Thursday, June 17, 2010

Game 7- LA's Championship to Lose

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / June 15, 2010)

I really didn't feel there was a need for a Game 7 Preview after the Lakers easily beat the Celtics in Game 6. If the Lakers don't have a letdown then they should easily win tonight.

Using length, quickness, and ball movement, I predicted that LA would dominate this series as long as Bynum contributed. That has pretty much held true with Bynum logging 25+ minutes in 4 of the 5 first games and cancelling out Perkins in Game 6. Without Perkins, the Lakers can penetrate with ease and grab rebounds (52-39 in Game 6) on both ends of the court. This opens up uncontested perimeter shots or offensive put-backs.

There are a few things that may prevent LA from celebrating:

Consistently Inconsistent

Heading into Game 6 the Lakers were very focused since they were facing elimination. They dominated most of the game but espescially the first half. However, during the third quarter the Lakers struggled through a handful of offensive plays- walk the ball up, pass around the perimeter, stand around, & take a bad shot as the 24 runs out. Following Game 6 all they've heard about is how dominant they were, the Perkins injury, and how a Lakers victory would impact Kobe/Phil and Lakers vs Celtics. 

The Lakers need to be motivated (and somewhat angry) to play their best basketball. I'm not sure if they're in the right frame of mind to put together another dominating effort. 

Good Ron or Bad Ron?

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / June 15, 2010)

Ron Artest had 15 point and hit 3 three's in Game 1 and Game 6. Outside of those two games he hasn't shot over 50% or scored over 10 points. If Ron is hitting shots then the Celtics will pay for doubling Kobe and Pau. Which Ron will show up?

Better Bench Production from Boston

I think we can safely assume that the Celtics' reserves will play better than they did in Game 6. Look for Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace to score 15-20 especially since Wallace will probably start. Wallace can change the game because he stretches LA's defense. This will give Garnett, Allen, Pierce, and Rondo more room to operate without the fear of a double team. In Game 6 Wallace missed 6 three's and was 0-7.

Well-Rested Old Celtics

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Game 6 was less than 48 hours after Game 5 and a cross-country flight. This scenario favored the Lakers who are younger and had the home court advantage. Now the Celtics are well rested with two nights in LA and no cross-country flight. Plus, they really didn't put out a max effort in Game 6 with most of the starters playing few minutes in the second half. With more rest, the older Celtics will have better energy and more lift in their jump shots.

A Different Team Without Perk

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / June 15, 2010)

With Wallace and Davis playing more minutes the Celtics have more offense. They can also try to increase the tempo and use different looks to confuse the Lakers. In Game 6 Doc Rivers experimented with a two pg lineup (Rondo and Robinson) and then a two sg lineup (Tony Allen and Ray Allen). This could cause the Lakers problems since Boston has had two days work on a this new offensive strategy.

This is the End

The Lakers have everything going for them so long as they stay focused they should beat Boston. Whatever changes the Celtics make, they shouldn't bother the Lakers, who have the personnel to overcome any adjustments.

But this is now a one-game series with immense pressure primarily on the Lakers' side. Pierce could get hot, Allen could hit 10 three's, an injury to the Lakers, or something else could tip the scales in the Celtics' favor. Stranger things have happened & history is not on the Lakers' side- Don Nelson's shot, 9 straight Celtics championships over the Lakers, and a Game 7 home loss to Boston in the 1969 NBA Finals.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Art of War and Game 6 Adjustments for the Lakers

Game 6 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics is tonight. Something has got to give. I heard that the Celtics have never lost a series after leading 3-2 and that Phil Jackson's 10 million-0 after winning game 1.

Since Game 3 Andrew Bynum has been ineffective (43 minutes, 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 0 blocks) and the series has reverted back to the 2008 Finals with the Celtics controlling the paint. This is fine for the Celtics who continue to win as the Lakers try nothing new to change the outcome. Watching the Lakers pass the ball around the perimeter and then look to Kobe to bail them out is painful!

