All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘trevor ariza’

All the Marbles

Posted by hiphopmama on June 15, 2009

Four

Four

LA Lakers 99, Orlando 86
Lakers win series 4-1

We did it. We won it all and avenged our humiliating loss last year to the Celtics. And I’m a day late. Dammit. By way of explanation (to my two devoted readers – yes, both of you), my father-in-law developed some bizarre sickness that we were unable to explain for some time, which meant my husband had to spend a couple days helping him out almost non-stop, which in turn meant that I was on 24-hour duty with the daughter. Hence no time for writing. But best believe we watched the game. Halfway through the fourth quarter, she mysteriously disappeared into her room and came back out with her huge Lakers #1 finger and said, “Go Lakers!” Indoctrination works.

As for the game, there’s not much to say. It was over in the first half, after we responded to their early energy burst with a couple sustained runs and put them away going into the locker room. Yeah they fought hard, yadda yadda yadda, but their spirits were essentially broken in that crushing game four loss and one more comeback by us was all it took. Straw, meet camel. In the process of closing the door for good, we got key performances from just about everyone. Gasol exploited his ever-present size and quickness advantage in going for 14 and 15. Ariza dropped in a cool 15 and once again provided the spark in the second quarter spurt that put us ahead for good. Odom also contributed some big three’s during that run in pursuit of his own double-double (17 & 10), and Fish pitched in 13 of his own points to the effort.

And then there was Kobe. It was the perfect note to end on for him. He put up the complete all-around game: 30 points (10-of-23), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks. He got us off to a good start, worked his teammates in, then carried us just enough the rest of the way to get us to the finish line. The Finals MVP was a foregone conclusion, but he put the exclamation point on it with his game. The detractors are all officially haters at this point.

It’s hard to sum this season up in a single post this way, after all I’ve put into watching and analyzing every single game. I can only say for sure that this is the most I’ve ever gotten out of a single NBA season, and that was the best shot I’ve seen since Big Shot Rob. And if you’re a Laker fan, you already know what I’m talking about. In terms of sheer excitement, I don’t think anything can beat the second championship of the three-peat for me. It was my first year back in southern California and thus the first time I was able to watch every Laker game all season long. Plus, rubbing it into the flaming wounds of bitter Sacramento fans made it all the more rewarding. You could even argue that that Western Conference Finals launched two future legal careers, only one of the typical smug, asshole variety. But for as gripping a season and postseason as that was to watch, this year topped it in terms of heady, aware basketball and my own immersion in the Laker game. This was a team on a mission, fully aware of the stakes after getting buried by Boston last year, and they played accordingly. It was as good a fit between coach, superstar, and team as I’ve ever seen, with Kobe taking the reins as often as Phil on the court and finally growing into the natural leadership role we’ve been waiting for him to inhabit all these years. And all the role players – and let’s be honest, everyone other than Kobe is a role player – well, they filled the team out perfectly, like hand in glove. Pau was the legitimate second option we’ve needed and about as consistent as any other player in the league. His shooting percentages were always through the roof. Odom’s willingness to go along with the sixth-man scheme and continued ability to perform at a high level were a testament to his professionalism, something which has occasionally been in doubt over the years. Fisher was his typical composed self, steadying the team and playing more minutes than he should rightfully have been asked to. And Ariza developed into the energy guy and defensive specialist every championship contender needs. If we can resign Trevor and Lamar, and obviously keep Phil on board for another year or two, there’s nothing preventing us from snatching up a couple more of these things in the coming years.

So congrats to the boys, and thanks for the great year. I don’t know how I’ll survive for the next few months during this foreign period they call an “off-season.” I suppose I could watch baseball… No, definitely not. I’ll just be bored the natural way. Till October…

Recap:

Highlights:

Advertisements

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

T-Minus One

Posted by hiphopmama on June 11, 2009

fishLA Lakers 99, Orlando 91
     Lakers lead 3-1

Out-fought. Out-coached. Out-played. I will erect a shrine to Derek Fisher, and to my sister too, for that matter, as she helped ensure a win by leaving the room for Fisher’s overtime three that put us up. Back when we were kids and I was a punk older sister, I would kick her out of the room when I got to a tough part in a video game because somehow she was “bad luck.” The sad thing was I always won when she left, so to this day we joke that she can help the team cause by taking a breather during key moments. She got home just in time to watch overtime, and I joked with her that she shouldn’t watch because we really needed this game, and she just happened to be in another room when Fish drilled it and gave us the lead we never gave up. So this win is for you, Danielle. May you always be in another room at the right moment.

