June 08, 2010
Should the Lakers have pounded the ball inside, one reporter asked? Was that the advantage that you had over them in Game 1, the advantage that disappeared in Game 2?
Pretty simple set-up for Kobe to answer, right? So where does he go? Turnovers.
"Yeah, the key factor is turnovers," Bryant said, channeling his inner Bill Lumbergh. "You can't turn the ball over. We'll continue to pound the ball inside but we can't give them easy baskets in transition."
What happened in the fourth quarter, Kobe?
Seems to be a point of emphasis, here.
So how bad was Los Angeles at hanging onto the ball in Game 2? Fifteen turnovers, in a game against a sterling defensive outfit like Boston, seemingly isn't that bad. The problem is that the Lakers coughed it up on just over 16 percent of their overall possessions, which would rank them as the fourth-worst team in that area should they keep that mark up over the course of the regular season. And yet, the number is still nowhere near the bad nights we tend to see (with turnover percentages in the low 20s) from even the best of basketball teams.
Complicating that is the outright fact that the Celtics didn't score much off of turnovers. Rajon Rondo(notes) was fouled near the end of the game after stripping Kobe, Nate Robinson(notes) got a much-needed lay-in in the third quarter, as did Glen Davis(notes). And Ray Allen(notes) drove off a miscue for a missed lay-up in the first half. That's it. That's all transition runs off of turnovers. Beyond that, it's not as if Allen was killing it from long range because the Lakers were dribbling it off their foot, or Rondo was streaking to the rim after gobbling up a bad pass.
No, Los Angeles' issues in transition — and they had plenty — came off of missed shots. And it's those missed shots and blown possessions that the Lakers just don't want to cop to screwing up in their darkest hours. The team didn't want to deal with impatient offense in the regular season, and Bryant (and to a lesser extent Phil Jackson, and the rest of the players) wanted nothing to do with copping to the "don't you have Pau Gasol(notes) on your team?" questions following the loss.
So how do you stop transition buckets? Well, there's not a lot you can do. Even without the turnover leading to the break, the Lakers are still usually at a disadvantage once Rondo (with eight defensive rebounds, a mark that led the team) grabs the carom and runs. And they're even at a disadvantage once Rasheed Wallace(notes) (who was second on the team in defensive rebounds with six) grabs his fair share, and quickly finds Rondo, something he was quite good at in Game 2.
Even without the implied disadvantage that a turnover creates, the quick board or quick board and outlet was even more effective for Boston in Game 2 than the turnover-and-run option was. And really, short of Kobe absolutely face guarding Rondo as soon as a Laker shot goes up (nobody, not even Kobe, could pull that off and stay on the floor for any extended period of time), or the Celtics falling lazy again and letting the Lakers dominate their offensive glass (possible, but not something you want to count on), the trick here is to make shots.
To prevent the Celtics from taking those long Laker shots — the ones that rebound long and don't really have a great chance at going in to begin with — and running, the Lakers have to start making shots again. The team can't shoot 40.8 percent, as it did in Game 2, and it can't miss 17 of 22 3-pointers. It can't take 22 3-pointers, if it wouldn't mind, either. It has to run the offense. It has to pound the ball inside, and it has to initiate spacing and ball movement. It's a tired refrain, but it's gotten them this far. It got them out of Oklahoma City, and it can get them out of Boston alive.
The turnovers? Upon watching Game 2 again, you have to give the Celtics credit. Have to. The Lakers were coughing it up because the Celtics are a brilliant defensive team. And though there were some possible exceptions — two iffy moving screen calls against Andrew Bynum(notes), Pau Gasol making a bad decision to bring the ball low in the paint, that late charge call against Bryant — those 15 turnovers were mostly a result of the Celtics making an impact defensively.
And, really, those aren't true exceptions to the rule. Technically, those were moving screens on Bynum. It was Boston's quick hands and aggressive nature that forced Gasol into turning the ball over. And Kobe did lean into Glen Davis, as he was outside the block/charge circle. It was a nutty call that shouldn't have even been considered — not because Kobe is Kobe and it was his fifth foul but because it had no real impact in either direction and the flop should have been ignored — but technically, the Lakers were wrong there.
Can Phil Jackson use Boston's aggressiveness against it? Isn't that what the sideline triangle was designed for? Of course. But it brings us back to that old refrain. Just as it is with the missed shots, the long missed shots that lead to run outs, the Lakers have to properly run Jackson's offense in order to deny Boston the ability to pull ahead.
It's not the turnovers, Kobe, though they do need to go down a bit. It's the offense. As it's been all year with the Lakers, it's been the offense. When it's run properly, this team is unbeatable.
When it's not?
The series is tied 1-1, with three of the potentially five remaining games to be played in Boston.