(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

What's surprising is that Phil Jackson hasn't changed what the Lakers are doing. For all his wisdom and the worshipness bestowed upon him, no one has questioned that he's been outcoached by Doc Rivers. The Lakers need to break out of the triangle when necessary. Two successful examples are the two-man game between Fisher and Bryant in Game 3 and the high screen-roll with Kobe and Pau against Orlando in the 2009 Finals. 

Maybe Phil is immune to the criticism because he finds ways to win and two days from now we'll all be praising him for the Lakers' comeback victory. For the Lakers to win, it would help if Phil remembered strategies from The Art of War by Sun Tzu, a military strategy book that Phil has surely read.

Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards... Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.
- Sun Tzu

The words "toughness" and "physicality" (i'm pretty sure this isn't even a word!) have been incorrectly thrown around recently. Hey, i get it, it's fun to say "work harder" and "play tougher," but the Lakers should be playing smarter. Everyone wants Lamar and Pau to suddenly put on 20 pounds of muscle and start pushing people around like they're Dwight Howard. Instead, as Sun Tzu suggests, LA should attack Boston's physical style and use it against them.

So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
- Sun Tzu

Enough with the Philosophy, get to the Tactics!

What's Boston's strength? Strength!

This all starts with Kendrick Perkins, whose numbers don't reveal the impact he has on the game. With Bynum injured Perkins eats up space, grabs rebounds, and pushes anyone out of rebound position. He's really good at planting his feet and pushing with two hands. At 6'10" he's roughly the same height as Lamar and a couple inches shorter than Pau and Bynum. At 278 he's the same weight as Bynum and has 30 pounds on Pau and 50 on Lamar. With this height-weight combination he can easily push his opponents out of the way. 

Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Tony Allen play tough one-on-one defense against Kobe and Pau. Their strategy is to push-up against Pau or Kobe and prevent them from generating any momentum when they put the ball on the floor.

They first make the catch very difficult by staying close to Kobe or Pau and preventing them from receiving the ball where they want it. When they do get the ball, the Celtics move into Pau and Kobe giving them no room to dribble or go towards the hoop. Obviously if someone crowds you on defense you try to go around them. Kobe and Pau cannot get around their opponent because when they put the ball on the ground their defender is still engaged (hand or forearm) with them. Technically this is a foul but the ref's aren't calling it and there's no point in complaining about it at this point. With a defender engaged with them, Pau and Kobe cannot get by their defender or are going so slowly that help defenders can easily rotate.

Turning Boston's Strength into a Weakness

Using strength and leverage requires being in close proximity to your opponent. The Lakers- who are longer, quicker, and faster- need to move without the ball, pass more, and swing through hand-checks. If the Lakers do this then it will prevent defenders from locking on Pau/Kobe and Perkins from owning the paint. If Perkins has to help or move around then he's away from the hoop which makes it more difficult for him to box out.

If Bynum can't contribute Phil should try using Mbenga who should be able wrestle with Perkins. The two are similar in style so Mbenga should be able to keep Perkins off the boards and hold is ground under the hoop.

To clear space Pau and Kobe can swing through the hand-check allowing them to break contact and possibly pick up a foul on their defender. If they do this a few times the defense will have to give them more room.

Let's look at LA's offense which gives Perkins paint control and allows the Celtics to help on Pau and Kobe. At 42 seconds into the video we see why the Lakers offense struggles-

Let's look at what happens with 10 seconds left on the 24-

First, Pau and Lamar are both setting a screen for Kobe which is kind of pointless since they're all bunched up. The key problem the Lakers are having is on the weakside where Fisher and Luke Walton allow one defender (Rondo) to guard two people while the other defender (Pierce) can roam freely. As the play develops, Fisher & Walton don't move from their positions, Pierce slides into the key, and Kobe puts up a shot over three defenders. Instead, if Walton or Fisher cuts there will be a clean pass to whoever Rondo leaves.

Another example of stagnant offense is Tony Allen's block on Pau Gasol in the third quarter (1:22 of the video).

Notice that the play involves four Lakers standing around the perimeter and Pau sealing for the lob. When the pass is made into Pau, Tony Allen can leave his defender because he has been watching the play develop and doesn't have to worry about his man (Sasha) who is right in front of him. To prevent Tony Allen from helping, all Sasha has to do is make a hard jab in one direction for a split second. This could force Tony to turn his back on Pau and chase Sasha a little bit.