What can you really say about a game like this? I’m still struggling to come to grips with it, and my team won. I can’t imagine how the Magic must be reeling after this kind of loss. Orlando had every opportunity to win this game, and they rolled out the red carpet for us to take it from them. They didn’t give it away – don’t let anyone tell you that – because we still had to hit the shots and make the stops to get the win. But it was their game to win and the let it slip away. Stan Van Gundy can dismiss the value of experience all he wants, but he was simply on the wrong side of it tonight. A Phil Jackson team wins the game in that situation nine times out of ten. Yes, we will occasionally lose games we should win, just like we should have capitalized on our chance to grab game 3, but it’s a rarity. Playing under Finals pressure is a whole different thing and I don’t think you can discount that, no matter how much Van Gundy wants to believe it’s just another game. Kenny Smith is right in pointing out how few rookies have ever led their team to a championship – it just doesn’t happen because there’s no equivalent for having been there before. Sorry, Stan, it’s just the truth.

It’s not an excuse, though, and he still should’ve had his guys fouling with 11 seconds left and a three-point lead. I’ll be honest – I texted my husband, “It’s slipping away” when Orlando had the ball with a 5-point lead and under a minute remaining. Then Kobe drops off a brilliant pass to Pau for a dunk and Howard misses two free throws to set up our out of bounds play. Phil elects to take it full court, we use Kobe as a decoy, and the ball goes to Fish, who pulls up and drains it from the wing. Jameer Nelson was there and eventually got a hand up, but he was playing way too far off, and Fisher did what he has done so often. He came through for his team and propelled us to overtime. 

Once we got to overtime, it was pretty much over. We had broken their backs in regulation, and there was no coming back from that. Orlando opened the scoring with a Rashard Lewis three-pointer, but they didn’t get another field goal. Kobe made back-to-back jumpers before Howard converted on one of two free throws to tie the game. We then came up with two huge offensive rebounds, Kobe drew the double (and dished an elbow) in the post and kicked it out to Fisher, who drilled ANOTHER three to give us the lead we never relinquished. Turkoglu fired up a quicker three than they really needed and we got a run-out dunk for Pau. Then another missed three by Turkoglu led to a Pau dunk plus foul, which turned out to be a flagrant on Pietrus for shoving him in the back and making no play on the ball. I was even happy to see him get into it with the Frenchman after the play, because he has had a tendency to not get as fired up as I would like or as the team would need. None of that tonight in a crucial win.

Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza would be our players of the game in game 4 of the Finals? Our big two made big contributions tonight, but Ariza was the man that got us back into the game after a horrendous first half. After getting zip in the first two quarters, he dropped 13 in the third, when we outscored the Magic 30-14. Then he hit a huge three with two and a half minutes left in the fourth after a blown play and with the shot clock about to expire to tie the game. And then there was Fish. It’s hard to quantify all the stuff he does for us, but tonight it was relatively easy. Whether it was diving on the floor to secure a steal or knocking down the two biggest buckets of the game, he was once again the steady hand in rough waters. It doesn’t top the 0.4 seconds shot, but it’s easily number two on his list of great performances with the Lakers. Those are the kind of players you need to win a title. Thank god he’s on our side.

Kobe shot 11-for-31. Pau kicked in just 16. All three big men – Pau, Lamar, and Andrew – were in foul trouble early, forcing us to go with DJ Mbenga and play all twelve guys in the first half. Kobe and Pau played a grueling 49 minutes, and we had to come back from a butt-ass first half after which we trailed by 12 points. But talk about championship poise. The mental toughness to come out a different team in the second half and clamp down on Orlando’s shooting. Just eight turnovers for four plus overtime from a team with a history of filling it up in the category. And the ice-in-the-veins coldness to take the opportunities when they were presented to us. All things the Lakers can claim but the Magic can’t, and the difference in this series. I think we owe it to Nick Anderson, who must have invoked his spirit by presenting the game ball. How else can you explain all those missed free throws when it counted the most? Yes, Diana, I believe they call that irony. Word to Alanis.

Recap:

Phil’s postgame press conference:

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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:

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Four More Left

Posted by hiphopmama on May 29, 2009

The masterminds

The masterminds

LA Lakers 119, Denver 92
     Lakers win series 4-2

Finally. Finally we put two wins together, and two good wins at that, including one on the road. We played as a team, hustled for loose balls, and took advantage of our huge size advantage on the inside. All things we should have been doing from the beginning, sure, but at least it finally clicked and we got the job done at the first opportunity.  No need for a game seven, we got that crucial close-out experience on the opponent’s floor, and the whole squad got involved in an impressive effort. Am I gushing? If so, it’s only because I have so rarely gotten to do it in this postseason, so I have to take advantage of it now. As last year showed, you can’t count on anything going into that last series, so for now, congrats to the Western Conference Champions and good luck heading into the Finals. If we play the way we did tonight, it won’t be a problem. 

