This has been one of those years that shows a lot about us in terms of where we are in our national mindset, reflected through sports. And if you don’t want to go that broad, at least as far people that watch the NBA is concerned. And the result? We’re some cynical bastards. After Pierce returned from injury and knocked down two threes, of course people were comparing it to Willis Reed. What else are you going to compare it to? If I say, “Injury. Playoffs. Return. Heroic.”, you’re going to say “Willis Reed.” Same way that if down the line, I say “Spanish. Seven foot. Posterized. Chump.”, you’re going to say “Pau Gasol.” Why? Because Pau Gasol is the only seven foot Spanish guy to get posterized in the Finals! That’s why! Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand why people are wondering aloud if the response to his situation was overblown, and others are wondering if he faked it. I have my doubts as well. And that makes me sad for myself. Why can’t we just let go of scrutinizing it and just watch it unfold? It’s not like it was a flop. There was a lot of legitimate pain there, oversell or no oversell. So why do we immediately start to criticize Pierce for faking it? I can understand it from Lakers fans. That’s what any good fanbase would do in this situation. And Lakers fans do it, too, which is a nice coincidence. But for neutral observers to immediately rush to “He must be faking it, that’s pathetic” is just kind of sad. I wonder if it’s the flopping, baseball’s fall from grace, or a more general dark-hearted cynicism that pervades our mindset. I mean really, at this point in sports, is there anyone you trust? At all?
One of the prevailing defensive theories I subscribe to is the idea that you can’t shut down NBA teams, not in this day and age. There are certain offensive tenets you have to accept before you take the court. So the goal is to localize the weak spot, and channel everything to that weak spot. For example, Kobe Bryant is going to score 20+ points. It’s going to happen. But what you want is him scoring 20+ on 24+ shots, and force as many of them away from the basket as possible. Kobe’s a great jump shooter, don’t get me wrong. But it’s pretty simple logic to jump to “Kobe will miss more jump shots than dunks.” From there you look at what kind of jump shots you want him to take. You don’t want him unleashing the crossover-pullup on you. That’s death. You don’t want him on the high block weakside fadeaway. That’s also death. So you play hard to the baseline, and make him spin to the strong side, towards the basket. Then you bring the double as soon as he turns. Two hands in the face, push him backwards, then immediately rebound. That’s the formula. And it worked, at least last night. There’s a play that had become my favorite Lakers play to watch. Bryant starts on the right side wing. He dishes to either Radman, Gasol, or Odom on the right elbow and immediately cuts inside of an off-the-ball screen, grabbing the immediate touch pass back, allowing him to leave the ground about three feet out, double-pump like he likes to on dunks, glide through the air and slam it down. It’s beauty. It’s watching a gazelle throw the lion behind him into a tree trunk and then leap across a ravine to safety. It’s efficient. It’s smart. And I didn’t see it oncelast night.
Speaking of off-the-ball screens, the Lakers ran a ton of them last night, and they were effective in the first half. I’m turning into a broken record, aren’t I? Everything was effective. In the first half. I’m not sure what changed in the second, I’ll have to go back and see how the Celtics defended those screens in the second. But the screens were interesting. There was almost no ISO called for anyone, and only Derek Fisher found himself in a spot once, and Kobe had one. Thing is, you WANT more ISO. ISO forces the double-team to cover more ground, leaving the ball rotation open and the defense vulnerable. As for the off-the-ball screens, chalk this up as another reason Jordan Farmar needs more than 7 minutes of freaking playing time. Who do you want curling off the wing screens, Derek Fisher or Jordan Farmar? I’m not debating Fisher was fantastic in the first half. He was. But in the second (again, pattern), he was forcing it, and wasn’t playing that position he tends to play. You know. Point guard.
Like almost everyone else, I’m confused as to what this game means in the greater context. Do I feel like the Lakers could take Game 2? Absofreakinglutely. Despite everything else I’ve said, the Lakers were in this thing right up until the Garnett putback. Then you could literally see the little wind the Lakers had die. Do I feel like the defensive blueprint was effective tonight for the Celtics? Absolutely. Do I think a lot of Kobe’s shots rimmed in and out like everyone keeps hammering? Absolutely. Do I think the Celtics could force him into that same situation, bothering him just enough again? Absolutely. The only thing last night proved were things we already knew. This is going to be a great series, Paul Pierce is the Truth, both these teams are very good, Sasha Vujacic shoots too much, the Celtics play great defense, and the Lakers can’t beat anyone. As big as Game 1 was, Game 2 is even bigger. Game 3 is honestly the least important from where I’m at right now. If the Celtics win Game 2, they’ve held serve, and they get a one out of three shot to take one in LA. If the Lakers win Game 2, Game 3 is the “game before the must-win.” Sunday night should be fun.