The point here isn't that Sasha made a mistake but rather that LA's offense doesn't move around which allows help defenders to negate LA's individual offensive stars- mainly Kobe and Pau. In this play Rondo or Davis could also have stopped Pau from scoring. And because four Lakers are on the perimeter the Celtics also have inside rebound position to easily collect the miss.

The Lakers further prove my point through some plays that worked in Game 5. Watch what happens (2:56 into the video) when the Lakers pass the ball around and move without the basketball-

The Celtics play pretty good defense in this possession until Ray Allen doesn't realize Kobe is cutting to the hoop-

This is more good offense by the Lakers than it is bad defesne by Ray Allen. Notice that when Kobe cuts, Ray is thinking about helping against Lamar driving or Andrew/Artest under the hoop. Because the Lakers moved the ball around Ray was unable to keep an eye on both his man and the other Lakers.

Later in the video (4:53) there's another good example of the Lakers moving the ball & breaking the Celtics' defense. This time it's without Kobe but again involves movement and someone getting into the middle. The key play is made by Luke Walton who slowly (not really looking to score) & patiently drives into the key. He waits for the defense to step up and has an easy pass to Sasha who smartly moved without the ball and went to an open spot-

Notice that Tony Allen is forced to guard Lamar & Sasha out in the perimeter. Tony  picks up  Lamar cutting through key (incorrectly- helps already in the key!) and leaves Sasha for a wide open three. This is a decidely different outcome from the previously play where Tony Allen was a help defender, made the right choice, and blocked Pau's shot.

Also if Sasha misses there are angles and mismatches for the Lakers to sneak in and get an offensive rebound-

In this case notice that Walton has inside position on Rondo and Davis is trying to box out Pau Gasol. Also, Lamar and Farmar could easily sneak into the key to collect a long rebound since Pierce is floating in between them.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately for the Lakers, most of the other highlights in those videos involve the Celtics moving the ball on offense and the Lakers standing around when they have the ball. LA's defense has been okay but they cannot continue to score below 100 if they want to win the series. The Celtics are slower, older, and need close-proximity contact to stay with the Lakers. For the Lakers to win, they must trust each other, move without the ball, create spacing, and turn the Celtics' strengths into weaknesses.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Game 5 Preview: LA's Tied Despite Failing Strategy

Like a dog chasing its tail, the LA Lakers will continue their same strategy as they try to beat the Boston Celtics tonight in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

For four games now the Lakers have been in control (leading in 3 games, tied in one) of each game through three quarters. It feels like Boston gets off to a quick start (Allen, Garnett, and Pierce in Games 2-4), LA catches up & takes control through halftime, and then both teams struggle through a seesaw third quarter. But the fourth quarter has been owned by the Celtics who have outscored the Lakers in 3 of 4 games (+7 in Game 1, +9 in Game 2, -1 in Game 3, & +9 in Game 4).

LA's Strategic Failure

During the fourth quarter the Celtics move the ball and make aggressive plays in the paint. Meanwhile, the Lakers pass the ball around the perimeter, get it to Kobe with ~8 seconds left in the 24, stand around, & then watch Kobe take a contested shot.  This hasn't worked through four games and yet the Lakers have the same strategy.

This is painful to watch because they keep doing the same thing over and over & it's unwatchable basketball! The Lakers continue to use the same offensive sets to try to get the ball into post players. This strategy fails in the fourth when Pau & Bynum are pushed out of their position. I wrote about this problem in my Game 4 preview and even included some solutions.  

LA's coaches have done nothing (outside of the Game 3 Kobe-Fisher two-man game) to change how they attack Boston. They have complained that Pau isn't tough and lashed out at Lamar Odom. Some of this is warranted but it's misdirected because it doesn't make sense to tell skilled players to become brute-strength players. Why play Boston's style? They Celtics want to stand around, push, and grab- this isn't LA's game. LA's coaches should be smart enough to find ways to get the ball into the paint and keep the ball moving.

The Celtics really haven't put a good game together and yet they're only two games from winning another championship. The Lakers have really lost this series so far.