And have no doubt, tonight we put on a clinic. The team came out aggressive, fighting on every possession, offensive and defensive, and it really set the tone. Pau said in his press conference, and I completely I agree, that it was the first road game where they really came out with the right energy from the opening tip, and they pay-off was an early lead that they were able to slowly build over the course of the game. Denver made a run early and briefly took the lead, but we responded well and closed the first half with a 13-point lead that proved insurmountable on a night when our role players were hitting their shots. 

Speaking of role players, did you see Trevor Ariza tonight? He was the primary reason we got off to a good offensive start, hitting three first-half threes and helping build that early lead. He finished a ridiculous 7-of-9 for 17 points and more solid defense on Carmelo. Lamar also came through for the second straight game, grabbing 8 rebounds and scoring 20 points at a cool 7-for-12 clip. He even knocked down both his three-point attempts, and at crucial moments for the team. Luke Walton was our fifth player in double figures in his role backing up Ariza, who got into a little foul trouble chasing Melo around. His 10 points were what Doug Collins calls “found money” in that we weren’t counting on his scoring in any way so it was a nice boost.

And then there were the big two. I’ve always maintained that Pau is the team’s barometer, and he buoyed us to victory tonight. Lamar is the X-factor and puts us absolutely over the top, making us all but unbeatable when he’s on form. But even with just an average game from the supporting cast, a solid outing from Gasol will usually be enough to get us the win. That was the case again in game 6, as he went 8-for-12 for 20 points and padded his statline with 12 boards, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Not to mention all the solid interior defense he played. Pau’s D in the paint was one of the major factors in our quick start, preventing the Nuggets from getting to the rim or developing any kind of rhythm. I’m surprised to see that he only blocked one shot, but he certainly affected a great deal more than that. Kobe was just Kobe. He came out with the perfect balance between facilitator and scorer, picking and choosing when to dish the ball and when to go for delf. As always, he was clutch down the stretch, but his most important moments for the team were at the close of the first half, when he spurred a huge run to send us into the locker room with all the momentum. From his step-back three to his left-handed block on Anthony’s floater at the buzzer, he led his team by example and showed them what was needed to close out a series on the road. And speaking of sweet statlines, here was Kobe’s: 35 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 block. All at an efficient 12-for-20 clip. You think he’s ready for the Finals?

Obviously that was a rhetorical question, but it’s not out of line to ask that question about the rest of the team. I hope and pray that this was finally the time when we turn the page on our iffy ways and put together a run of good games, but I’m hesitant to go that far. To be honest, this is more than I could have hoped for in game 6. Some Laker fan I am, I was expecting us to have to close it out at Staples on Sunday. Needless to say, I am properly humbled and vastly happy that it didn’t go that way, but I’m also too pragmatic to believe that we’ve put a complete end to our inconsistency. I think the most one can say is that we will hopefully carry the momentum of winning back-to-back good ones against a tough opponent with us as we prepare for an invariably tougher match-up with whoever we face in the Finals. Now that’s a road to be crossed on a different day. I’m just enjoying this one while it lasts.

Recap:

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Home Court Advantage, Part Deux

Posted by hiphopmama on May 23, 2009

Threeeeee!!!

Threeeeee!!!

LA Lakers 103, Denver 97
     Lakers lead series 2-1

Are you kidding me? Six points?? Someone won a game in this series by more than one possession? Don’t be fooled, though – this one was just as close as the others and could easily have gone either way.  The difference tonight was as expected, as it came down to Kobe vs. Melo. Tonight, for the first time in the series, Kobe won by a landslide.

Carmelo came out on fire again, scoring 14 in the first quarter and helping Denver get off to a quick start, but foul trouble kept him on the bench and disrupted his rhythm enough to throw him off after that. He only had three points and no field goals in the second half, partly because of improved defense by the Lakers. They were quicker to throw an extra defender or two at him when he drove to the basket, cutting him off and forcing decisions from him. And, to be honest, we were helped out by the Nuggets’ failure to hit their shots tonight, which helped us hang around even when we weren’t playing particularly well. The lead was rarely, if ever, as high as 10, and for most of the night it hovered between four and eight. The Lakers countered each Denver run effectively, keeping the home crowd from really getting involved and allowing them to stay close enough to swoop in and steal it at the end.

And we did steal this one, make no mistake. It wasn’t as criminal a theft as game 1, when we were vastly outplayed for three quarters, but it was definitely Denver’s game to win, especially in their own building. Kobe just wasn’t having it. He put up 41 points, bringing his three-game tally to 113 and willing us to a 2-1 series lead. Props to Pau Gasol, who, despite looking tired and decrepit at times, dug deep enough to carry us for a while in the fourth quarter. He had a couple tough turn-arounds while we were in the midst of five or six consecutive stops, allowing us to pull even with the Nuggets and set the stage for another Kobe clinic in the final minutes. Winded and exhausted, he still had the wherewithal at 93-95 to pull up and drain a three-pointer while heavily guarded to give us the lead with 38 seconds left. It was a truly ridiculous shot. Not quite as dramatic as Lebron’s but equally effective and more tightly contested. He brought the ball up in a strange arc to avoid the swiping hands of JR Smith, hung in the air a split second longer than usual, pumped his legs once, and fired it up to give the Lakers a lead they would not relinquish. 

