The Los Angeles Lakers are beginning to look like a little bit of history repeating.
If those players not named Kobe Bryant could go back to Game 1, they’d be able to read fantastic press clippings about their height, strength, balance, power and grace. They could read of the glorious flow of their manes and the quest for precious sweat from their brows. These same Lakers could read of their former glory and of the ease with which they dispatched a team that knows how to lose.
The Zen Genius will have to unpack his ego, er, um, back of tricks and pull out an elixir yielding optimum effort from his talented band of Tin Men.
For me, last night’s game yielding 10 signature plays. The first seven defy description…those blistering shots made by Kobe Bryant from east, west, north and south at the beginning of the third quarter. They sho’ wuz pritty, but at the end of the barrage, the Celtics lead was bigger than when it began. So much for optimal effort and execution from an elite player.
How about those other plays? Only 3 left.
Exhibit A: Rondo rips Bryant from the rear. (Wasn’t that a foul?) Breaks down court as his teammates corral the loose ball. Rondo streaks to the goal and scores.
Exhibit B: Derek Fisher floats to cover Ray Allen; Kobe Bryant descends to the baseline and establishes position for a rebound. He is joined underneath the backboard by seven-foot point forward Lamar Odom. The Celtics drive the lane and the shot is missed. It’s off the glass into the waiting arms of…Rajon Rondo who has just over both Bryant and Odom to tip in a missed shot.
Exhibit C: Celtic ball out of bounds. 4 seconds to cross half court. Garnett to Pierce — almost out of bounds. Pierce falls backwards and whips a two-handed pass to a streaking Rondo who reaches back, snares the ball and scores ahead of Ron Artest.
I’m guessing that these three plays made the highlight reel. It was really all you needed to see. Game-Set-Boston. On to LA.
The 2010 NBA Finals are not over, but the endless comparisons between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant should forever cease. Last night, Kobe Bryant scored 38 points, including19 in the 3rd quarter. He dropped 23 points in a row for a team sporting elite scoring option Pau Gasol; all-world point-forward Lamar Odom; Deep Clutch Derek; and the Big Accidental (aka Andrew Bynum). While Bryant was making some of the most magical shots I’ve seen, his opponents were busy scorching the nets and locking down his teammates.
In the 3rd quarter, Bryant shot 7-9. His teammates shot 3-10. Guess what? Bryant wasn’t a ball hog. He didn’t jack up everything in sight. Did he take a high percentage of shots? Sure. Were the Lakers going to feed the hot hand? Of course. Boston did it in Game 2 for Ray Allen (and that may be the decisive game in this seres). So, what’s the problem?
The problem is that for all of his talent, Kobe Bryant is not only NOT Michael Jordan, he is NOT a guy who plays with Scottie Pippen. Could Jordan have single-handedly won last night’s game vs. Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Rondo and company? Possibly. Could he have done it without Pippen? Highly unlikely. Michael Jordan made Scottie Pippen better than he would have been had he become the proto-Rashard Lewis envisioned by Seattle Sonics management when he was drafted. Post-migraine Pippen was as good a complementary player as has ever played in the NBA. And these Los Angeles Lakers simply don’t have a guy like that.
How big would it have been last night for Bryant to be able to hit a flashing Pippen on a cut to the hole? The drive, the contact, the hoop and the harm. Whistle on Garnett…3 point play. Next trip down, Bryant continues his Jordan impersonation and hits a twisting, leaning, inverted, fade-away three from 45 feet – swish. Celtics inbound — Pippen deals the ball, flushes it home.
The Chicago Bulls won games like this all the time. This Lakers team doesn’t struggle against most teams, but against grinding Eastern Conference powerhouses that are reminiscent of the old-school Knicks, Pacers, Pistons and Celtics (minus the game ejections and fights), these Lakers are missing that Glue Guy who moves the ball from superstar to wide open role player; the guy who snatches the rebound and leads the transition break; the guy who plays help defense and plays passing lanes all while playing chest-to-chest defense on the other team’s best offensive weapon; the guy who can deliver thunderous dunks of his own right over the top of the opposing center.