Slowing Big Baby

Sadly i have to mention Glen Davis. He's played well so give him credit, but only the Lakers could turn him into a Finals hero for the Celtics. Going back to Game 1 i noticed that he was having his way with LA. Odom plays poor defense on Davis because he gives space to Davis who will then gather and initiate contact on Lamar to clear to get an open shot near the hoop. Bynum and Gasol have too much length for Davis to get space after clearing room.

If Bynum isn't able to play the Lakers could try putting Artest on Davis, Pau on Perkins, and Lamar on Pierce. Artest won't give Davis any room to create momentum and then initiate contact.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Game 4 Preview & Game 3 Thoughts: Bad Kobe, Good Fisher, No Pierce/Allen, & More...

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / June 8, 2010)

Wow, what a game! Yes, Game 3 of the NBA Finals was full of drama but it was also an awful game to watch. Kobe (10-29), Pierce (5-12), and Allen (0-13) are supposed to be great scorers/shooters that showcase the best of NBA. Hopefully, the game will be remembered for Derek Fisher's heroic play during the fourth quarter....Hopefully, Game 4 will be watchable

Bad Kobe and LA's Stagnant Offense

Kobe made good plays in the first-half while driving and creating open looks. In the second-half, when things broke down, he either took deep shots or had drives that resulted in highly contested shots. This was Bad Kobe when they needed Good Kobe.

To be fair, LA's offense deserves some of the blame for Kobe's poor shooting. Not only do they expect him to bail them out with the 24 running out, but they also stand around and allow their defender to help if Kobe attacks.

How LA's Offense Can Improve
Helping Kobe
You have to move or set a weak-side screen so that defenders have to keep an eye on their defender. If you're cutting or setting a screen, defenders will have to turn their back to Kobe which will give Kobe some more room to attack. Instead the Celtics have three guys straddling the paint ready to help if Kobe drives.

Inside in the 4th
Throughout the series the Lakers have had trouble getting the ball to Pau and Bynum in the fourth quarter. Some of this that Kobe taking over, but the primary problem involves the post position the Pau and Andrew get. They usually come across the key and try to hold their position in the low block. Because they've been pushed or because the pass doesn't come quickly, they usually get the ball too far away from the hoop. Two easy solutions:
1) Use a cross-screen from a guard/forward so that the defender has to go under/over a screen when Pau/Bynum are crossing the key. This will give help Pau/Bynum time to get open since they can present a passing angle while their defender is getting through a screen.

2) Clear-through screen from the passer. This is when the guard passes it into the post and then goes towards the baseline & around a screen that the post player sets. Normally when this happens, Pau/Bynum's defender will give room so that the passer's defender can slide under Pau. This is all the room that Pau needs to get closer to the hoop and make a good play.

Derek Fisher

 Leadership and excellence come in many forms, one of which must be playing beyond your potential when it counts most. It's really sad to see so many other players with bigger contracts, egos, and Twitter feeds that produce so much less than Fisher, who always makes huge plays in important moments.

Ray Allen and Paul Pierce

Ray obviously had an off-night for whatever reason- guarding Kobe, Fishers's defense, tired from Game 2, or the long distance travel from LA to Boston. Whatever the case he only missed 13 shots, Kobe missed 6 more! Regardless of why this happened the Celtics need more production from Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Too often the ball wasn't moving around and the Celtics were watching Ray Allen instead of creating screens or passing angles for Ray. One solution is to run more Pierce-Allen or Allen-Garnett screens to exploit LA on a switch.

Good Lamar, or Just Better Lamar?

Lamar had a decent game (5-5 fgs, 12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist) but that's only in comparison to the two horrendous games he had. The media makes it seems like he had a huge game and dominated the closing minutes of the game. Most of his damage (8 points) was in the first-half and included a banked-in 3-pointer. Yes, Lamar had two big hoops but he was totally outplayed by Glen Davis in the fourth.

Bad Officiating?

A lot has been made of the number of fouls called, key players in foul trouble, instant replay, and alleged uneven officiating. More than anything the officials have been calling the game tightly throughout the first three games.