The rest of the game was a replay of game 1 for Denver, only sadder. After K-Mart missed a lay-up and Kobe converted on one of two free throws, the Nuggets once again threw the ball away on the inbounds, once again as a result of a Trevor Ariza steal. Perhaps in an attempt to learn from his game 1 mistake, Karl used a bigger man to inbound the ball. Unfortunately, the man he chose was Kenyon Martin, a man certainly not known for his passing ability. Odom’s length forced him to lob it to a streak Carmelo, but Melo appeared to cut his run off a bit and Ariza streaked in, this time on his outside shoulder, and snatched the ball away. Again. As he took off for the other end, Anthony grabbed him to pick up his sixth foul and sentence himself to the bench for the final seconds. 

Ariza made both free throws, Kobe made four more, and that was that. Not even Chauncey Billups could come up with any heroics to save his team tonight, as his two free throws were all Denver could muster after the Ariza steal. Carmelo was clearly devastated on the sideline, watching in resigned agony as his team waded through those horrible final seconds, and even I felt bad for him given how incredibly he’s played in this series. Not that bad, though, but a little, I suppose.

As with any other Lakers game, there is no real take-home lesson here. A win like this for any other team would probably mean a turning point and an opportunity to get their minds right and blaze through the rest of the series. This Lakers team? Not so fast. The optimist in me wants to say they will put the clamps down and thoroughly destroy a demoralized Nuggets team in game four, especially now that they have adjusted somewhat to the altitude. The realist in me knows better. Game four will more than likely be exactly like the first three – punches and counterpunches in the first half, then a dogfight to the finish line. In my mind, the odds of us prevailing in close games are about two in three, which is borne out by the series thus far, so Denver may have as much as one more miracle win in them. That won’t be enough, though, and I still see this one going no further than six games. We’ll pretend that was the realist and not the optimist talking.

Recap:

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Off to a Better Start

Posted by hiphopmama on May 20, 2009

Play of the game

 

Play of the game

 

Denver 103, LA Lakers 105
     Lakers lead series 1-0

Sorry for the delay. This write-up was preempted by my attendance of the No Doubt concert, which was great, better even than this gripping game. I was lucky enough to get updates throughout (thanks, Diana), so my friends and I were biting our nails as it went down to the wire, and we let out a big “Lakers!” cheer when the final score came through. Poor Paramore probably thought it was for them. Oh well.

The best word I can think of to describe this game is EVEN. These are two quite evenly-matched teams, at least when the Lakers are somewhat off their game as they have been, and it was reflected in the tight scoreline in the final three quarters. It reminded me of a heavyweight boxing match, with each team punching, then counter-punching, then responding with a slightly reworked strategy. The Lakers came out flat, allowing the Nuggets to build as much as a 13-point lead in the first quarter, but after their second quarter spurt it was close the rest of the way. Around the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Denver had a seven point lead, but other than that it was always around a one to four point margin. 

And then we closed on them. Our front line had been battered and bruised by the shorter and, frankly, lesser pairing of Nene and Kenyon Martin, but Pau kept on battling and eventually got something going by crashing the glass, specifically on the offensive end. More importantly, though, Kobe took over. He scored 18 points in the fourth, with nine straight free throws, including four to ice the game. He got a big assist from Ariza, who made two key plays in our come-from-behind effort. The first was a three-pointer when we were down 94-89 with 4:16 remaining, at a key moment when you felt we could either make or break our comeback. A Kobe jumper and a Fisher three put us in front 97-96 with 2:30 on the clock. Ariza’s other game-saving play was his steal of Denver’s inbounds pass after two Kobe free throws put us up 101-99 with 30 seconds remaining. Kobe was guarding Melo, but Ariza came out of nowhere and closed on the ball like a cornerback reading a quarterback’s eyes, just in time to snatch the ball off Anthony’s back shoulder and race down court. Anthony Carter’s pass, presumably obstructed by Lamar Odom’s lank, had just enough loft on it to give Ariza that extra split second, and that was all he needed. Two more Kobe free throws later, and it was a done deal. 

Actually, Chauncey Billups did his best in the midst of all that to steal the game back, hitting two ridiculous, highly contested three-pointers, but it wasn’t quite enough for the Nuggets, who had to settle for second-best on a night when they were the better team for most of the game. 