Ron Artest is not that guy. Lamar Odom, for whatever reason (certainly not physical), is not that guy. Luke Walton is not that guy (smile). As this series comes barreling to its Tinsel Town finale, one thing is certain, Kobe Bryant’s best is not good enough. Do you EVER remember a point guard jumping OVER Pippen AND Jordan in the 4th quarter of the NBA Finals? Didn’t think so.
Still, this is not an indictment of Kobe’s many talents. It does not make his less of a player than Michael Jordan. This is a measure that belies statistical comparison. It really comes down to execution. Usually, when the Lakers turn out an opponent’s lights for good, there is one bullet, one grisly trail of blood — and it leads right to Kobe’s “white Bronco.” When the Bulls beat you, there were almost always two red-hot smoking barrels…one held by Jordan, and the other by Pippen. It was always a gruesome way for playoffs hope to die. No one knows this better than Patrick Ewing, who was routinely posterized by both Pippen and Jordan.
Bryant can still earn his 5th NBA title, but I don’t like his chances this season. What’s more, for my money, he has dispelled the notion that he is not a comparable talent. Both were the greatest shot-makers and combination (offense-defense) players of their generation. Kobe Bryant needs help, but Scottie Pippen is not walking through that door. The best that the Lakers and Bryant can hope for is that the spirit of Scottie’s game is embraced by someone very soon.
If not, the team will lose. Doc Rivers will get to write a book entitled, The Zen of Whippin’ Phil’s Ass, and Paul Pierce will embarrass himself, all of Southern California and half of Boston by once again proclaiming himself the best basketball player in the world.
At the beginning of this series, I talked about 2 things — and 2 things only — the heart of the Lakers front line and the health of Andrew Bynum. Without making too much a single win (like Lakers Nation after Game 1), I will say that the trends are beginning to favor the Celtics.
Boston’s mix of experience, passion and physical strength is beginning to pay huge dividends. Without Bynum, I do not expect the Lakers to reverse the points in the paint statistic — and that means they’ll need Ray Allen to shoot 0-13 again. The question of heart seems, to me, to be an open question for the Lakers. Throughout this entire series, Derek Fisher (the only Laker who is consistently a + (statistically) in every game) is the only one who has distinguished himiself by stepping in front of charging Celtics players….the only one. Not Odom, not Kobe (sliding to get into the way or out of the way at the last instant), not Gasol, not Brown or Walton or Farmar…just Fisher. That’s a problem.
Paul Pierce is a walking turnover. Ron Artest needs to get in his hip pocket and take the ball away without fouling him. Kobe needs to stop turning the ball over. Phil needs to play Farmer and Brown for longer stretches early so that Fisher can play longer stretches late. With that said, I picked Boston because I knew THIS game was going to happen…that gritty, nasty, want-to game…and I knew who would win that game. LA won the pretty game. That was for the media and the hoes. Nice job. They won Ray’s abysmal game. Nice job. If Rasheed closed out Game 3 instead of Allen, the Celtics probably win that game, too.
LA still has superior talent, but without Bynum, I know they don’t have superior confidence. The only two Lakers who are unbreakable in that regard are Kobe and Fisher…the rest are Plastic Men whose confidence wobbles and bends from basket to basket. How much can Lamar Odom and Gasol call on their recollections of beating Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu last year? It can’t be much comfort with “Big Baby” banging on your head. Not so in Boston — and that may define this series more than the great and unquestioned talent of the men in purple and gold.
Great game for Derek Fisher!! Nice bound back by Kevin Garnett. Perilous fall into the abyss by Ray Allen.