If they're calling it this closely, then you're going to get called for pushing, grabbing, and reaching-in. It's up to the players to adjust. On the Celtics side, how can you complain when you take two hands and push Gasol/Bynum from the low block all the way out to the free-throw line. Apparently, their idea of physical play involves getting away with pushing and grabbing.

Also, just because one team takes more foul shots (or has more total fouls) doesn't necessarily mean that the officiating is uneven. It could be that one team is just committing more fouls than the other.
Doc Rivers put on a great show at Wednesday's press conference. He complained about Fisher's defense, accused the NBA of caving in to Phil's comment ("unusual" fouls called on Kobe in Game 2), and then said that it wasn't the officials fault. I wish there was video of this but the NBA probably won't be producing video of someone complaining about the officiating.  From ESPN-

When asked how Fisher was able to be so successful drawing fouls while being screened, Rivers replied:
"What? Besides flopping? He doesn't do a lot extra. He plays hard. He's been in the game long enough to understand. I thought he got away with a lot last night. I thought there was a lot of holding going on and a lot of flopping going on and he finally showed that last one."

"But as far as the off-the-ball action, single double action, you are not allowed to hold. You're not allowed to bump and you're not allowed to impede progress. I read that this morning, and I'm positive of it. So you know, when that happens, it has to be called."
Addressing his points-
-Yes, Fisher does flop sometimes, but i don't think Doc should be complaining about flopping or else Pierce, Rondo, and Glen Davis will be in big trouble
- Phil just said that there were "unusual" fouls called on Kobe which is not a direct and blatant complaint about officiating. Doc's just doing this so that the media creates a firestorm to point the finger at the NBA.
- When Doc says it's not the officials fault he doesn't want to get fined and sound like he's complaining even though he knows that's what he's doing.
- On Fisher impeding progress- yes, Fisher does sometimes grab/hold and this should be called. But Ray Allen also runs into Fisher when Fisher takes away a certain spot. This is a foul on Ray since Fisher has a right to be in Ray's desired path without being shoved out of the way.
I thought David Stern was going to hand out six-figure fines for complaining about the ref's, has Stern gotten soft? Doc's real goal is to get more people talking about the officiating so a fine may actual work against Stern and in Doc's favor.
Part of the problem is that players, coaches, media, fans, and pundits put the officials in a no-win situation. On the one-hand they say "let the players play" so that the play becomes more physical with fouls only being called when the officials have to. But when does physical play become a foul? Typically, only when someone falls down do the officials feel they must call something.
What about the rebound that Odom knocked out of bounds with less than a minute left? Oh yeah, Rondo fouled Lamar by grabbing only arm when trying to steal the ball. The foul was clear in the replay but for some reason the official didn't make the call and the Celtics unfairly received possession. But if the official calls that foul then Celtics fan complains that it was ticky-tack. So either which way the official is blamed by one side.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Celtics Win Game 2: Allen Sizzles While Kobe Misses

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / June 6, 2010)

There are a lot of reasons why the Boston Celtics won Game 2 over the LA Lakers. Those reasons included Ray Allen's remarkable shooting, Rondo's plays in the fourth quarter, bad officiating, and Kobe in foul trouble. Many of the changes I mentioned in my Game 2 Finals preview came true but not to the extent I imagined.

Two important changes had a major impact on Game 2:

1) Keep Ray Allen on the floor. Obviously, Ray had a ridiculous first half, but he was also a factor in the second half even though he only scored five points. He drew so much attention from LA that he created mismatches and scoring opportunities for others. At 1:29 of the video, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest both guard Allen leaving Paul Pierce for a wide open jump shot:

2) Defending Kobe Bryant. The Celtics did a much better job defending Kobe and they were also the beneficiary of the three offensive fouls called on Kobe. The two offensive fouls Kobe received in the second half were terrible calls. However, they did a do a better job of holding their ground when Kobe penetrated and making him take difficult shots. Ray Allen stayed out of foul trouble and did a good job of just making Kobe work hard for every shot he took. Even Tony Allen had some good aggressive minutes guarding Kobe.

How the game was decided

The score is tied 85-85 with 6:15 left in the fourth. Andrew Bynum has 21 points, Kobe has 13, and Pau Gasol has 24 points. How many touches did Bynum and Gasol get for the next ~5 minutes in crunch time? If you answered two, you guessed correctly.