I can’t yet decide on an interpretation of this one. There are two non-mutually exclusive ways to go. The first is this: Championship clubs close games. It doesn’t matter how you play the first 47 minutes, only who is ahead when 48 are completed. In the end, the “better” team doesn’t always win, just the team that performs better when it matters most. The Lakers have the game’s best closer and arguably its best coach, along with last year’s playoff experience, so they have the natural advantage when it comes to late-game situations. This win is just a sign that we have the right ingredients to get the job done even when we’re not playing our best. The other interpretation is slightly less favorable: The Lakers are scraping by and will soon meet up with a team or a situation that with catch them out. Sure, they escaped by the skin of their teeth in this one, but one of these days they won’t be so lucky. They continue to underperform, even in this most crucial of games, and if they can’t get their act together they will soon be shown the exit so they can retreat to their Hollywood homes and watch the Finals from comfier confines.

I sit somewhere in between these two extremes. Yes, they were at a notch below their best, but, aside from the opening six minutes or so, they were not exhibiting the lack of effort that characterized those two catastrophic losses in Houston. They weren’t phoning it in, they were just being matched, move for move, by a very good team that has found its groove. They slugged it out, with some brave performances thrown in there (Kobe’s defending, Ariza’s hanging in there). Carmelo had an exceptional game, one which I doubt he can repeat too many times in this series, and our bigs were outworked by a pluckier twosome, all of which helped account for the close nature of the game. The Lakers have the ability to play much better than this, while the Nuggets have much more limited room for improvement. J.R. Smith was far from his best, and Chris Andersen will play a much bigger role in front of the home fans, but I doubt they can defend much better than they did in game one and of the starters, only Billups has the potential to show much more than he did last time out. And when all the chips were on the table, the Lakers were the ones who found a way to win, which is what it all comes down to. That doesn’t mean that they won’t make it interesting, but if they can continue to perform with the kind of heart we saw over the last three quarters of this one, they should still make it through. So we can start this whole process over again with Cleveland. Or Orlando, apparently.

Game recap:

Highlights:

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

A Champion Caliber Win

Posted by hiphopmama on May 8, 2009

Lakers Rockets
LA Lakers 108, Houston 94
     Lakers lead series 2-1

Now that is how you play and win a playoff game.  Not just any playoff game, either, but a potentially series-swinging one in a contentious match-up against a serious contender. There was very little in the way of “afters,” as they would refer to it in soccer, referring to the extracurricular activities that marred game 2. There were a couple of contentious moments, but other than that, both teams just played hard, playoff basketball and gave it absolutely everything they had.

The normally stellar refs had another good game under difficult circumstances. They managed to keep a lid on what could have been a powder keg of a game, and they got the Vujacic call right even if they got the Artest call wrong. Sasha did come down a little hard on Wafer on that three-point shot, but in reality the Nilla-man jumped at a 45-degree angle into him, which could have been called a foul on the Rockets player instead. They gave him his three free throws and got on with the game, as they should have. The Artest call, on the other hand, was not so artfully handled. Yes he came across Pau’s head a bit and he crashed awkwardly to the ground, but he at least appeared to have some intent to go for the ball and clearly wasn’t looking to cause any kind of injury. It was either a hard regular foul (my vote) or a flagrant 1 at most. I could have understood the refs going with the flagrant 1 because of the circumstances of this series, but a flagrant 2 was pretty excessive. I fully expect that one to be overturned or at least reduced, and certainly no suspension handed down.

And the game. What a game. As a Laker fan, it was about all I could have hoped for. At this point you know they’re not going to blow anybody out and keep them down double digits the whole way, especially not against as tough a team as the Houston Rockets, so grinding out a convincing victory even through the nail-biting moments is as good as it gets. It shows that kind of champions poise that we’ve been looking for in them, and which they lacked woefully in game 1, and it is the first serious indication that they may be back on the right track. 

The first quarter was close, and the biggest edge we could claim was that we won the battle of the pace of the game by putting up 30 points in the first 12 minutes. We played the second quarter even but claimed the moral advantage by taking a 2-point lead into halftime with some good play to close the half, but we really got our mojo working in the third quarter, when we scored 24 and held Houston to a mere 14 points. As always, when our defense is knuckling down, there is little anyone can do to hang with us since we have such a killer offense. 24 points isn’t exactly a huge haul for us in a single quarter, but when we hold our opponents to 14 it is as good as 30 or more. 

We rode that 12-point advantage through the fourth quarter to a victory despite a few tense minutes when the Rockets got to within 6 on a Yao Ming slam dunk. Instead of panicking, though, we simply ran our offense, upped our defense, and gritted our teeth to get the victory. The next trip down court, Farmar calmly drained a baseline jumper, and Kobe hit a ridiculous three as the shot clock was winding down to bump it back up an 11-point gap.

