both of them making 4), the result was an 8-point Cleveland win.
    In Game 2, CLE shot 21 3PTA (making 4, missing 15 corner/wing shots), the result was a Celtics romp.
    In Game 3, CLE shot 12 3PTA (making 5, 5 corner/wing shots) to Boston’s 17 3PTA (making 4), the result was a Cleveland 29-point win.
    In Game 4, CLE shot 21 3PTA (making 4, missing 11 corner/wing shots) to Boston’s 14 3PTA (downside here coz they made only 1), but the result was a 10-point Boston win.
    In Game 5, CLE shot 15 3PTA (making 5, missing 7 corner/wing shots) to Boston’s 15 3PTA (making 8), Boston won by 32.
    In Game 6, CLE shot 17 3PTA (making 5, missing 10 corner/wing shots) to Boston’s 17 3PTA (making 5 as well), but Boston won by 9. *Note here: Boston had 8 misses in the mid 3-point area, so those were good clean looks, high-percentage looks that just didn’t go in.

    ——
    So, you see the trend here. What I worry about is us falling in love with the corner and the wing 3pt area, shots that if they fall are good, but if they don’t are bad, because they set up for a transition game, where the Boston guards are good (see Rondo, Allen, and Pierce breakaway layups and dunks).
    It’s good that we attempted only 10 3-point attempts, because that would be a recipe for disaster if we shoot like 25+ a game(see Game 3 and 4 in Phoenix).
    The Lakers attempt more threes in the road, so let’s hope Games 3-5 (it ends in Game 5) won’t be a Laker 3-pt shootout.

  20. My comment is stuck. It’s a long post.

  21. RIP Coach Wooden!

  22. Can’t be happy with Gasol’s comments – you never wanna give the other team bulletin board material, cuz even if KG plays bad we are going to see some dirty fouling against Pau in the next game. With that known, the Lakers better not relax and think that they have done anything, cuz really, we have won one game. Gotta approach game 2 like your down 0-1 and come out with more fire than the Celtics.

  23. Pau’s comments might actually cause Garnett’s knee to magically heal itself. guffaw. Pau’s stat line says a lot more about Garnett’s decline than any words could. what a bunch of Chicken Little’s.

  24. I was a bit worried the Suns’ D would leave the Lakers ill prepared for the Celtics (and quite frankly, I don’t think the real Celtics showed up last night). But I think the other end is where playing the Suns helped. After playing the best transition team in the league, stifling Boston’s offense which relies heavily on transition was something they did with relative ease.

  25. @11, when you read his comments in full, they were reasonable in response to a question about “how KG’s game had changed over the years”:

    “On Kevin’s part, he’s also lost some explosiveness. He’s more of a jump shooter now you could say, comes off the lane. Before he had a really, really quick first step and was getting to the lane and he was more aggressive then. Time passes and we all suffer it one way or another, but he’s still a terrific player, a terrific competitor, and he’s going to bring everything he’s got. You can count on that.”

    Unfortunately, because he’s not a politician, he actually answered the media’s question rather than saying nothing at all. The way the media go fishing for quotes to make a story is a joke.

  26. I am ok with Pau’s comments because although they can/will serve as BB material, that’s a show than anything.

    I mean Doc did his wholw, “money in the ceiling” motivational BS and where did that get them.

    At the end of the day, as long as LA plays to their strengths and not jack up too many 3’s the outcome will be magnificent.

    One for the thumb indeed…

  27. the other stephen June 5, 2010 at 12:38 am

    given the traditions of this site, can we expect to see a post dedicated to john wooden sometime soon?

  28. Speaking of lessons from the past, I think that the 2007-2008 season in its entirety was the purifying fire from which the tempered steel of this current Lakers team has been forged. Many of the pieces were in place (Kobe, Odom, Fisher and Bynum) but they didn’t have enough talent inside to compete for anything more than a playoff appearance.
    Then came the Gasol trade, (which was, in spite of Popovich’s cries of “UNFAIR” which were echoed endlessly by the media a very fair trade), and all of a sudden, and over the course of the rest of the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs the Lakers were in the hunt for the NBA championship. The Lakers, as a team, gained a great deal of confidence during this period, a confidence that nothing has been able to shake.
    But then came the 2008 finals, and they ran smack into a team that was better, more physical, more poised, played better defense, and had THREE future hall-of-famers in Allen, Pierce, and Garnett. And the Lakers competed! They fought toe to toe with this “Team of Destiny” and came up a little short.
    They also came up short in the toughness and grittiness department, which is why game 6 was such a blowout. But the Lakers, particularly Kobe and Pau, took the right lessons from this loss. First, they had plenty of talent to compete for years to come for the championship. Second, Pau needed to get stronger, develop a toughness at the hoop, and become a determined rebounder. Third, Kobe needed to get the ball to the open man more, to make defenses pay for doubling him or focusing their defenses on stopping him. Fourth, Kobe needed to be able to hit “highly contested shots” because sometimes those shots were all Kobe was going to be able to find. And fifth, the lakers needed a defensive stopper, someone whose forte was in playing tenacious, hardnosed defense on the other team’s best offensive weapon. (Cue Ron Artest!) actually Trevor Ariza played that role last year, but this year we have needed the intensity and focus of a real defensive stopper.
    In fairness, the front office took its share of lumps in the years leading up to the 2007-2008 season, and they too learned their lessons and began putting the championship pieces in place, adding Pau, Ariza, and Brown (and subtracting even more unproductive pieces such as Cook, Mihm, Kwami etc.)

  29. the other stephen,
    It takes a while to properly go through John Wooden’s life – I really became aware of him in 1960, while I attended Oregon State, a pretty good basketball school, and we just couldn’t get by UCLA. By then he had already passed through his All-American college guard (30’s) days, high school coaching days, first college job, and build the UCLA program – he was about to embark on his unthinkable championship run. I don’t think a single thread is going to be able to say enough about him.

  30. I just read yesterday that he lost three years of possible NCAA tournaments in the late 50’s because the football program had some NCAA violations, and at that time all the sports were penalized.

  31. Hope to see Lakers come out of the gates like in game one.Strike first,The C’s just cannot keep up with it.

  32. Excellent post.

    I agree wholeheartedly. I am one of those less observant individuals you speak of who called what Boston plays a “Strong Side Zone”. I kept telling people that Phoenix was going to employ it after game 2 and that we were in trouble if we could not solve it. I felt that we were in trouble because Boston had longer and bigger players than Phoenix. Boston may be slower (besides maybe Tony Allen) but they are much more accomplished. Hopefully we see the writing on the wall because may go to the zone a game earlier than Phoenix. That may have been their intention in game one, but we played so much pick and roll that we didn’t allow them to get comfortable.