Archives For June 2010

Championship Chat

Darius Soriano —  June 18, 2010

Chat Alert!

Darius Soriano —  June 18, 2010

I know it’s short notice, but at 10:30am PT, we’re having a “championship chat” to talk about last night’s game, the season as a whole, and what ever else crosses our delirious minds. Come by and join us in our celebration of the Lakers win and sweet #16.

On Top Again

Darius Soriano —  June 18, 2010

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Oh how sweet it is.

The Lakers successfully defended their NBA championship by beating the Celtics 83-79 in an ugly struggle that was also a beautifully triumphant game 7 of the NBA Finals.  And now for the second time in two seasons, the Lakers are the kings of the court, are at the top of the NBA mountain, and have been crowned the champions of the league.  It really does not get any better than this.

But for most of this deciding game, it did not look like it was meant to be.  Physically beat down by an imposing Boston defense, the Lakers struggled to put the ball in the basket on offense and couldn’t stop the Celtics from doing it to them when on defense.  Boston – as they have all Finals – pushed, grabbed, hustled, and fought for every inch of real estate on the hardwood and played at a level befitting of champion.  They imposed their will on the Lakers and forced missed shots and mistakes that hushed the Staples Center crowd and had fans of the defending champs more than just bit concerned.

Early on, Boston just seemed to be the better team that had more control over what needed to be done to win.  They were patient on offense by going to Rasheed Wallace in the post for some nice turn around jumpers and attacking the basket in transition. And on the other end, they played their typical brand of stifling defense by cutting off driving lanes, contesting jumpers, and choking off the ball movement that was so successful for the Lakers only two nights earlier.

And the player that struggled the most in the face of the Celtic defense was Kobe Bryant.  Seemingly forgetting the off the ball work that was so important to his strong game 6, Kobe too frequently attacked off the dribble in isolation against a defense that was tilted completely in his direction.  He consistently dribbled into poor positions on the court and then fired low percentage jumpers that would struggle to go in on his best of nights, but had no chance on this night where his shot was clearly off.  Even his good looks at the basket weren’t dropping as Kobe had what was almost an over-sense of urgency to his game.  Every shot seemed rushed or out of rhythm and his entire demeanor reflected a player that was maybe too into the the game and wanted the win too much.  Qualities that are surely admirable, but also ones that rarely lead to positive actions on the court.

But it wasn’t only Kobe that was shooting poorly.  His 1st lieutenant Pau Gasol was also having a poor shooting night.  Hell bent on attacking the basket as often as possible, Pau just couldn’t seem to get his shots off against the inside length of KG and Rasheed.  It seemed like every other one of his shot attempts was blocked as his forays into the paint for lay ups and jump hooks were all strongly contested by the C’s big men.  And he had just as little success with his mid range jumper as Gasol didn’t connect on a shot outside the paint the entire evening.

But, where the Lakers fell short in knocking down shots they came up big in recovering their misses.  In fact, it was the Lakers ability to gobble up offensive rebounds that even kept this game close.  Because while the C’s were holding the Lakers to sub 30% shooting for most of the evening, they could not secure the defensive rebounds that would have turned this game into a blow out.  Instead, they allowed the Lakers to grab offensive rebounds on missed shot after missed shot and secure the extra possessions that kept the Lakers within striking distance.  On the evening the Lakers grabbed an astounding 23 offensive rebounds (compared to 32 defensive rebounds for Boston) and just beat down Boston on the boards the entire night.  In the end, the Lakers won the rebounding battle 53-40 and considering how important that stat was in this series this was a major factor in determining the winner of the game.  In the wake of this loss, Boston will surely be kicking themselves for not cleaning their defensive glass better.