And that, effectively, was the game. This was a quintessential playoff game in many ways, with defense being the foremost. Neither team made it to 44% shooting, but we won that stat battle, holding the Rockets to 41.7% while shooting 43.9% ourselves. Our distributed scoring was another hallmark of our good team play, as Kobe’s 33 was amply supported by 16 from Odom, 13 from Pau and Ariza, 12 from Farmar, and 8, 6, and 4 from Brown, Walton, and Bynum, respectively. The most impressive stat of the night, for my money anyway, was the turnover breakdown. While we scored 20 points off 17 Rockets turnovers, they were only able to capitalize with 5 points off just 6 turnovers. That means that all game long, we took care of the ball every single possession except for 6. That is simply incredible, especially for this Lakers team, which often seems to think it can get away with any number of turnovers by hitting shots. 

To me, this game came down to good coaching. No disrespect to Adelman, who has clearly done an incredible job getting the most out of this team without its best player and leading scorer, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the savvy – or star power – as Phil Jackson, and PJ worked his magic again tonight. No Derek Fisher? Fine, we start Jordan Farmar and instill the confidence and readiness in him to go out and have the biggest game of his career. (His stat line was 12 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1 turnover, by the way.) We lost home court and need this win to put ourselves back in the driver’s seat? Okay, our guys will come out ready and grind through a tough defensive game despite the “soft” label that is still being bandied about. The accusation that we don’t want it enough? Pfft. Just read our efficiency statistics and tell me who was better prepared for this game.

Let’s not get it twisted, now. This series is still a long way from over. That 75% number they kept quoting for teams who win game 3 after being tied 1-1 is all well and good, but it still means that 1 in 4 teams who lose game 3 come back to take the series. Those aren’t the most reassuring numbers as far as I’m concerned, and when this Rockets team is involved, I’m even tentative to call this more than a momentary advantage. But tonight’s was a huge game, make no mistake, and I do believe it will be a postseason-defining moment for us. If we can really drive the stake into their hearts all the way in the next game, we could essentially break their spirits and set ourselves up to close it out at home just like in the first round, as remarkable as that sounds. Will it happen? I’m not sure, but I’d say we have a good chance of doing it with our squad back at full strength Sunday with Fish’s return. My fingers are definitely crossed, though.

Highlights:

And here is Kobe’s 30+ footer to close the third quarter and give us the 12-point cushion that saw us through:

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Just Barely

Posted by hiphopmama on April 21, 2009

Jazz Lakers

"Oh, were we supposed to keep playing? Even in the second half??"

Utah 109, LA Lakers 119
     Lakers lead series 2-0

What’s new? We can’t keep quick guards out of the lane and we can’t hold a lead. Oh, and we rarely lose. I guess I’ll take those first two as long as they come with the third. We came out strong again tonight, building up another big lead in the first half and squandering it due to sloppy play in the third quarter. We had a strong finish to the third to set us up for the fourth quarter up double-figures, but that disintegrated after a while too and we found ourselves up just three points with three minutes remaining. An Odom lay-up and Kobe pull-up put it into the cooler, if not the refrigerator, but Ariza’s three with 33 seconds to go put the game on ice and shipped it back to Utah for game 3.

What was so disappointing here was that the boneheadedness was distributed throughout the team so evenly, even creeping into the play of bona fide clutch-masters like Kobe. Up just 5 points with 1:42 to play, Kobe throws a ridiculous full-court pass off a steal that gets intercepted but thankfully only leads to a Utah shot clock violation. Pau missed a pair of free throws late that would have left the ending much less in doubt. The whole team played lackadaisical basketball throughout the third and fourth quarters, seemingly drinking the Kool-Aid and believing their own hype. Deron Williams was a fucking beast again, and he refused to let his team go quietly into the night, firing away for 35 points and 6 three-pointers. His 9 assists outweighed his 7 turnovers, but the TOs hurt him in the end as they squashed any chance of a Utah comeback. 

This is the kind of game we’ve seen the Lakers play all year, and we attribute it to regular season malaise. “They’re just too good for the competition,” we say. “Wait for the postseason. They’ll get it together then, when there’s something to play for.” To which I say: bull…shit. There is no proverbial switch. You build and lose momentum incrementally, and you cannot simply turn it around because you feel like it. That means that you MUST play the entire game like every possession – both offensive and defensive – is crucial. No more of this taking quarters off business, especially the third. It’s inexcusable. We’re not THAT good, for pete’s sake. No one is.