I don’t have much to say about this game except this:
- Doc Rivers should have gone to Rasheed Wallace in the 3rd and 4th quarters when the offense bogged down. The announcers talked about the lack of spacing on the court. Tony Allen, Rondo and Perkins played some big minutes together but contributed to this dilemma due to their limited shooting range. Ray Allen’s ineffectiveness only compounded the problem.
- A lineup of Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and Paul Pierce or whomever allows the Celtics to expand the floor on offense and clamp down defensively on the Lakers length. Pau Gasol, for all of his success, has not and will not dominate Rasheed Wallace when they are going head-to-head.
- This lineup also allows Kevin Garnett to “rest” while covering Ron Artest. Perkins works on Andrew Bynum (or vice versa), but can expect help from Garnett. Pierce guards Kobe and Rondo can focus on Fisher instead of trying to help out all over the court.
- The Celtics offense works best when the floor is open and players are not over-penetrating. That Ray Allen and Paul Pierce played so poorly, and that this game was still in the balance until very late, says a great deal about both of these teams.
- At some point, the vastly superior talent of the Lakers has to show its face — doesn’t it?
The Boston Celtics got some R&R (as in Ray and Rondo), and the Lakers got a glimpse at the perils of overconfidence. The “We Can Win By Showing Up” crowd got caught in expressway traffic and missed Ray Allen’s blistering first half performance. Too bad. It was a beaut!
The Celtics stole this game…
1) When you block 14 shots (28 points), you’re SUPPOSED to win the game. That the Lakers lost this game in this fashion should be tremendously troubling. Andrew Bynum was outstanding and the Celtics won anyway. Even with all of those blocks and lost opportunities for points, the Celtics won by 9.
For me, that means the Celtics are still over-penetrating (especially Pierce), but also failing to hit wide open mid-range jump shots (especially Garnett). If Boston tweaks their approach and Garnett finds his shooting touch, they can expect to win 2 of 3 in Boston.
2) The officiating has significantly impacted both games. If folks want to complain about phantom calls on Kobe in Game 2, they should acknowledge the impact of touch fouls called on Ray Allen in Game 1.
When the Lakers play the Celtics, there are no officials. There is only grit, resolve and execution.
So far, Gasol and Bynum have checked in for duty. MIA — Lamar Odom.
3) After Game 1, I said that offensive rebounding was a big key for Boston. Rondo had 4 in Game 1 and 4 more last night (and a game-high 12). Glen Davis saved the day with 5 offensive rebounds. For all the Lakers interior dominance above the rim, none of them had more than 3 offensive boards.
4) I’m not to go off on Paul Pierce or Artest for their play in this series. Both of these guys do the dirty work that allows everyone else to have pretty stat lines. People like to bitch and moan about Pierce and Artest shooting or hacking or flopping, but they’re the 2 guys that no one else on either roster really wants to tussle against. It’s perfect that they’re facing each other in a pitched battle of wills.
5) Lakers were +15 in Free Throw Attempts, +11 in Blocks, +2 in steals and they lost at home. Wow.
6) Bynum and Fisher were the only Lakers with + for the game (Bynum +1, Fisher +4). Bynum’s performance and impact was obvious…but Fisher’s will go under the radar — again. He doesn’t do everything, but he ALWAYS does something. How does Fisher escape this game with a +4 in 34 minutes? Amazing.
Like Pat Riley, I believe that a series doesn’t really get going until someone loses at home. There are some interesting numbers from last night’s game.
1) Boston was whistled for 28 fouls. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Tony Allen had 14 of those. That says the Celtics were not busy using their fouls on the block, but on the perimeter and in defending the lane (usually from a trailing position). The interior defense was weak — and may not improve because the Lakers’ size is considerable.
2) Rasheed Wallace played 18 minutes, scored 9 points, made a couple of free throws, and had 4 rebounds. He also played great defense on Gasol for a few moments in the first half. I don’t know how many he can play — certainly not 46 like Pau…but he needs to play upwards of 26 minutes for Boston to have even the slightest chance of winning.
