Archives For Finals 2010

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  June 12, 2010

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Some random NBA and Finals thoughts on this Saturday morning of World Cup action.  Also, check  back later this afternoon for a post from Jeff who will be taking a look at the rivalry wit the C’s…

*As we’ve all read, Andrew Bynum had his knee drained for the 2nd time in two weeks on Friday.  And while I’m hopeful that the relieving of the swelling will allow him to be more effective, I’m not quite banking on that and still feel the Lakers will have to find ways to be successful as a team with a limited Bynum.  And over at Land O’ Lakers, BK examines the things that change for the Lakers if Bynum is unable to go in game 5.

*Adding on to the concept of dealing with a limited Bynum, I yield the floor to Zephid who made the following point in the comments in response to whether Mbenga could/should see more time:

(Phil) even says that he doesn’t think DJ is prepared to play after not having done so for so long. He does say that Josh Powell is ready, which not only indicates that he’ll probably see the floor in G5, but also speaks volumes about Powell’s work ethic that was highlighted in the McMenamin article from a while back.

I’m not sure how much I like that thought, but it’ll be interesting to see if Powell can improve our spacing and give Gasol the room he needs to operate. Also, he’ll need to battle with Big Baby on the boards (since he’ll likely get dominated by KG or Perkins, maybe even Sheed), so he’ll definitely have to show up physically because Big Baby probably has 50-60 pounds on him.

*One last point on Bynum, Matt Moore has a good read over at Pro Basketball Talk about the paradox that ‘Drew faces.  I’m not sure what the best decision is for Bynum (play or sit), but I think it’s fair to say that he’s shown me a lot and made it clear how much this means to him.

*In this series, we’ve  been talking about how the team that executes best down the stretch is the one that will win (that and who rebounds best).  In game 4, that was Boston and over at NBA Playbook, we’re showed how they did it.  Needless to say, it’s a bit painful watching the C’s bench carve up the Lakers starters.  But, I think lessons can be learned here.  Namely that the Lakers must also get back to running their sets with precision and dedication.  Too often it’s the Lakers that are settling for isolation sets that only yield a difficult shot against a contesting defender and an expiring shot clock.  The Lakers must do better than that.

*I’ve you haven’t been able to watch the Finals, I feel a bit bad for you.  Sure the games have, at times, been a bit foul plagued and the rhythm of the games have been thrown off somewhat.  But, the competitiveness of this series has been extremely high and there have been some great performances so far.  I say all this because nba.com has been putting together these “mini movies” that summarize the action quite nicely.  If you haven’t checked them out, you should.  I’ve embedded the ones for games 1-4 below.  Enjoy.  And remember, check back this afternoon for Jeff’s post…

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There’s only so many ways you can deal with an injury. As the player that’s actually injured, Andrew Bynum is doing them all. He’s skipping practices to rest, he’s getting treatment, and he’s playing in obvious discomfort to try and help the team. Really, there’s nothing else the Lakers or us fans can ask from from Bynum that he’s not already doing.

But, Bynum isn’t the only one that has to find a way to deal with this injury.  The other Lakers players and coaches must also figure out a way for this team to still be effective when one of it’s key players is limited in the way that Bynum is.  So, here are a few things that I think the Lakers can do to if Bynum is going to be as limited as he was on game 4:

1).  Get Lamar Odom going.  Really this is a need regardless if Bynum is playing well or not, whether he’s full strength or hobbled.  Odom is an essential part of this team’s success so finding ways to get him going is important.  In game 3 and in the 4th quarter of game 4, Odom found some ways to be successful on offense which is a good start.  However, Odom must still find ways to play effective defense and rebound against the C’s big men.  One player that has given Odom real problems is Big Baby Davis.  Davis has used the combination of girth and quick feet to knock Odom off his spot when attacking the basket off the dribble and when going after rebounds.  I think Zephid made a great point in the comments about how Odom can start to neutralize what Davis has been doing best – attacking the basket and finishing inside:

Odom is paying too much respect to Big Baby’s jump shot. Big Baby was able to score so easily because he has a surprisingly quick first step. Once he got his shoulder past Odom, he was able to muscle his way to the basket and use his girth to get space for the finish. If Odom lays off Big Baby and tells him, “Hey, take that 15 footer; I’d rather you make a jumpshot than get a lay-up and/or get a foul.” Laying off Big Baby will solve all of Odom’s problems…Big Baby is a catch-and-shooter; he’s not a catch-and-hold-and-shooter. If Odom just backs off 2-3 feet, he can cut off Big Baby’s drives and still semi-contest his jump shot because Big Baby just cannot rise as high as a guy like KG. The one jumper Big Baby took yesterday he clanked, so we’ve gotta make him start hitting that shot. If he starts burning us from 10-15 feet, only then should we make a change.

