There is no bigger game than tonight. A game 7 to decide the league champion? Hated rivals slugging it out for the trophy? I can’t think of a better way for this years Finals to be decided. As a fan, I’m thrilled. I’m also anxious as all get out with jitters being a too frequent companion to my day. My 20oz Peet’s coffee isn’t helping any, but that’s beside the point. Because the crux of the matter is that toninght we’ll find out if the Lakers can successfully defend their championship. We’ve waited over a 100 games for this moment and it’s finally upon us. Tonight is the night.
And as it’s been for the length of this hard fought series, the same keys to win remain. Both teams are looking to control the glass. Both teams want to execute their sets at a high level while minimizing turnovers. Both teams will look to get into the open court in order to not be bogged down by the oppositions excellent half court defense. Whoever does these things better for longer will win the game. It will take effort, energy, discipline, and poise. It will take each team’s best performance. Ahh, a game 7.
However, there are now some tweaks to it all. Tweaks necessitated by injury. As it was reported yesterday, the C’s will be without the services of their starting Center, Kendrick Perkins. This means that either Rasheed or Big Baby will get the starting nod from coach Doc Rivers. ‘Sheed has already said to reporters that it will be him that starts, while Rivers remains non-commital. Either way, the plan changes some. If ‘Sheed gets the start, the Lakers must be aware that some aspects of the Celtic’s offense changes. The baseline screen actions for Ray Allen will still play a prominent role in their sets, but we’ll also see a heavier does of high P&R’s. I’ll let Zephid explain:
The Sheed-Pierce or Sheed-Allen PNR are the plays to watch for. We can live with the KG-Pierce or KG-Allen PNR’s, because we generally force those shots to go to KG for open twos. But with Sheed, those open twos become open threes. Like I’ve said continuously, we can live with the open twos. It’s the open threes that we can’t give up, because our team just can’t make up the deficit. It’ll be on Gasol and Odom to hedge and recover quickly onto Sheed to cut off the three. How well the Lakers cover that play could be the deciding factor of this game.
Zephid is correct in that giving up open three balls to Wallace is a potentially dangerous thing this evening. He went oh-fer in game 6, but he’s hit some big shots in his career and in this series. In order to effectively cover this play, the Lakers need to rotate well and make Wallace make the extra pass or put the ball on the floor. This can be done in two ways. First is for the other big man that’s defending the paint to leave his man to rotate to Wallace. This option is the one most teams use because he’s the man that is in the best position to slide up the lane to the top of the key to contest the shot. This also keeps match ups in tact as it’s essentially a big man switch with the hedge man in our P&R defense recovering back to the paint to cover the vacated offensive player. Option two is to have Kobe roam off of Rondo and pick up Rasheed until the hedge man can recover. This is the option that the Lakers deployed in game 6 on every high P&R between Pierce and KG. Kobe’s ability to both cover the popping big man and then recover to Rondo is what made the Lakers P&R defense hum. I’m not sure which option will be employed, but both need to be executed cleanly and without hesitation in order to not give up open jumpers.
Perkins being out also affects the the Celtics defense against the Lakers offense. Perk is Boston’s best low post defender (though ‘Sheed is close – although foul prone) and missing him means the Lakers have more of an advantage inside. However, I actually don’t see this affecting the Lakers sets that much. In game 6, what worked the best was Kobe and Pau working from the elbows and mid/low post to get good shots for themselves while also picking out cutters from the weak side Triangle actions. I expect to see this same plan tonight until the C’s prove that they can limit the effectiveness of this set. I also expect to see a bit more P&R (another set the Lakers ran well in game 6) – especially when Wallace is in the game. ‘Sheed is still a very good post defender, but he’s lost some of his foot speed and may have trouble containing Kobe as he turns the corner. If Kobe can make Wallace defend him for just that extra second, it will open up the roll man on his dive while also compromising the C’s help schemes on the weak side.
Another tweak we may see is the Celtics going small. In his press conference yesterday, Doc Rivers mentioned that it’s a strong possibility the C’s will be forced to use line ups in this series that we’ve yet to see. And considering we’ve already seen Shelden Williams (who, if I were Doc we wouldn’t see again) I think this statement points us in the direction of the C’s using a line up with KG (or ‘Sheed) at Center with either Tony Allen or Paul Pierce at PF. This line up gives Boston a speed and quickness component while also keeping good defensive players on the floor. This line up also gives Doc a chance to use Tony Allen more – the player that just so happens to be their best option for defending Kobe. And while I see this as a unit that can potentially give the Lakers issues, I think this is also a line up that can be exploited on the back boards while also allowing the Lakers to further shrink the floor as Tony is a perimeter player that has struggled with his jumper. I think the counter to any such unit is to continue to pound the ball into the post to Pau while having the rest of the Lakers players (including Kobe and LO) work off the ball by flashing into to space as Pau surveys the floor.
All that said, this game is about more than just the X’s and O’s, energy, and determination needed to get the win. Sure, these thing matter in how the win is earned, but the game itself is transcends just a single contest. This game is symbolic. This game is about history. It’s about legacies. It’s about a rivalry renewed and the highest stakes possible. The fans know this. The players and coaches understand this too. There is just so much on the line for all the parties involved. Legacy is big word and involves careers and not just single contests. But it’s in games like that help define players legacies. And on that note, I give a word to one of my favorite FB&G’ers – Dex:
A Game Seven at home against the Celtics seems as good a way as any for Kobe Bean Bryant to seal the deal he made with Hermes some twenty-nine years ago, and finally take his place among the immortals. The fact that he already is immortal doesn’t change anything; he needs this win: the setting is too perfect, as if conceived of a divine dramatist just for him. But it isn’t only that he’ll avenge a bitter loss, and lead the fight against a hated foe, and claim his fifth ring (one shy of the master)–these things loom large, but it’s a story’s subtleties that round it out and deepen it and humanize it–that make or break the play. Kobe is Dostoevsky to Jordan’s Tolstoy, his fanaticism and genius are so personal that an observer is often as embarrassed as he is moved. His devotion to his art borders on the incredible, but his epics aren’t effortless. Of course no great epic is, but some poets hide it better than others. Kobe isn’t one of these. Poets of redemption wear their hearts on their sleeves, and the heart is a bloody organ. This year especially shines with the light of the redeemed. Ron Artest, for example–the madman; the f***-up; the bad joke of the league–redeemed. Gasol the soft; Fisher the fossil; the Odom who’s still on probation–redeemed. Look toward Kobe Bryant for their new illumination. And look toward him tonight, as he plays the game he was born to play, in the game he was born to win–Acta est fabula; plaudite!
And on that note, let’s get this win. And remember too, there is no better time to be a fan than tonight. Enjoy this moment. Savor it. We’ve talked about the journey to this point the entire season and we’re finally here as fans, rooting for the Lakers to claim the title. I know it’s tense and that the stakes are so high it’s almost unbearable. But, take that deep breath and then soak it all in. These opportunities are rare. We need to cherish them. Win #16 of this post season and title #16 for the Lakers are 48 minutes of basketball away. Let’s get it done.