When Rasheed was picked up, I envisioned him riding the pine until this time of year. Perkins is a valuable banger, but Rasheed can block Gasol’s hook or jumper — if he can stay on the floor. Big question.
3) Gasol has 8 offensive rebounds. Rondo had 4. No other Celtic had more than two (Garnett). No other Laker had more than 1. This is evidence of a structural approach to defense and rebounding that is flawed. Boston has to adjust.
Couple of other thoughts:
Nate Robinson is not a good cover for D. Fisher. Fish is too savvy for this matchup to provide a real dividend for Boston. I’d keep Nate on Farmer or Shannon Brown (only in spots). And, if Ray Allen is out of the game, Doc has to let shoot and not worry about him running the offense for the team.
Artest is going to be the difference for LA. He gives everyone on the team courage. They all seem to appreciate that they cannot be pummeled in an alley fight as long as Ron is around. His presence really allows Kobe to attack Ray Allen and that’s not a favorable matchup for Boston — or anyone.
The strength of the Celtics is that they have so many players who can make mid-range jumpers. Last night, they seemed to think they were still playing Orlando or Cleveland, where it made sense to try to get to the goal. Against the Lakers, that strategy is doomed to fail. The Celtics will have to pull up and hit the mid-range jumper. They have 6 guys who can make that shot regularly: Pierce, Allen, Garnett, Wallace, Davis and Finley (if he plays again).
The ability to take and make the mid-range J is the key. The only teams that have ever beaten Phil Jackson coached teams have had at least 3 dead-eye mid-range jump shooters. Vintage Detroit routinely beat the Bulls with Isiah, Dumars, and Vinnie Johnson. New Detroit beat the Lakers with Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Chauncey Billups.
No one is going to consistently finish at the rim by jumping OVER Gasol, Bynum, Odom and that defense. It couldn’t be done vs. Bill Cartwright, Stacey King, Scott Williams and Horace Grant — so it’s not going to happen here either. The key is to pull up and drain those available mid-range shots that their bigs cannot defend — and then beat them to the glass for offensive boards.
That’s the formula. Doc has the pieces. The next chess move is his.
Here we go again.
If I wasn’t so sure of my sanity, and hadn’t seen this script played out before, I’d be on the horn to a shrink. Did the Phoenix Suns cut Steve Nash? Is he still on the team? It’s hard to say.
For some reason, this two-time MVP has been ignored by the local and national media following each of his sub-par performances in this season’s Western Conference finals vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. Not so long ago, the national media proclaimed Steve Nash as the BEST basketball player in all the land. He was granted two Most Valuable Player Awards in consecutive seasons. And, when this series began, Nash was the first face of Phoenix.
While Nash has never made much a splash in the post-season, this year was supposed to be different. Instead, it’s more of the same. Game 1: 13 points and 13 assists. Game 2: 11 points and 15 assists.
Is this the BEST that a two-time Most Valuable Player can do?
It must be.
The national media has begun to act as though Steve Nash is no longer a member of the team. He’s not mentioned in the lead stories, save for a quote or two about the height of the Lakers and the effectiveness of the Suns offense. His photos are excluded wherever you look. No pictures of Nash in action on America’s leading websites? Really?
He’s missing from the Valley of the Suns.
He’s missing from ESPN’s Daily Dime.
Ten stories and hardly a mention of that underachieving two-time MVP.
It would be curious, if it weren’t so obvious.
He’s missing from Yahoo’s NBA site too.
How about the Arizona Republic? Surely the face of the franchise is captured here — doing something, anything!!?!?!?
Not a chance.
Are they thinking what I’m thinking?
Perhaps it’s time to put Nash on the bench and let him lead the 2nd unit.
The Lakers’ “Triangle Offense” is predicated on ball movement, rather than dribbling. Therefore, a premium is placed on the intellectual aspects of the game — reading defenses, spacing, attacking dynamic weaknesses. It represents a shift away from the Anachronistic Manual Labor Hoops Style of Steve Nash, which relies heavily on his ability to pound the rock into submission and wear defenses down with the sheer brilliance of his handle. It’s the equivalent of a horse-drawn buggy competing against a Lewis Hamilton-driven race car.
