All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Posts Tagged ‘mickael pietrus’

Two-Fer

Posted by hiphopmama on June 7, 2009

Magic Lakers
Orlando 96, LA Lakers 101 (OT)
     Lakers lead series 2-0

The last time I was able to type “Lakers lead series 2-0,” we were on our way to a 5-game victory over Utah. Needless to say, the competition is much stiffer at this point, but I still prefer seeing us hold home court rather than having to watch us stumble through those first two games. We now have to head to Orlando for three straight (god I hate this 2-3-2 format), but I still like our chances, whether we close it out on their floor or our own. 

This was a much better game, at least from a neutral perspective. As expected, there was no repeat of the game 1 performance for the Magic, who found their shot, at least for key stretches of the game. They weren’t the offensive juggernaut we witnessed against Cleveland, but they got big contributions from their big players to keep them in the game. It was close throughout, with the Lakers nursing a small lead most of the way, until a late third quarter surge gave Orlando the lead heading into the fourth. The fourth quarter was like a see-saw, as we reclaimed the lead, only to lose it before going back and forth between trailing and being tied. In the end, a good defensive possession enabled us to take (what we all thought would be) the last shot with the game tied. As it turned out, we didn’t even get a shot as Kobe blew by Turkoglu but was caught by Hedo from behind for the block. After review, the refs put 0.6 seconds back on the clock, which was plenty of time for Stan Van Gundy to draw up a play for a back screen lob to Courtney Lee. Turkoglu picked him out with a good, but not great, pass, and Lee had the task of bringing the ball back out from under the backboard and laying it in. Kobe got lost on a pick, but Pau rotated over at the last second to contest and it rolled off the rim. 

So we headed to overtime, where things really turned on a dime. We took a two-point lead on a pair of free throws by Gasol, but a Dwight Howard three-point play swung things the other way. Kobe hit a tough shot to take back the lead, and then we sort of ramped it up and took it away from them. Fisher stepped in to steal a bad pass by Reddick and ran the other way for a foul and two more free throws. We forced another missed shot by Turkoglu and then broke their backs with a three-point play when Pau finished on a nice dish from Kobe inside. That took the lead to six and it was a game of catch-up from there. Rashard Lewis managed to hit another monster three to make it close, but Lamar hit two clutch free throws to maintain the margin and send us to Orlando up 2-0.

And now I’m tired and lazy, so instead of coherent commentary I present you with some random thoughts. Enjoy.

  • Rashard Lewis had a hell of a game. That 18 point second quarter was incredible with all those threes, and he was clutch down the stretch too. 
  • Speaking of clutch, Turkoglu had a big bucket as well to put the Magic up two near the end of the fourth. The Magic came up short tonight, but they sure have some players who are willing to step up and take, and make, tough shots at the end of games. How many times in these playoffs have we seen that from both Turkoglu and Lewis?
  • Odom missed one shot all game. Damn we’ve needed him.
  • Howard looks confused by the defense we’re throwing at him. It helps that we have all those long bodies out there, but a lot of credit goes to the way they’ve switched up schemes and kept him guessing. Now if we could just figure out our rotations off of the double-team we’d be golden.
  • We have to make them pay for playing with no point guard. I’m not suggesting we go to the full court trap or anything – god knows we’ve never shown the ability to run that with any success – but a little extra pressure might scare them out of that tactic. You’re telling me you trust JJ Reddick and Hedo Turkoglu to bring the ball up and run your offense in the NBA Finals. Fine, now how about with a defender or two in their face? That’s what I thought.
  • We had another good defensive game, but it could still be improved. I saw a number of blown assignments. At one point, we had two guys running to Howard on the post, resulting in a triple-team and two open guys on the perimeter. A couple other times, the rotations were all wrong, with two guys rotating to the same player and then scrambling to recover. It’s not much to gripe about given how solid our defense was for the most part, but with the shooters Orlando have, we have to be extra crisp. I think we can still clean a few things up. 
  • Turkoglu played Kobe pretty darn well. SVG went with Hedo in overtime after Pietrus had fouled out in order to keep their best offensive line-up on the floor, and it worked out fairly well. Which is to say Kobe still burned them, but Turkoglu at least kept up with him and forced him to do his work under duress. That block at the end of regulation was just a good recovery after getting beat off the dribble, and he stuck with him well when he had the ball. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go back to that as their second option on Kobe after Pietrus. Mask or no mask, Courtney Lee ain’t scaring anybody.

