Rubberneckin’, Chapter Three: In which we attempt to lash out in a professional manner

June 10th, 2009 by John Krolik

Quickie Game Analysis:

-This is two series in a row where the Magic, the #1 team in defensive efficiency over the regular season, have decided to engage in flat-out shootouts. And it’s worked pretty well. I’m not even sure this is a bad strategy; the Lakers play better offense than any serious championship contender I’m likely to see in my lifetime, and with the zone LeBron was in this playoffs, the Cavs were going to get theirs offensively as well. SVG continues to completely amaze me.

-Has there ever been a more fun finals double-mismatch than Rashard Lewis vs. Pau Gasol? Two fantastic offensive players who have no possible chance of guarding the other one, and neither one’s team can really spare a cross-match or an extra defender. So each one just tries to make the other team pay more. Tonight Pau went 9-11 from the field, Rashard 8-14 with 3 threes and 5 assists to boot. It’s just fun to watch.

Barometer Watch: Rashard with the previously mentioned 21/5/5, Lamar with a quiet 11/2/1, although LO brought his usual fantastic amount of activity. The “Lamar’s magical 15 points theory” holds true for another game-I don’t have the numbers on this in front of me, but I believe this brings the Lakers’ record to 8-1 when he scores 15 in these playoffs.

I’m not sure if I’m on record as saying this, but I think it was a huge mistake for the Lakers not to bite the bullet and give Jordan Farmar a true starting vote of confidence. I know he was hurt and played erratically, but Farmar’s got the talent of a legit starting point guard in this league, especially in the triangle with his size, stroke, and solid pedigree, and Derek Fisher is just not a starting-quality point guard. He’s really not even all that useful of a cog: he’s a smart guy and has made big plays in big games, but he is not playing smart basketball. He’s choking the offense for the second playoffs in a row, he’s taking bad shots, and he can’t stay in front of anybody. But nobody else is ready to take those 35 minutes in big games because they haven’t been groomed with comittment.

I mean, how is the upgrade that Andrew Bynum, who’s gotten a ridiculously long rope IN A CHAMPIONSHIP RUN, has brought more significant than the upgrade from Fisher to a clicking Farmar would be?

Odd stat of the game: The Magic got 2 threes from players not named Rashard Lewis, and only shot 5-14 from deep on the game. This wasn’t about hucking threes; the Magic were moving the ball like we saw them do against the Cavs, stepping into their jumpers, and draining them. Amazing offensive display.

And then Kobe. Look, the Magic, who I again remind you finished #1 in defensive efficiency over the regular season, shot an NBA Finals record Field Goal percentage on their home floor. This game had no business going down to the final few plays, but it did anyways, largely because Kobe Bryant was freaking unbelievable. In that first half, he was absolutely immolating. A hot Kobe is a scary thing to watch.

I believe he missed like 1 shot over a 7:00 minute stretch, a floater that got blocked out of bounds, then came back with a 4-point play. When they bit low, he made the jumper. When they crowded, he drew the foul. Ridiculous.

Then he went cold in the second half. You know why? The law of averages, as likely as anything, and some defensive adjustments, plus a few shots tossed up in desperation time to kill his field goal percentage. Now, if this was a normal player, we’d look at this game and move on. He made some great plays early-a lot, in fact. He couldn’t keep it going on the road, missed a few free throws, and had the ball swallowed up trying to split a double against a great screen-roll show defender in Dwight Howard.

But since it’s Kobe, there’s been an impossible standard set up, and it’s one that has been used to discredit LeBron in the wake of the Magic Series. (Albeit mainly, at this point, in the far-out Laker-centric corners of the blogosphere that I continue to read out of sheer masochism and a need to feel out how my ideas would play out against the harshest possible audience)

There’s a standard that’s been set up where we expect the “next” perimeter superstar to be perfect, especially in clutch-time situations or big-game situations. I think a lot of this comes from Jordan: for all intents and purposes, in his last six full seasons in the league he never lost an elimination game, period. Over time, that gets glossed to Jordan being perfect when it mattered most, which in a way he was. So after the Cavs fail to win the series you get articles like this one over at Silver Screen and Roll (by Josh Tucker, whom I actually know and like.)

A good portion of the article is about Kobe’s stellar Western Conference Finals, but since we’re all writing in the Vitamin Water era, LeBron is in the top picture and nearly half of the article is devoted to a detailed breakdown of his shortcomings in the Magic series, specifically his turnovers in Game 4 and missed free throws in game three, as the Cavs theoretically could have won both games were it not for these gaffes.

So is that the line in the sand? Is the other side supposed to come back with a celebratory Emperor’s New Clothes Post about how Kobe missing 5 free throws, including crucial ones down the stretch, and turning it over on LA’s last real posession of the game, a game which for all intents and purposes would’ve closed out the finals, reveals that all the good things about his character and game are, in fact, false? Or go on to say that had Courtney Lee made that layup and punished Kobe’s blocked layup and defensive mix-up with a loss, than Kobe’s clutch prowess would be very damaged indeed?

Of course not. But there’s an element of bizareness to this whole affair that we’re probably better off giving ourselves to than continuing to try and extrapolate big plays as a function of the important things about the True Ability of the best players in the game. Yes, if Courtney Lee makes that layup things are different, just like they are if Rashard misses that three in game 1 (especially) or game 4. Game 1 was LeBron’s best performance, including stretch performance, of the playoffs. Game 2 was maybe his worst, up until the final shot.

But it goes deeper. If that ball even gets to the backboard on Kobe’s game 3 layup or Hedo blocks it out of bounds, the Magic don’t have any time left, the game goes to overtime like it did, the Lakers win like they did, and we all pretty much realize that it was smart to make the drive and take as much time as possible off the clock, and we’re not talking about any of this in the first place. Hell, if Hedo holds the ball a second longer in Game 2, there’s no LeBron shot.

These things do not happen for a reason. They happen for no reason. There is no such thing as a characteristic play in these situations, because they don’t happen often enough for patterns to emerge. Other than Ray Allen, who I literally am unable to picture missing a free throw, Kobe is the guy I’d want shooting free throws for my life. Does that change the score of the game that just happened? Does the score of the game that just happened change the fact I want Kobe shooting a free throw for my life over LeBron, or anyone else, if I’m to be truly honest? No and no. (Although LeBron already has sort of shot a free throw for my life-If he’d missed one of the two in Game 4, I literally think I would be dead. I am absolutely serious. I could not breathe. And yet I digress.)

You have so many chances to make the big play when it matters most. MJ made almost all of ’em. Frank Selvy missed his only one. Robert Horry got a few, and didn’t slip up. Kobe’s made his share, and missed his share-he didn’t get it tonight, but in all likelyhood he’ll make good on his next one this week and get a ring for his troubles. LeBron has too. At the end of the day, season, or career, life, you add up all those big moments, those crucial junctures, look at how you did, and you’ll know what kind of a player you were. We’re anxious to make it the other way around, but that’s just not the way the breaks of the game work.