Offensively, I think Odom has to rely less on isolation drives.  And I say this for two reasons – first, because Davis is a nimble footed defender that does a good job of staying with him on his drives and second, because Boston is a team that thrives on cutting down penetration angles and LO is not finding the openings that he has in past series.  This isn’t to say that LO should abandon this tactic, but I think he needs to mix in more off the ball movement where he’s cutting and flashing from the weak side when Pau and Kobe have the ball and are demanding the attention that have so far in the series.

2). Phil must go deeper into his bench.  Many will point to bringing in Mbenga and Powell and giving them more burn with the starting group so that Odom and Pau won’t have to play as many minutes while also keeping Odom in his role as the primary reserve.  I’m half way on board with this.  I do think that Phil needs to ensure that Pau and Odom get the rest they need so they can be effective in the closing stages of the game.  Last night, both players were gassed after playing the entire second half.  So, some spot minutes for these guys in the middle portion of the quarters (near the mandatory time outs) or at the end of the quarters (to take advantage of the longer breaks) would be a good idea, if only to get these guys those extra few minutes of rest.

But, if Phil is really going to go deeper into his bench, I’d actually prefer that he play Luke and Sasha a bit more – especially Luke.  In game 3, Walton was a +13 on the night in his 13 minutes of action.  I think Luke’s smarts and savvy on offense would help the Lakers execution a great deal.  He’s a guy that can get good looks for other players and is always one that’s thinking one step ahead on offense – something the Lakers need against a great defense like Boston’s.  As for Sasha, I just think he’s earned a few extra minutes in this series.  Even if it’s only 4-5 minutes a half, I think those minutes would allow Kobe to get a few extra minutes rest so he can be fresher down the stretch.

3). Play Ron more at PF against Davis.  If Bynum really is going to be limited, those extra front court minutes have to go somewhere.  And with all apologies to Mbenga and Powell, I’d rather it be Ron matching up with Big Baby than those two.  Ron has the foot speed and the strength to battle Davis on his drives and the length to contest his jumper and still rebound effectively.  Before the series started, Phil said that Davis is the type of player that Ron can play some PF against and I think he should see if his first instinct was right about that.  I know we just got done talking about what Odom can do to effectively play Davis, but the C’s have four player rotation and there will be plenty of minutes to go around to match up with all of these players.  If the Lakers hope to not wear out Odom and Gasol, they’ll need another player that they can trust in this PF rotation.  And if Walton does see more minutes (as mentioned above), then Ron can be moved around a bit more and used in places where he’s most useful – which may just be matched up on Baby.

4). Push the pace more.  I’ve been looking for this for a couple of games, but it has not yet materialized.  The Lakers can push the pace against this team and get into their offense quicker.  Odom, Fisher, and Kobe all need to get the ball up court faster to either get easy buckets early in the clock (which won’t be too often, but needs to be explored) or to get into their sets faster and create a flow to their game that’s been absent in this series.  Boston’s slow down tactics aren’t just making the Lakers work deeper into the clock, it’s making the Lakers stagnant on offense.  Too often, players are just standing around as if the slow pace has made them lazy in their half court movement.  If the Lakers are to break out of their malaise, they need to kick start their sets and get things going earlier and with more punch in their step.  Push the ball, look for early offense, pass early and cut often and see where it all gets you.  I don’t think it could be worse than having Kobe end up taking a 20 foot contested jumper with less than 5 seconds on the shot clock.

I’m hoping that Bynum can play on Sunday and that he’ll be effective in his minutes.  I hope we can see some of the guy from game 2; they guy that did all that damage to the C’s interior while scoring and contesting shots in the paint.  But, if that guys not available or if he’s in uniform by severely limited, the Lakers will need to make adjustments.  There are some of the things that I’m hoping to see.  What about you guys?