Recap:

Highlights:

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Game 1: Check

Posted by hiphopmama on June 4, 2009

Game face

Game face

Orlando 75, LA Lakers 100
     Lakers lead series 1-0

Wow. Could that have gone any better? Literally everyone played well, from Kobe and Pau anchoring the line-up to Josh Powell nailing a three at the final buzzer. And oh yeah, we showed up defensively too, holding them to under 30% shooting and limiting Dwight Howard to one single solitary field goal. Yes, you read that right. Superman scored one bucket in 35 minutes of play. He also added 10 free throws for a grand total of 12 points. Orlando’s leading scorer for the night was sixth man Mickael Pietrus with 14 points. Turkoglu was a dismal 3-for-11 for 13 points, and Rashard Lewis was even worse at 2-for-10 and 8 points. Can you say ouch?

In a game like this, there are obviously a number of factors at work in our favor, but in my mind it once again came down to Phil and Kobe. Kobe and Phil. In whatever order you want, they are the reason for the season. In terms of game-planning, I don’t think they could have scouted this Magic team any better. They were prepared for every move they made, and at every step, there was a Laker defender waiting for them before they could get into rhythm. Even throwing Jameer Nelson into the game in the second quarter only shook them up for a few minutes before they adjusted and put the clamps down on them for good. All those supposed mismatches that were going to work in Orlando’s favor were nowhere to be seen and instead swung our way tonight, from Pau sweeping the floor with Lewis to Kobe brutalizing whoever was guarding him. Courtney Lee may have had a very good season and post-season so far, but that is done now as he is easy pickings for Kobe at this point. 

And Kobe did indeed pick him apart. He put up 40 points for the first time in his Finals career, and had the game been a little closer he would probably have picked up enough minutes to complete the triple-double he was closing in on. It wasn’t all Lee’s fault. Kobe spent much of his time destroying Mickael Pietrus, as well as anyone else they threw at him, willing his team to a game 1 victory. When Orlando briefly opened up a 5-point lead after inserting Nelson in the second quarter, Kobe came back in to stabilize the situation. He led the guys on a 10-0 run, reclaiming the lead for the Lakers and sending them into halftime with a 10-point lead. He came out in the third all guns blazing, getting into one of those zones where the Marvel Ultimate Alliance couldn’t have kept up with him. He tore the Magic apart on the pick and roll: when they went underneath, he pulled up for the J; when they crowded him, he sliced and diced his way through them on his way to the hoop; and when they cut off all his options, he somehow found a way to make the basket anyway, often with the opportunity for an and one after the fact. It was simply incredible, but only in a completely typical Kobe Bryant fashion. We have come to expect as much over the years, and he didn’t disappoint.

Then there was the supporting cast, all of whom played their roles to a tee. Pau was solid all around, looking anything but soft around the rim as he battled with Howard, jockeying for position in the post, crowding him off the spot, and generally swarming the whole Magic team around the basket. His length made things difficult for Orlando all night long, deflecting balls and contesting shots in the lane. Our other 7-footer had a good, if brief, performance tonight as well. Phil had them looking for Bynum early in the game, and he responded with aggression on the block and good defensive effort against Howard. He did pick up his customary two first quarter fouls, but only after he had knocked down a shot or two and doing his part to prevent any Superman dunks. Odom was aggressive as well and was our third player in double-figures with 11 and a hard-working 14 rebounds. Fisher didn’t have a huge role to play, but he had some early buckets that helped set the tone as well. Luke Walton had a helluva game as well, picking up 9 points on 4-for-5 shooting in 24 minutes. He was his typical savvy self, reading what the defense was giving him and knowing when to play his advantage and take it to the hole. He had three straight baskets at one point to help stretch the lead, and it was more of Doug Collins’ “found money” for us.

Only Ariza was slightly off-kilter, but it didn’t last too long. It may have been the anxiety over playing against his old team, but for whatever reason he looked full of jitters in the first quarter. He was over-pursuing on defense and generally looked rushed on the floor. Phil did well to sit him down for a while in favor of Luke, who gave us some great minutes and allowed Trevor to settle himself down for the second half. I don’t expect him to have that same problem going forward in the series.

It’s tough to extrapolate too much from this game because, as they say, it’s just one game. Whether you win by 20 or you win by 1, you’re still just up 1-0 and need three more wins to close it out. What you can be assured of is that the Magic will come back with a much better effort in the next game and are not likely to shoot so poorly again in this series. Obviously, the Lakers present much different match-up problems than they were accustomed to playing against on their road to the Finals through the East, and with as good a coach as SVG, they are sure to rebound. And for as much credit as I give our defense tonight – specifically in the ability to play Howard straight up without committing extra defenders and not allowing him any easy looks – the Magic simply missed shots. On other nights, those shots are going to be falling and we’ll have to find a way to respond. The margin of victory suggests that we have some wiggle room there, but I don’t think there is a Lakers fan out there who isn’t a little worried about our consistency. That said, after witnessing Kobe’s display both during the game and afterward, I don’t think he’s going to allow us to lose. He just wants it too much and is too dangerous to be stopped by anyone the Magic can put on him. Couple that with the fact that he never has to guard a primary offensive option and you have a formula for a dominant series for #24 and likely for Lakers success. Look for us to hold court in game 2 as well.