Perhaps the Suns would be better off passing the ball more, dribbling less, and substituting Steve Nash out of the game for another player capable of playing better man-to-man and team defense against the fast-moving Triangle Offense. The Phoenix Suns are a team whose successes and failures have historically been measured by through its point guard.
It’s beginning to look like his time is up. Too bad no one else wants to look. All the press can do is suggest that Nash is not performing as poorly as he appears to be. He’s a two-time MVP matched up against the oldest, slowest, living, breathing point guard in the NBA…and he’s done nothing…but in Phoenix, they’re “OK” with that.
“In two games, Nash has been OK. But his 11 points and 15 assists were tarnished by five turnovers. The Lakers have dismantled the Suns’ pick-and-roll offense, and erased all those creative scoop shots Nash normally makes under the basket. While you never doubt Nash’s preparation, effort or sincerity, he is not dominating his matchup against the Lakers’ Derek Fisher, one of the few matchup advantages the Suns seemed to enjoy entering the series.”
Don’t be fooled. Last night the two men serially depicted above combined to score 50 points (Richardson 27, Hill 23). They led their team in scoring and did most of the grunt work (with an assist from Jared Dudley) that needs to be done in any playoff series. Don’t think for a minute that the literal and VISUAL exclusion of Steve Nash from the coverage of these two blowout losses is accidental. Richardson and Hill are more than capable of getting their own shot. Do they need the offense to be set up by a player who is such a defensive liability? Didn’t Grant Hill run the offense for the Detroit Pistons and Duke Blue Devils in his former life?
The national and local media share a common mindset – one that does not require overt collaboration or a phone call. They’re on the same page because they suckle from the same tits. Nash is not to be seen until the Suns are shining. Until such time as the Phoenix Suns can muster a win, all visual representations of this series are to be restricted to the Negroes planting lillies in the field. Today, the media are slinging bows and arrows at Amare Stoudemire — the same Amare Stoudemire whose aggressive, to-the-rim style transformed the invisible Steve Nash from an average 7-8 assist guy into an 11 assist “magician.” Are chocolate thunderers like Stoudemire and Richardson the new face of the franchise in the whitest state in the association, or are they the new Poster Boys of Blame? Where is Steve Nash? Missing in action, and getting prematurely fitted for a bust in Springfield.
I don’t see much value in Nash’s performance or his favorable characterization by the media. I wonder what Alvin Gentry thinks about all of this? I wonder what he’ll think when he’s fired.
Yahoo has a catalog of 69 pictures from last night’s game. Steve Nash, the two-time MVP and team leader of the Phoenix Suns is pictured in the 29th picture. Take a look.
Witness Protection Program — a term formerly reserved for the “kid gloves” treatment of NBA officials for Cleveland Cavaliers star, LeBron James. The term now applies to any media effort to mask the failings of elite players under championship pressure. Steve is in!!! The Washington Post also included a photo essay/slideshow of the game. The 9 slide montage of Game 2 did not include a single image of Steve Nash.
Now that Nash (averaging 12 points per game vs. the Lakers) can be juxtaposed with a guy who just scored 30 vs. the Celtics, ESPN has decided to look at BOTH underperforming stars. Nash, as a two-time MVP going up against an aging player like Derek Fisher simply does not merit a comparison with a young, rising player like Howard facing a wholly different degree of competition. Howard, by contrast has to contend with formidable defenders like Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace. Nash, by comparison is on vacation.
Here is the Co-Mingled Misery Image:
Are these people serious?
Isn’t it actually Amare Stoudemire, not Nash, who is facing the Herculean challenge of this playoff series? Doesn’t Amare have to contend with Bynum, Gasol, and Odom, while Nash need only beat the Ancient Laker off the dribble without over-penetrating or tossing the ball into the stands? Perhaps Steve Nash should really be juxtaposed with an underachiever like Rashard Lewis.