Still, at the end of the day, we head back to Utah up two games to none and looking, realistically, for a split in the two games in Salt Lake City. We don’t have the most pristine record facing the Jazz away, so I don’t foresee a sweep, but one win out of two seems like a reasonable prediction. Then, if we don’t make too big a mess of it, we should be poised to close things out on our own home court in five games to give us ample rest time before the second round. Looking too far ahead, you say? Nah, never that. Just reading the writing on the wall, as even Jerry Sloan seems to have done. We’re still the best team in basketball, albeit by a slim margin (kudos to Mike Brown and Cleveland), but we’re going to have to play like it to claim that title officially, and tonight was not the best indication of our potential. Phil should yell/scream/meditate/WHATEVER some sense into them after that game and remind them that the better teams WILL make them pay for those kinds of lapses. Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me twice……can’t- can’t get fooled again.

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

One Down, Fifteen To Go

Posted by hiphopmama on April 20, 2009

Translation: "I'm Kobe Bryant and you're not."

Translation: "I'm Kobe Bryant and you're not."

Utah 100, LA Lakers 113
Lakers lead series 1-0

That went pretty much according to plan. We got a fairly comfortable double-digit victory on our home floor against the lowest ranked playoff opposition in the Western Conference. It’s nothing to get over-excited about, but it definitely puts us on the right path.

I won’t do much game summary, since everyone in the world was able to watch this one, but suffice it to say that, once we got ourselves on the scoreboard after a few tries, we never looked back. We allowed the Jazz to put up a big third quarter against us when we came out of the break looking complacent, as if we thought we had already won the game, but we played them even after that and the 22-point halftime margin saw us through to a game one victory. The statistical breakdown is encouraging as well. Only Kobe hit the 40-minute mark, which is to be expected from him in the postseason – I swear the guy is a cyborg – and Pau barely got to 37 before picking up his sixth personal and fouling out for the first time all season. The most comforting aspect of the game was how much production we got outside of those two. Trevor Ariza led us in scoring most of the way, until Kobe decided to let loose and seal it for us, and his 21 points came on a clutch 8-for-10 shooting performance. Lamar chipped in a solid 13 as well, and Luke got himself on the board as well with 5. And what can you say about Shannon (not Chris, Jeff) Brown? 3-for-4 from the field, all threes, for 9 points, plus 3 assists and a couple boards on top of his all-around hustle play. Can I start this man’s fan club?

Because it was such a straightforward game, it might be tempting to dismiss this Jazz team – as, I’ll admit, I have essentially done – but there were a few points from this match-up that are worth keeping an eye on. For one, we foul this team way too much. How often do opposing teams shoot more free throws than us? Okay, I honestly have no idea, but I’d have to guess we generally win in that category. Today, however, we continued the trend we started in the final regular season game by putting Utah on the line seemingly every possession. They shot 35 damn free throws to our 32. That’s not a huge margin or anything, but it’s still too many to be giving up to a team that relies so heavily on the pick and roll and has no true big man. Where exactly are all these fouls coming from? Granted, Deron Williams will draw a handful or two on his own, but why do we need to foul Ronnie Brewer EVER? All the fouls were part of a slightly troubling lack of composure for a few moments, which resulted in technical fouls for both Kobe and Lamar and threatened to halt our momentum. Harpring is an irritating little bastard, but he’s got nothing to really threaten us with besides his wayward forearms so just let him slide. In a similar vein, our 17 turnovers weren’t particularly pleasant either, especially since almost all of Utah’s offense came off of our missteps. If we can clean it up just a tad, we won’t have another problem in this series, or any other for that matter. Realistically, however, we will have a one-game slip-up somewhere along the way, almost certainly in Utah, and that will snap us back into focus. Let’s hope it comes at a not too painful time.

Game recap:

Highlights:

One final raised glass here to Kobe, who controlled the game throughout without having to dominate possession or take all the shots. He looked to set up his teammates from the beginning, getting them going before seeking out his own shot, and it paid big dividends in the form of multiple teammates getting and staying in rhythm. Trevor’s offensive explosion – and career playoff-high numbers – can be largely attributed to Kobe setting the table for him early on. Same goes for Shannon’s threes. He was a maestro out there today in orchestrating the whole team, and he was still able to step up and knock down bunches of baskets when we needed him to. Best player in the world till Lebron takes it from him via a title. I’m still waiting.

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Easter Goodies

Posted by hiphopmama on April 12, 2009

Getting there, slowly but surely

Memphis game + no injury = good night

Memphis 75, LA Lakers 92

(64-17)

This was a well-played game. Not perfect, not without its typical Laker moments, but well executed and well within control throughout. Well, after the 8-0 start the Grizzlies had and the three minutes it took us to score. But after that, it was smooth sailing. What’s more, I’d say we accomplished the things we needed to in this essentially meaningless game which was more preparatory for the playoffs than anything else.