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If there’s a theme for this series it’s that the team that has executed down the stretch is the one that has earned the victory.  Game 4 proved no different as the Celtics were able to turn in a 36 point final period and take contest 96-89.  They were the sharper team that executed better.  They were the team that made the little plays; the hustle plays that influence the outcome.  Simply put, they earned this win.  So now, the NBA Finals are tied 2-2 and the fight for the championship is a best of three series.

There were several subplots to this game, but I’ll start with what I consider to be the biggest (literally and figuratively).  Andrew Bynum tried to gut it out tonight, but he wasn’t able to really play on his bad wheel.  Bynum played only 12 minutes on the evening and only 2 in the second half after starting the third quarter in the Lakers’ locker room rather than on the court with his other 4 starting mates.  Bynum dragged his leg around like a sleepy toddler does his favorite blanket and while I give him a ton of credit for trying to help his team, he just didn’t have enough mobility to move in the half court to cut off angles on penetration or run the floor in a manner that allowed him to change ends with any real pace.  And without Bynum’s size, this is a different Lakers team – especially against these Celtics.  Boston was able to score well in the lane by getting 54 points in the paint while also winning the battle of boards 41-34, 16 of which were recoveries of their own misses.

The other big story was the battle of the benches, one that the Celtics won handily.  Boston’s reserves outscored their Laker counterparts 36-18, doubling their point production and providing the difference in this game.  Fueled by the darting Nate Robinson and the bruising Big Baby Davis , the C’s bench made the impression on this game and played that hero role that was up for grabs when the game hung in the balance.  And while Robinson’s energy and relentless attacking of the basket was infectious, the player that really deserves credit for tilting this contest in the C’s favor was Davis.  Big Baby scored 18 points on 10 shots, grabbed 5 rebounds (4 offensive), and was just a monster on the interior against whoever stood in his way.  When asked after the game what he felt like, Davis simply said “I felt like a beast.  I felt like I couldn’t be denied.” and truer words could not have been spoken.  He was a beast and he couldn’t be denied.  He used his quick feet, active hands, and wide frame to move bodies out of the way and get to the positions that he wanted to in order to finish inside.  Really, he was the player of the game in my eyes. (On a side note, Big Baby is the exact type of player that gives Odom problems.  I know people want to crush LO right now, and I get it as he’s been below average this series.  But Davis has quick feet, tremendous power, and a low center of gravity.  He’s excellent at creating space, taking it to the chest of players, and is crafty at finishing around the cup.  Davis is just like Craig Smith – and this season you saw what Smith did to Odom in every Lakers/Clippers game.  I’m not defending Odom, but again, this is just a tricky match up for Odom as he’s facing a guy that can defend him decently on the perimeter and one that attacks his willowy frame on the other end.  I think the answer to Davis is Bynum, but alas he didn’t get any run tonight due to the knee.)

And due to the Lakers’ bench lack of production and Odom turning into a de facto starter because of Bynum’s injury, the Lakers really looked tired out there.  I mean, Odom played 39 minutes, Kobe played 43, Pau played 43, and Artest played 42.  That’s a combined 167 minutes for those 4 players and at the end of the game they just didn’t look they had much in the tank to compete with the fresher Celtics that they shared the court with.  At the end of the game where the Lakers needed crisp offensive execution and stops on the defensive end, the Lakers didn’t have the legs to do what was necessary.  Too many times the Lakers stood and watched as Kobe or Pau or Odom went one on 3 against a rotating Celtics defense.  And on the other end the Lakers interior rotations were non existent as flat footed perimeter players got beat off the dribble.  The domino effect of having a man down and ineffective bench players came back to haunt the Lakers late.

The other thing that haunted the Lakers was their inability to take care of the ball.  The Lakers had 14 turnovers in the game (which isn’t a killer number), but too many of those came late in the contest where possessions were precious.  And too many of them were made by Kobe and Pau (11 combined – with 7 of those being on Kobe’s stat line) – the two players you actually want with the ball ultimately making the mistakes that cost this team.  And both of them had turnovers that were especially costly in crunch time as Pau forced a pass to a streaking Kobe (after he had gotten a steal himself) with only 1:37 left on the clock and the Lakers down 6 (ultimately allowing Boston to reset their offense and burn more clock).  And then with only 33 seconds left and the Lakers still trailing by 6, Kobe repayed the favor by jumping to pass to Odom with Rondo then stepping in for the steal and lay up to ice the game.  Again, the Lakers just didn’t execute down the stretch and that was the difference.

Even though I’ve only been focusing on what went wrong, not all was not terrible for the Lakers tonight.  Gasol worked hard on offense and scored 21 points on 13 shots.  He earned 10 trips to the foul line (making 9) and played an excellent inside outside game where he attacked the basket while still stroking a nice mid range jumper.  Pau could have rebounded better, but some of his ineffectiveness on the glass was due to his having to help a lot on dribble penetration as the C’s broke down the Lakers perimeter defense.  Kobe also played well as he found his jumper and was able to hit some of the shots that he’d missed over the past couple of games.  Kobe ended the night with 33 points on 22 shots and grabbed 6 rebounds of his own.  If they could have been a bit better in taking care of the ball, this game could have been different.  But it wasn’t in the cards for them tonight and their strong efforts in the other parts of their game(s) got wasted a bit.

But in the end there were just too many mistakes.  The Lakers didn’t rebound well enough, didn’t take care of the ball, and didn’t execute down the stretch.  They had the lead going into the 4th quarter, but (as I mentioned earlier) gave up 36 points in the 4th quarter and didn’t get enough from their bench to give the starters the rest they’d need to close the game down.  They now get two days off to think about the loss, regroup, and hopefully get Bynum healthy enough to contribute.  I’m surely disappointed that the Lakers didn’t take advantage of their chances and grab that 3-1 lead, but a 2-2 tie is faaar from the end of the world.  And in a series where neither team has won two in a row, I think there are things to feel good about going into game 5.  So, stew on this loss Lakers (and us fans), but don’t fret too much.  Another chance is coming and if this series has taught us anything, the Lakers will be ready to compete and be in the game at the end with a chance to win.

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It’s a cliche but still very true when it comes to playoff games – and especially NBA Finals games: the next game is always the most important.  There have been countless stats recited as each game has passed (Phil’s record when winning game 1, the record of the game 3 winner when tied 1-1), but if the Lakers can win game 4they take a strangle hold on this series.  Going up 3-1 would mean the Celtics need to win 3 consecutive games (including 2 on the road) to claim the championship.  That’s not just an uphill climb, it’s damn near impossible when the teams are this evenly matched.  Who will step up?  Which team can thrive in the face of their biggest game this season?  Tonight, we find out.

And while this is a team game, it will still come down to what individual players can be the ones to make a difference.  So far this series, it’s been new players every night.  Game 1 belonged to Kobe and Pau.  Game 2 was Ray Allen and Rondo (though Pau and Bynum were also excellent).  In game 3, Fisher’s late game heroics stole the show away from KG and his throwback performance.  Tonight, will it be Kobe again?  Will Pau bounce back from his fairly pedestrian game 3?  What about Pierce and Allen – who were both substandard (especially Allen) on Tuesday? Or maybe it will be another role player – Artest or Odom, perhaps.  Or maybe Bynum (surely playing, btw) will have another game that endears him to the Lakers fans as he battles his bad knee.  From the C’s side, it’s potentially Nate, ‘Sheed, or maybe Big Baby builds on his solid game 3.  Someone will put their individual stamp on this game and I’m anxious to see who can raise their game tonight.

But outside of these individuals, there are still the coaches and the adjustments that they have in store.  In the last game, the Lakers made some subtle tweaks in marking Ray Allen and they paid off.  They opened up their big men on the screen action so they simultaneously were in position to show out to play Allen on a switch while also giving the chaser more space to stay connected to Ray.  And while Allen was still able to shake free on several possessions, the Lakers’ adjustment paid dividends as Allen was better covered more often and not nearly as hot as he was the previous game – leading to miss after miss.