We’ve passed soft bigotry. We’re on to the tyrannical.
Last night, the Phoenix Suns and two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash were dismantled by the Los Angeles Lakers and one-time NBA MVP Kobe Bryant, 128-107. Nash scored 13 points and recorded 13 assists in a lackluster performance punctuated by intercepted passes, excessive dribbling, and porous defense. Too bad the national media has chosen to focus elsewhere. No one has put out an APB on a guy who is always missing once the calendar moves to May.
Doesn’t anyone want more from Nash?
- Not ESPN. The Daily Dime thought his 13 and 13 performance was just fine.
- Not Yahoo. His name didn’t even come up, except in a pithy comment about the Lakers height.
- Not The Sporting News. Nary a mention.
One more game with only one open eye might not have been so uncomfortable for Steve Nash.
Nash saw too much of the Los Angeles Lakers. Way more than he ever imagined, wanted or secretly feared.
It was Pau Gasol’s ample wingspan greeting him as he turned corners on pick-and-rolls. It was Lamar Odom’s length obstructing the sight lines to Nash’s usual secondary targets on the wing. It was arms everywhere, basically, to compromise Nash’s restored vision and complicate his passing angles.
It was also way, way worse for the Suns everywhere else they looked in a 128-107 pounding, starting with a teamwide defensive surrender that will promptly hush all the recent chatter about how much tougher and stingier these Suns are.
Nash’s muted 13 points and 13 assists in 28 minutes would have to be classified as a bright spot for the Suns, measured against everything else they were subjected to in this humbling evisceration. As Nash later confirmed about his health, after his first game since closing out his longtime tormentors from San Antonio with his right eye swollen shut: “That was the least of my concerns tonight.”
Stein’s doing a better job of protecting Nash than Amare Stoudamire.
Low expectations are a bitch. Do you expect more from Steve Nash? If not, why not? Is Steve Nash being held to a lower standard because he’s a minority? Is the failure of the media and the public to demand more standing between Nash and true greatness, rather than hollow accolades issued by a politicized press corps? What does he need to do for the Suns to compete?
From the West Virginia Division of History and Culture
January 16, 1959: Elgin Baylor boycotts basketball game in Charleston
Most of the 2,300 West Virginians who braved icy Charleston streets and near zero weather on January 16, 1959, to see the Minneapolis Lakers play a professional basketball game against the Cincinnati Royals thought Lakers rookie star Elgin Baylor was ill or injured. Baylor, dressed in street clothes, sat on the bench during the game at the city’s brand new civic center. After the game, it was revealed that Baylor had refused to play in protest.
The Charleston hotel where the Lakers had reservations wouldn’t allow Baylor and two other black players, Boo Ellis and Ed Fleming, to stay with the rest of the team. The whole team moved to a hotel that accepted African Americans, but Baylor refused to play that evening’s game to protest the incident. Ellis and Fleming, who did play, attempted to change Baylor’s mind. Charleston native Rod Hundley, who played for the Lakers at the time, also pleaded with Baylor to no avail.
The Lakers lost the game to Cincinnati 95 to 91. Baylor later said he wouldn’t have played even if it cost him his entire year’s salary. The protest made national news although local reaction was mixed. Charleston sportswriter A. L. “Shorty” Hardman denounced the city’s segregation ordinances, but called Baylor’s actions “inexcusable.”
Charleston’s American Business Club, which sponsored the game and lost money because of poor attendance, filed a protest with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Lakers. Both the NBA and the Lakers refused to discipline Baylor.
Public attention often focuses on athletic events. Over the last fifty years, athletes and government officials have used sporting events to make political statements.
- The Olympic games have been used for political purposes on several occasions. Can you name these instances? What was being protested?
- Should politicians use recreational events as a means of influence?