Recap:

Highlights:

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Is It Thursday Yet?

Posted by hiphopmama on June 2, 2009

pau howard
How am I supposed to survive a week with no Lakers basketball? I guess I’ll find out soon because, win or lose, the season will be over shortly and I’ll be forced to find another form of subsistence with both the NBA and European soccer leagues entering their off-seasons. For now, luckily, we have at least four more games to look forward to, and the most important of the season at that. 

We now know that the Finals match-up will be between the Lakers and Magic, who moved on at the expense of the Chosen One’s Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Poor Nike won’t get quite the bang for their buck with those cute puppet commercials without the vaunted Kobe-LeBron match-up, but the Magic weren’t having it and sent them packing. ‘Bron Bron, in all his wondrous glory, saw fit to ditch his opponents and teammates after losing game 6, skipping out on all the postgame festivities, including the shaking of hands with the Magic as well as all press conferences. But, you know, he’s a “competitor” so he doesn’t need to engage in all of that. As he said days later with his Yankees cap firmly planted on his bulbous head. Don’t get me wrong, my favorite player is quite the asshole himself and probably gets more ill will from various corners than any other NBA superstar. But he never bailed on his teammates that way, no matter how fierce the competition or heartbreaking the loss. I guess James is just bigger than the team, which is a pretty good indication that he both could and should consider making his exit after next season. Sucks for the city of Cleveland, but bon voyage to the King. Go live it up in New York with Nate Robinson and Quentin Richardson and whatever coach they have brought in on that carousel. Maybe the spotlight will suit him better than the W’s.

On to the actual Finals, I have to say I’m more worried about the Magic than I would have been about the Cavs. Yes, any team with LeBron James is always a threat, but there was very little around him to threaten us. The Magic, on the other hand, have a stacked line-up of perimeter threats, all surrounding an incredible anchor in Dwight Howard. As they showed against the Cavs, they are formidable around that three-point line all the way down that roster. Even recent addition Rafer Alston can knock them down on occasion, but the biggest dangers are Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and sixth man Mickael Pietrus, all of whom use their size and speed advantage on the perimeter to free themselves up for the trey. Needless to say, the ability to pound the ball down low with Howard helps open things up exponentially as the game goes on, which, as Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw noted, accounts for their incredible late-game surges to make up early deficits. As their opponent’s interior defense wears down and perimeter defenders have to sag, it leaves their long-distance shooters the extra room they need to fire one up. 

The bad news for us? We don’t defend the three-point line particularly well and have been burned by it on numerous occasions. The good news? It’s almost the entirety of their game, as they both live and die by it, and you all know what they say about teams who depend on the jump shot. 

The best, admittedly pro-Lakers, tactical breakdown you will find is over at Forum Blue & Gold, where they assert that the mismatches all line up in our favor. The one match-up that I think is neglected in this analysis is Pau Gasol on Rashard Lewis, which presents some interesting issues to say the least. While Pau is certainly long enough to contend with Lewis, the question remains as to whether he is quick enough to keep up with him on the outside. I expect Orlando to work that match-up to the fullest to look for any chinks in our defensive armor. Bynum will be expected to mark Howard, which I believe he can do with some level of success for as long as he can stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. Since I don’t expect him to be able to do either of those things for very long, I figure we’ll see Pau at the five quite a bit and Odom on Lewis. That’s a much better match-up for us, although Pau gives up a lot in terms of bulk on Howard. That said, I don’t think anyone will be able to do much of anything about Howard on the block, so I’d rather lock up their shooters and let Superman go for 40 than worry too much about the front-court match-up.

On the offensive side of the ball, I like what I see. Who in that starting line-up guards Kobe? Courtney Lee? I don’t think so. Rashard Lewis? Not nearly quick enough. Mickael Pietrus is the one player who can do a serviceable job – did you see him on LeBron against Cleveland? – but he doesn’t even start and no one really stops Kobe anyway. Neither Turkoglu nor Lewis have the length to deter Gasol, though Howard will be a more formidable opponent. Still, Pau’s speed in running the floor may help him in terms of both fast break points and post positioning. 

What it comes down to, as always, is our ability and desire to play our game. If we play to our full potential, at anything close to the level we showed in game 6 against the Nuggets, the series is ours to win. Much as I have campaigned for Stan Van Gundy as an elite coach in the league, we still are the better coached team with superior talent and versatility through our whole line-up. We have home court advantage, and now that we are at the final stage, you would think motivation wouldn’t be a problem. If we can just put all the pieces together, we will have our fates in our own hands. If, however, we play the kind of lackluster defense and tepid offense that saw us need seven games to beat Houston, this will be a very long series indeed. I don’t think it will be a short series in any case, but I see it going our way with Pau proving his worth and finally shedding that “soft” tag for good. Official prediction: Lakers in 6.

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