It looked like Phil had given them the mission of executing well and smoothing out the rough edges in anticipation of more important games, and almost everyone did that. Kobe streamlined his numbers, taking just 9 shots and making 7 of them for 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists in 29 minutes. Pau had a rough start but eventually settled down and did well against his brother to grab a double-double of 12 and 13. Ariza and Fisher used the game to get themselves back on track a little, with Fisher trying to shoot himself out of a slump and Ariza accomplishing the same feat by getting to the basket. 12 points, 3 steals, 4 rebounds, and 6-of-9 shooting will get it done every night from Trevor. The subs also contributed solid minutes. Lamar didn’t have fabulous numbers, but his presence was a boost for the team. Luke was perfect on the night, making all of his shots and dishing it off for some beautiful assists, including a between-the-legs bounce pass to Vujacic for the jumper. Sasha played some feisty defense and shot the ball well. And Shannon Brown played even more positive minutes, getting himself on the highlight reel with a big dunk on the break for a three-point play.

Then, of course, there was Andrew Bynum. Don’t get me wrong – he’s still off – but he worked his way to a team-high 18 points on 6-of-10 in just 25 minutes. He probably would have played more if not for the fact that he picked up some early fouls and had to sit for the better part of the third quarter. Still, he made the most of his minutes, working around the basket and easing his way into the game again. If he can get some good minutes in the Utah game and use the first couple rounds of the playoffs to be reintroduced to the full rotation, hopefully he will be close to full strength for the big time.

And now, because I liked it so much last time, the good, bad, and ugly again. Good’s up first:

  • The Lakers. Yep, the team as a whole played this one great from start to finish. Or, more precisely, from three minutes in to finish. After that early deficit, they jumped in front and never looked back. There was a brief moment in the second half when Memphis cut the lead to 6, but it never got that close again and was as high as 19. Finally a straightforward win.
  • Luke Walton. The whole team played well, but Luke deserves a special shout-out for his brilliant tactical game. His court awareness and ability to pick players out at impossible angles always amazes me. I remember when he led the PAC-10 in assists as a center at Arizona, but I never expected he could keep up that pace. He has, and his unique skill set is a crucial piece to our puzzle. If he can occasionally knock down the open shot the defense will inevitably give him, he will be a great asset indeed in the postseason.
  • The Laker D. Another surprising note, but we have looked mighty solid on defense the last few games. We held Memphis to 36.6% shooting and 75 points, plus kept their leading scorer to 10 points. We also kept their surging PG in check and essentially anonymous, which is something we wouldn’t have been able to do earlier in the season. All good trends going forward.
  • Phil’s player rotation. Substitution decisions are an almost mystical science that few can master, but PJ knows exactly how to shuffle the deck. He has worked everyone into the mix and knows what he can expect from them in different situations. My only quibble is over Josh Powell’s disappearance from the rotation. He was playing a bigger role right after Bynum was injured, and I thought he did quite well, fighting for offensive rebounds and knocking down that face-up jumper. I could still see him playing a role in certain match-ups in the playoffs. Just another good option stuck at the end of our very deep bench. 
  • O.J. Mayo. Wow is this kid good. I’ll be honest – I didn’t see him making the transition to the NBA this well at all. I thought he might be a little one-dimensional, a little soft, not mentally prepared. Obviously I was completely wrong. He leads all rookies in scoring and is right there in contention for Rookie of the Year honors. Even with all that, I think the nod should go to Derrick Rose, just because of the greater burden he has had to bear as point guard and the composure he has shown in that role. But you couldn’t be mad at the choice of Mayo either.

The bad:

  • Darko Milicic. Yeah, it’s a cheap shot, but it’s still true. What a bust. I always thought it was a bad decision to take him, especially over Melo, and you’d have to agree I got at least that one right. He still looks lost out there, even after a few years in the league and doesn’t seem to really care. He is not a long-term project – he’s a lost cause.
  • Jordan Farmar. With just 13 minutes, it’s hard to say he got a real chance to get going, but he still looks all wrong out there. Falling behind Shannon Brown in the rotation won’t have helped any either, but he’s got to earn his way back into playing time rather than hang his head. Tomorrow is his last chance to prove he deserves a bigger role in the postseason.

The ugly:

  • Nothing really, except for maybe our three-point shooting. We were a dismal 3-for-15 (20%), but happily no one took more than 3 so it wasn’t like players were indulging out there. Not too much of a worry in a throw-away game like this one.

Highlights:

Cleveland thwomped Boston today at home, so while it’s not mathematically impossible for us to catch them, it is everything but at this point. If we win our final game against Utah and they lose their last two – at Indiana and home against Philadelphia – we would have the same record and own the tie-breaker because we swept the season series against them. Seeing as how we’re the only team to win in Cleveland this year, however, it doesn’t seem likely. I don’t particularly care, since we can obviously beat them at home and have superior experience and a deeper bench, but I suppose it’s worth keeping an eye on. Till Tuesday.

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »