No naked lap; Kobe bein’ Kobe; the case for Pau.
When playing pick-up basketball, wiffle ball, foosball, tennis, or anything where a score is kept, the goal is to steal a point (or game if playing a series) if you are clearly overmatched. In college, if your team put up an egg in foosball, you owed the winning team a naked lap around the dorm near the dining hall. It only happened once, but it was memorable. There was a lot of talk about an LA sweep (and LA already planning their victory parade), but luckily for the Magic, there will be no broom accompanying the Larry O’Brien trophy– the Magic stole a game. And more importantly, there will be no naked lap for the Magic.
The Magic shot a record high 75% in the first half of Game 3 in ORL, while finishing the game shooting just a notch above 60%. Whoa. With the Magic shooting as well as they can and better than ANY TEAM in the history of the Finals (in the first half), the Magic escaped with a 108-104 win.
Escaped being the key word. A four point victory.
This wasn’t the kind of blowout that could swing the momentum toward the Magic, especially with the ridiculously stupid Finals format of 2-3-2, which could potentially give ORL an edge if they could punch the Laker’s soul right in the face… the Magic had countless opportunities to blow this game open in the second half, and they just couldn’t do it. Oh yeah, in case you were wondering, Kobe did have a poorer FT shooting % than Dwight Howard (KB 50% and DH 69%).
What’s worse here: Kobe’s inability to close out the game or the Magical SVG’s inability to strangle and choke the sh*t out of the Lakers while his shooters had the hottest touch possible?
I’ll go with Kobe. Rafer, Rashard, Hedo, Dwight, Lee, Gortat, Pietrus all had fantastic games. The Magic are clearly underdogs, so it makes sense that they had to play out of their minds and beyond themselves to keep Game 3 close.
Kobe. Kobe. Kobe.
Kobe bein’ Kobe: close game in the 4th quarter, he gets tunnel vision, he tries to take over, he neglects teammates. Kobe bein’ Kobe. He still doesn’t understand the word NO… (Colorado, what?!)
For the first 2 games, we saw bouts of Kobe shooting from the perimeter after quick juke semi-lateral side to side step hesitation pump fakes while his teammates looked like their shoes were glued to the court by some product Billy Mays was selling at 3:00am.
But this makes me happy because let’s face the facts together: what’s the next best thing if the Celtics can’t win the 2009 title? The Lakers losing. Now I realize this probably won’t happen and Phil Jackson will earn #10 to surpass Red with the record for most titles by a coach and Kobe will prove why he’s one of the top players to ever play in the league (#4, this one as the lead actor)… but man I am holding out hope. I am holding out hope because the Lakers seem to be under-utilizing the team’s 2008-2009 team MVP: Pau Gasol.
The root of the problem here is Andrew Bynum. By the way, doesn’t Bynum look like Michael Jackson circa his days as the lead singer of Jackson 5? Anyone with me on this one? Anyway, when Bynum plays, Odom sits. We’ve seen that Gasol is deadliest when Odom is playing alongside him. This has nothing to do with specific match-ups or whether Gasol plays the 4 position (when Bynum is in) or the 5 position (when Odom is in). The bigger key here is that Bynum is like a 3-ton cinder block: the guy is not that mobile and with with fact that he still somewhat fresh off recovering from his knee injury, the “next Bill Russell” just eats up space in the paint. Eating up space automatically eliminates Gasol’s freedom to be a versatile and dynamic post-player. Remember that Gasol is a fantastic spot-up shooter with a consistent mid-range jumper (I mean come on, he’s European), he can shoot on the baseline, his fadeaway is near impossible to guard, he can front a defender or back into him, he’s a great offensive rebounder, and best of all… he is probably 1 of the 2 best big man passers in the league (he shares that honor with our very own Kevin Garnett). Gasol is what every coach wants in a big-man: versatile scorer that can put points on the board from all sorts of spots, crashes the offensive boards, plays good defense, has soft hands to finish around the rim and to handle the ball, has great court vision within the paint or to kick out to the perimeter, and for the most part is consistent when he gets a regular dosage of touches. When Odom is the lineup, Odom’s ability to space out the court opens up the lanes for Kobe and opens up the paint for Gasol to play his game. Odom’s mere presence on the court not only benefits Gasol AND Kobe, but forces defenders to completely change their game plan. The problem in this series wears #12 and is insanely strong and athletic. Gasol just isn’t strong or tough enough to guard Dwight Howard.
But obviously Phil sees the importance of playing Odom: Odom has played more minutes than Bynum in each game. And since Phil is taking his chances on the smaller front-court, then Gasol SHOULD be getting his touches. In Tuesday’s game, Gasol was 9-11 from the field and 5-6 from the line, for a grand total of 23 points. That’s 82% FG and 83% FT. WHY IS HE NOT GETTING MORE TOUCHES if he’s this efficient? Well, there is an easy answer: Kobe bein’ Kobe. We’ll come back to this at the end of the post.
Statistically, Pau Gasol is the season’s MVP: according to Dave Berri from Wages of Wins,
“Kobe Bryant fans will note that Kobe is not the leader in Wins Produced on the Lakers. Pau Gasol was actually a bit more productive. Gasol had his best season of his career in 2008-09, although the actual difference between what Gasol did this past season and what he did in 2006-07 (his last full season in Memphis) is not very big. Gasol posted a 0.240 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] two years ago. Had he maintained this production this year his Wins Produced would have been about 15.0 (a mark that’s still good enough to lead the Lakers in 2008-09).”
Berri sets the percentage of wins produced by Gasol at 27.5%, meaning that statistically he was responsible for more than 1/4 of the Lakers wins this past season. Using the same formula, Kobe’s percentage of wins produced was at 22.7%. Hollinger’s player efficiency rating (PER) has Kobe significantly higher than Gasol in the regular season(26.85 to 22.26), but they have been within 1 point of each other (on average) during the postseason.
The issue here isn’t necessarily a debate about who should be taking over the game, just the fact that they are under utilizing Pau Gasol. It’s the same question that everyone is asking: why aren’t the Lakers involving Gasol more? 11 touches isn’t enough for Gasol– he should be seeing 20 shots a night. Easily.
I would be furious if I was a Laker fan. Kobe bein’ Kobe has prevented the sweep, and now is a game away from making this a series. “Regular Season Kobe Bryant” shared the basketball and was the driving force in helping involve more guys by moving the ball: Luke Walton, Trevor Ariza, Shannon Brown, and Andrew Bynum all saw improvements to the offensive game because they simply got the ball more. Obviously Pau Gasol saw more touches this year. The team looked good, not just Kobe. Again, the Lakers looked good. Now, however, it’s Kobe default time with Kobe bein’ Kobe, playing 1 v. 5 in some unnecessary heroic effort to rescue a series that doesn’t need rescuing. You know when people make a bigger deal out of something than necessary or when people make more work for themselves, which in turn makes them dig a deeper hole to get out of? Kobe is doing these things– the Lakers are the far superior team. Out of the 4 best players on the court, 3 of them adorn gold and purple: Kobe, Gasol, and Odom. Why 2/3 of them aren’t being used MORE is beyond me.
But as a Kobe-Hater, I am fine with this. Give me a series to watch, and let me enjoy all of the small moments that I can where Kobe comes up short. But unfortunately, Kobe still can’t NO to romantacizing about the idea of taking over a game and being retaining the title of “best closer in the game.”
ENDNOTE • Go Courtney Lee (my flavor of the week– the guy is CASH MONEY: quick quick, fast fast, a great defender, hustles, emotional, fearless when driving to the hoop… CASH MONEY).