"The more things change, the more things stay the same"....."They are who we thought they were"...(insert your cliche here)

For most of Kobe's career there has been a debate about his unwillingness to share the ball and play team basketball. During the last few years, his ability to hit good and bad shots has given him the upper hand in this discussion. Even in Game 1 he was consistently patient and distributed the ball throughout the game.

With the score tied at 85, Kobe makes two plays by himself on the Lakers next two possessions to give the Lakers a 90-87 lead. The Celtics would score the next 11 points while the Lakers would commit turnovers and watch Kobe miss three shots. The shots Kobe missed included a deep three-pointer and two drives into the key attacking multiple help defenders.

Instead of working through Bynum and Gasol, which had worked for seven quarters, Kobe was impatient and tried to take the game over all by himself. This is the conundrum that Kobe presents. Everyone knows he's the mamba, closer, finisher, etc. But through three quarters Pau and Bynum controlled the game. We've seen the shots Kobe's made in the past, so we don't think twice when he takes over the game even at the expense of good team offense. Why not get the ball to Pau/Bynum or run screen-roll to get the Celtics' defense to rotate? Instead, the other Lakers stood and watched as Kobe tried to take down the Celtics all by himself. It didn't work this time, what will the Lakers do next time?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lakers-Celtics Game 2 Preview

The Lakers will look to continue their success and go up 2-0 in the NBA Finals. Meanwhile Game 2 is Boston's last chance to steal a game in LA and take homecourt advantage. After a 13 point loss, they have multiple things to improve upon if they want to go back to Boston tied at 1-1.  Look for the Celtics to make some changes to try to get back into the series.

Changes for the Celtics

Keep Ray Allen on the floor
They need Ray on offense because he creates problems for LA when he comes off of screens. Since Rondo is unable to penetrate, Ray creates shots for himself and teammates on curl screens into the key. Paul Pierce also creates but mostly from the high post.

What happened?
Ray was in foul trouble because he picked up fouls guarding Kobe. If Kobe's going to have a big game then that's fine; but Ray can't also get into foul trouble.

Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images
Ray needs to play less aggressively on Kobe since the help defense is coming. Doc Rivers must also find ways to trap Kobe so that he's not attacking Ray so much.

Defending Kobe
What happened?
In Game 1 Kobe had 30 points and was able to score or create at will. Too often he came around screens and was wide open. In the third quarter the Celtics did a better job of trapping Kobe. This forced Kobe into a couple of turnovers and unsuccessful drives into the Celtics' help defense.

1) Make Kobe dribble further out in the perimeter where his options are more limited. Perkins needs to come out on Kobe until a guard rotates back. Or he can double Kobe. Sometimes Kobe will try to drive and score over big men helping in the key. If you're the Celtics, you'll take your chances with this rather than having Kobe make easy passes that lead to open shots. Also, when the Lakers watch Kobe drive into multiple defenders they lose rhythm and have a tendency to make mistakes.

2) If you're going to double Kobe you might as well try putting Rondo on Kobe. Rondo will do a decent job of harassing Kobe around the perimeter and also rotating if he loses Kobe on screens. The Lakers will probably counter by putting Kobe in the post. This works in the Celtics' favor since they can get the ball out of Kobe's hands by sending the double team.

Attacking LA
The Celtics could run more screen-rolls that involve Pierce and Garnett or Allen and Garnett. Either of these options will create a mismatch that the Celtics can exploit. In Game 1, the Celtics ran mostly post plays. This works in the Lakers' favor since they have the length of Gasol and Bynum to make things difficult for anyone in the post. The Celtics can counter this by forcing Bynum and Gasol away from the hoop where they have to run around and find a guy to defend.

Mix it up!
Nate Robinson poses problems since he can hit the outside shot. On screen-rolls he has multiple options that will break down LA's defense: shoot the three-pointer, drive into the paint, or pass to an open teammate. The Lakers will be in trouble if Bynum or Gasol has to come out and cover Nate on a high screen.

Changes for the Lakers
Defending curl screens
The Lakers did a poor job of defending Ray Allen when he comes around curl screens from the baseline.

The Lakers can counter this by preventing Ray from getting the ball. Ray is curling on one side of the floor and the pass is coming from the top of the key or three-point line. If the guard defending the passer knows which side Ray is on, he can step to that side at an angle to prevent an easy pass to Ray. Yes, the defender gives up the lane but the Celtics might not be able to exploit this. This video (at 1:25) shows what happened in the third quarter-

Derek Fisher could step to his right at an angle if he knows that Ray is curling off a screen on that side of the floor. This would open the lane to Nate Robinson but the help defense (Shannon Brown and Gasol) may prevent Robinson from scoring or creating a shot. Brown could leave Rondo out on the perimeter to guard Robinson.

The same exact situation occurs at 1:39. This time Rondo is entering the pass so Brown has two options that involve leaving Rondo open. He can cut the pass off if he knows where Allen is or he can drop towards the free-throw line to double Ray Allen.

Pau isn't getting good post position
Pau allows defenders to push him too far from the high or low post. In the low post this is a problem because his post game is best at 8-10 feet from the hoop. At 10+ feet from the hoop he has to dribble towards the hoop (which invites help defenders) or is limited to face-up jumpers. His deadly right and left jump hooks are not an option that far from the hoop. At 1:58 in the video you can see one instance of this:

When posting Pau allows defenders to easily push him in his back and away from the hoop. To counter, Pau needs to find ways to prevent defenders from having an angle to simply push him. The easiest solutions is to face his defender for longer periods of time until the ball gets to him.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lakers Control the Paint and Beat Boston in Game 1


The formerly soft LA Lakers convincingly beat the Boston Celtics 102-89 in Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals. In my Finals Preview, I predicted several reasons why LA would dominate this series. These predictions held, and the Lakers had a relatively easy win. There were moments when it seemed like the Celtics would get back into the game but they never did.

Things the Lakers did well

Pau Gasol & Andrew Bynum dominated Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins even though Bynum only played a few minutes in the second half (not sure if he even played in the fourth quarter). Gasol (23 points and 14 rebounds) outplayed Garnett and Perkins who together put up 24 and 7 rebounds. Bynum's numbers (10 points and 6 rebounds) may not look significant but he created openings for his teammates since the Celtics have to keep someone on him when he's near the hoop. He was also able to tap rebounds & loose balls to himself or teammates. Gasol and Bynum were largely responsible for the Lakers 16-0 advantage in second chance points. 

LA's backcourt switched so that Kobe Bryant guarded Rajon Rondo. Early in the game Rondo created several scoring opportunities when Kobe left him near the hoop to help with post defense. For the rest of the game, Kobe did a good job of staying in front of Rondo and not leaving Rondo to help.

On offense, Kobe pretty much did whatever he wanted on his way to 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. He didn't have a great shooting night (10-22) but he was able to score and create shots for others. Kobe got into trouble a few times when he tried to shoot over two/three Celtics or pass after the defense was all over him.

Although Lamar Odom was mired in foul trouble during most of the game, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown came off the bench to give the Lakers some good minutes. Both guards were able to penetrate and  collapse the Celtics' interior defense. Brown got to the rim at will. As a big guard, he creates some of the same matchup problems that Kobe does.

Ron Artest played extremely well on both ends of the court. This was despite getting into foul trouble late in the first quarter which prevented him from playing much of the second quarter. Sure Pierce ended up with 24 but Ron made him work for every point. He also played great defense when he rotated onto a center or power forward. Ron played well on offense hitting from all over the floor including three three-pointers.

Things the Celtics did well

Paul Pierce had a huge game (24 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists) even though Ron Artest played tough defense against him. Half of his points came from the free-throw line but he did miss all four of his three-point  shots. His ability to get to the line could benefit the Celtics later in the series by getting LA's big men in foul trouble and creating open looks for his teammates.

Despite meager (12 points and 7 rebounds) numbers, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis had productive contributions. They were both able to dictate how they wanted to play instead of being pushed around by Gasol and Bynum. Davis also did a great job when defending Gasol. He was able to push Gasol out to the three point line instead of allowing him to get the ball at the high post. And when Gasol went into the low post, Davis had already pushed him from his comfort zone.