Tonight, I expect to see some counters by the C’s to combat the Lakers game 3 approach.  Maybe we’ll see the return of the screener opening up to make himself available to receive the pass in the heart of the Lakers D.  Maybe the C’s will run this action more for Pierce who needs to get going on offense for the Celtics to get back into this series.  Maybe the Celtics will go more to KG at the elbow and let him be the initiator of offense and let Rondo work off the ball as a cutter and screener to free up shooters on the weak side.  Whatever options are employed the Lakers must be ready with their own counters in place.

Understand too that the C’s also need to make some defensive adjustments.  They’re obviously one of the best defensive teams of the last decade, but in game 3 they gave up an offensive efficiency of 107.1 to the Lakers.  While that’s not an extremely high number, it’s a full 8 points more than what they gave up in their game 2 win.  The Lakers offensive success was masked by some poor shooting by Kobe and a slow pace, but the Lakers’ O was sneaky effective.  If the C’s hope to bring that number back down, they’ll need to give up less than the 44 shots they gave up within 10 feet in game 3 by limiting offensive rebounds and denying the penetration lanes to players not named Kobe.

And what about the Lakers offensive adjustments?  Down the stretch of game 3, we saw a Kobe/Fisher pick and roll that caught the C’s defense off guard, freeing Fisher up for his big shots.  In this game I expect to see more variations of the Triangle to be put in place in order to get the Lakers the shots that they want.  And while I’m unsure as to what they will be, I do know there are a few sets that I’d like to see the Lakers employ a bit more of.  Sets that can hopefully counter the Celtics’ fantastic help and recover scheme.

First is the sideline initiation into the low post.  Granted, the C’s are doing an excellent job of pushing Gasol off the block and making it more difficult for him to make catches in his sweet spot.  So, the adjustment that I’d like to see is for the Lakers to start with an empty post by initiating the ball to the wing on the weak side.  After the ball goes to the wing, I’d like for the guard to then cut through while the two big men on the ball side screen for each other so one of them can then cut to the ball side.  This is an action the Lakers used a great deal against OKC in order to try and beat the fronting defense and to get post players moving towards the ball rather than fighting for position for long portions of the shot clock.  Against Boston I think it can have a similar effect and give the Laker big men a chance to move towards the ball instead of wrestling for position.  Wrestling that burns up energy and time on the shot clock.

Second, I’d like to see the Lakers initiate their offense more quickly.  Too often in this series (especially in the second half of game 3) the Lakers walked the ball up and didn’t get into the motion of their sets until the shot clock was under 15 seconds.  That doesn’t leave nearly enough time to allow players to screen and cut or for more than one (maybe two) options of the Triangle to play out.  And when those options aren’t open, the result is often a forced jump shot that’s taken against the backdrop of a contesting defender as the clock is winding down.  It’s situations like these in which the C’s defense excels and if the Lakers hope to be more successful, they’ll need to be better at avoiding these scenarios.  So, I hope to see the Lakers secure rebounds and then push the ball up the court.  The C’s are a very good transition defense team so I don’t expect a lot of open court baskets.  But the seconds saved on the front end of the clock will pay dividends on the back end with better shots secured off of more options being explored.

Adjustments aside though, this game will really come down to poise, patience, execution, and that extra effort.  Both teams are sure to play hard.  But it will be the team that plays smarter in the face of extreme pressure that will win the day.  It’s been that way in the first three games and I don’t expect it to change now.  If the Lakers can do the things that win games – rebound, take care of the ball, avoid foul trouble (I know, easier said than done for both teams) – they’ll put themselves in a position to win the game.  But, they’ll only be in position.  In order to claim the prize, they must take that extra step and execute when up against a fantastic defense and a road crowd that is 100% against them.

It can be done, though.  And the Lakers are a team capable of doing it.  Remember, dating back to last season’s Finals (and including game 1 against Boston), the Lakers have won 7 of their last 11 playoff road games and clinched 4 series on the road.  It’s never easy, but this team understands the pressure of these types of games and what’s needed in order to secure the W.  Here’s to them getting it done again tonight.

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This is the first post from long time reader Jeff Skibiski. Like the rest of us, Jeff bleeds forum blue and gold, and will be contributing more often here at FB&G. Jeff and I were exchanging emails last week and he said he’d be interested in putting together a post on Derek Fisher. And then last night happened – Jeff has good timing. So, join me in welcoming Jeff to FB&G and enjoy his first post.