Boston will also be kicking themselves because of the performance that they allowed from Ron Artest.  Normally, if both Kobe and Pau are having inefficient shooting nights the other team is sure to win the game.  But tonight, Ron wouldn’t allow it.  Tonight, Ron played like the former all-star that was once considered one of the best two way players in the league.  Because not only did Ron play his usual top notch defense on Paul Pierce, but he also brought his offense with him to game 7.  Every which way the ball could be scored, Ron did it.  On one play he got a steal (one of his 5 on the night, by the way) dribbled behind his back and took the ball the distance for a lay up.  On another play, he pinned Pierce under the hoop, grabbed an offensive rebound, and scored on a put back.  In the 4th quarter (when the Lakers were in the middle of making their push and trying to get over the Mt. Everest sized hump of the C’s 3-5 point lead) Ron made a strong cut off of a Gasol post up, received the pass, drew contact, and then finished the lay up with the foul.  But of all his big buckets – and there were several considering how much his scoring kept the Lakers in the game – no shot was bigger than the one that Artest hit with a minute left in the game and the Lakers nursing a 3 point lead.  On the play, Kobe (after drawing a trap at the top of the key) hit Ron with a pass that allowed Artest to step into a three pointer and bury the shot to put the Lakers back up by 6.  On a night where Ron did so many things right that he was easily the player of the game, this shot may have been his biggest contribution.

But, Ron wasn’t alone in playing well.  Sure, I mentioned that Kobe and Pau didn’t shoot well, but they did other things superbly – especially the work they did on the glass.  Those two combined for 34 of the Lakers’ 53 rebounds (19 for Gasol, 15 for Kobe), with Pau collecting 9 offensive boards in the game.  Lamar Odom didn’t have a memorable stat line (7 points, 7 rebounds) but his effort in the 4th quarter made a real difference.  He pushed the ball, attacked the offensive glass, and had two huge put backs that ignited his team and the crowd.  And then there was Fish.  I don’t think it would be a Lakers Finals without a big shot from Derek Fisher.  With the Lakers desperately trying to get over the (aforementioned Mt. Everest sized) hump, it was Fisher that nailed a huge three pointer to tie the game at 64 with a shade over six minutes left in the game.  It was that bucket that got the Lakers going in the fourth quarter and created the momentum that carried them home.  And I haven’t even mentioned the gutty performance from Bynum, the solid minutes from Shannon and Farmar (who gave goose eggs in the scoring department, but played well when called on) or the two free throws that Sasha hit to ice the game in the closing seconds.

And really, that’s the take away from this game.  The Lakers won this title as a team.  On a night when the ball just didn’t want to go in the hoop, the Lakers played fantastic team basketball on defense and did all the little things that a championship team does to win the game.  When things looked as bad as they possibly could (down 13 in the 3rd period), the Lakers stuck together and battled back with the poise and perseverance befitting of a title winner.  When Kobe and Pau couldn’t make a shot, Ron did.  When a big bucket was needed, Fish stepped up.  When the Lakers needed that extra push, it was the fresh legs of Farmar, Shannon, and Sasha that provided that kick.  Everyone played their role; everyone played together to pull out the win.

So, here we are.  The goal for every team is to win the last game of the season and tonight the Lakers did just that.  After 105 games, they are the repeat champions of the NBA.  Let that sink in for a moment.  All through this season we followed this team through the ups and downs.  Through the game winners and the tough losses.  And as hard as it was at times, we tried to enjoy the journey knowing that getting to this point was indeed possible.  And now that it’s done and our faith has been rewarded, nothing could feel better.  Today we celebrate.  The Lakers are on top again.  Say it with me: your Los Angeles Lakers, the 2010 NBA Champions.  Yes indeed.

Back To Back!

Darius Soriano —  June 17, 2010

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We’ll recap the game a bit later, but for now celebrations are in order. This wasn’t the prettiest game, but the outcome couldn’t be sweeter. The Los Angeles Lakers are the NBA’s 2010 Champions and have claimed their 2nd title in as many seasons.

Through all the adversity and all the ups and downs, they did it. Congratulations to Dr. Buss, Mitch Kupchak, Phil Jackson, Kobe, Pau, Fish, Ron, Bynum, LO, Farmar, Shannon, Sasha, Luke, Powell, Ammo, and DJ. You are champions. Again. Savor this. Simply Amazing. Whoo!

So use this thread to share your joy with all us Lakers fans. Our guys came out on top and right now there is no greater feeling than that.

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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.