Despite being treated like a dying dog all season long by fans and critics far and wide, Derek Fisher once again came through when it mattered most for his team in Game 3, proving that there is still plenty of bark – and a whole lot of bite – left in his 35 year-old body.

With Kobe unable to connect and the entire offense seemingly out of whack after a second half comeback by Boston, Derek almost single-handedly willed the Lakers to a pivotal Game 3 victory, scoring 11 fourth quarter points that doubled as giant exclamation points in an otherwise subpar season for the savvy veteran.

“He won the game for them,” said Doc Rivers. “Derek Fisher was the difference in the game. He’s just a gutty, gritty player and he gutted the game out for them. I thought Kobe was struggling a little bit, and Fisher – he basically took the game over.”

Just like a slow building crescendo, Fisher’s Game 3 performance turned what was previously an unglamorous, but quietly very productive postseason – scoring almost 11 points a game and connecting on more than 44% of his field goals – into the latest entry on his greatest hits tour. Somewhere between the end of the season and Round 1 against  Oklahoma City, he found his shot again, even if it has been overlooked until now thanks to more flashy plot lines like Kobe’s 30-plus points streak, Pau’s last-second put-back against the Thunder and Artest’s instant redemption buzzer beater against the Suns. When it seemed like the majority of Lakers Nation was panicking about the state of the starting point guard slot for much of the season, Fisher maintained his composure.

“Sorry, I’m getting a little emotional,” explained Fisher, fighting back tears while being interviewed after the game. “We work hard in this game and sometimes things don’t go your way. I love this game, I love this team, I love this guy (Kobe) and I love what I do. Nothing means more to me than helping my team win.”

No apologies necessary, Derek. Not after two consecutive Finals where he has proven himself as a key difference-maker – lest we forget it was only last year when his three-point daggers deflated an upstart Orlando team in Game 4. And definitely not after 13-plus years of exemplifying the selfless, service-oriented work ethic that defines the everyday lives of many Lakers fans.

After Tuesday night’s game, Kobe said this was just another case of “Derek being Derek. He makes big plays all the time and it never ceases to amaze me.”

While Kobe trusts Fisher implicitly, it isn’t difficult to understand why many fans and critics were down on Derek after a career-worst season in which his field goal percentage dropped to only 38%, while his shooting from beyond the arc dipped to 35%. With those types of numbers and several big nights from opposing teams’ younger, faster point guards, it made perfect sense when Kirk Hinrich’s name surfaced prior to the February trade deadline. Even though most fans pleaded with Jerry Buss to go even deeper into luxury tax territory to accommodate the Bulls point guard, the organization opted to stay with their longtime trusted gun.

Once again, Fish has somehow managed to leave his indelible stamp on another title run, making Mitch Kupchak and Co. look like geniuses for the time being and calling into question the historical significance of his accomplishments. No disrespect to the timeless efforts of fellow role players such as Robert Horry and Byron Scott, but there is something to be said about Derek’s longevity with the team and his uncanny ability to step up in big moments with such incredible frequency. I think it’s easy to be overshadowed when you share the backcourt with one of the greatest players of all-time, but Fisher’s playoff dramatics should at least put him in the conversation of greatest role players in franchise history, if not the entire NBA.

Heading into free agency, it is hard to imagine next year’s Lakers team without him, even if in a reduced capacity. Critics point to his faults – often streaky shooting, slow-footed defense, forced layups – as reasons for letting him walk off into the sunset, but Game 3 should serve as a reminder that he is just as vital to this team as any player not wearing #24 on their jersey. Finding a player who can make shots in quarters one to three isn’t too difficult, but players who can look pressure in the eye and make tough shots, take charges and make hustle plays when it matters most don’t exactly grow on trees.

With the battle against Boston certain to intensify as the series moves forward, there is no player I’d rather be in a bunker with than Fish. After all, there is a reason why Kobe chooses to put his unconditional faith in Fisher as he does no other player; he earned that level of trust years ago. This latest clutch performance leaves no doubt that this old dog still has a few rings to win before he trades in his Lakers tag.

– Jeff Skibiski