April 12, 2010
So, the Lakers lost to the Trail Blazers at home on Sunday and by only three points. Los Angeles actually had a chance to tie the Blazers at the buzzer, but a play drawn up for Pau Gasol(notes) to hit a 3-pointer resulted in a bad miss and Portland taking down a completely healthy Laker team in a closely contested back-and-forth.
Then, earlier today, Sebastian Pruiti over at NBA Playbook put together another one of his expertly done play breakdowns, showcasing just how the Lakers tried to tie the Blazers on Sunday afternoon. With a 3-pointer, natch, but this one for Gasol, a player that hadn't hit a 3-pointer in three attempts before Sunday's launch.
The launch was a failure, as has been the case for Los Angeles' offense all season. Relative to where this team should be (top five in the NBA in offensive efficiency, at the absolute lowest), of course. There are a heap of reasons why; we've been beating you to death with them since December and even went into the issue just a few weeks ago.
The issue remains the same, though, and you can't help but wonder if things are finally cracking. In a bad way.
Because one thing that Sebastian didn't point out regarding Phil Jackson's decision to go to Pau in the finals seconds was something that he Tweeted about on Sunday. How Kobe was laughing and looking at Jackson while cackling away as the Lakers came out of the final timeout. Jackson was not laughing, and I think it's a safe guess that Kobe — despite the guffaws — wasn't really finding anything funny.
And the other thing? Kobe whiffed on his one role in the final play — screening LaMarcus Aldridge(notes). Kind of touched him with two hands, didn't put a body in front of him, much less a body into him. As a result, LMA (no expert defender) was able to follow Gasol out to the top of the arc without any resistance and was able to contest Gasol's three.
Lamar Odom's(notes) pass to Gasol was poor, but it was poor for a reason. Had he sent it the direction it should have gone, in a straighter line to Pau's chest, long-armed Marcus Camby(notes) would have deflected it, and the game would have been more or less over.
So, Gasol misses a contested shot, Odom's pass was bad because of great defense and Kobe was the only guy who had a chance to do his job and didn't.
And here's the part where everyone gets to yell at me because I supposedly hate Kobe.
Great. Why, though, is he doing this? Why is he allowed to laugh at his coach when he knows a cameraman from ABC is right in his face? Why is he allowed to whiff on a screen like that? Because Phil didn't call up the final play for him?
Kobe has history. He gave the Lakers a second wind in what Phil figures is his great sell-out year, the 2003-04 season. Nailed a 3-pointer against the Blazers up in Portland to beat them late in the season, securing solid playoff footing for the Lakers. He's also hit clutch shot after clutch shot this season. Won so many games. He's within his rights to question the play.
He's not within his rights to laugh at Phil, and then essentially make it so Gasol's look is completely contested, just because he's angry.
But what of Phil Jackson: soldier, sailor, tinker-tailor, ploughboy?
If the play works and Gasol nails it, then Phil is regarded as an unorthodox genius yet again, not unlike Gregg Popovich, who enjoyed similar plaudits putting the ball in Tim Duncan's(notes) hands in the 2008 playoffs down three to the Suns, allowing for a non 3-point shooter with a good stroke to tie the game from deep.
All Jackson has to do is rely on a good stroke and screen-setting and decoy status of one of the greatest competitors this game has ever seen. And he has to assume Kobe's not going to mope. I'm pretty sure, exiting that timeout huddle, that Phil knew the only way that Pau's shot was going in was off of a lucky bank, because Kobe clearly was not up to executing.
Is that on Phil? Sure. Is that on Kobe, as well? Sure. Phil shouldn't have called that play, more than likely, but the NBA also has quite a bit of game film on how the Lakers like to use Kobe when down three with just a few seconds left. A tinker in a game the Lakers didn't really need could pay off if executed successfully, and even though I'm hemming and hawing right now, the loss behind a play like this doesn't really have to hurt that much.
Assuming the Lakers handle this like champions. Every part of me, knowing this game's history, tells me I'm going to be laughing at a column like this in a month or two. Because the Lakers will flip the switch and start to dominate. But then I read Kobe's postgame quote.
"When's the last time you saw me set a down screen?"
Um, all the (expletive) time, Kobe.
All the time. You play with nine fingers. You play with broken everything. I've seen you sacrifice your body for all sorts of corner threes and offensive rebounds off of free throws and I know you'd switch to a vintage Chris Childs jersey at halftime if it meant giving your team a better chance to win. You're a competitor without peer in this league.
And yet you constantly leave yourself open to get crap from punks like me because of these things. Phil has been on 12 championship teams. For all your DVDs and study sessions, he knows this game. And unlike you, he has the sense to be pound-wise rather than penny-wise. He's thinking about June right now. You're pissed you couldn't pull up over Martell Webster(notes) and make up for your missed free throws that, even a day later, most people have forgotten about.
And you and your little buddy Derek Fisher(notes) — the one that thinks pull-up jumpers and calling his own number are good things mainly because he once got to play with A.C. Green — need to start running this offense. And on plays that don't allow you to hoist, you need to start listening to your coach.
Because if you do and things fail? He'll be revealed as a right nutter. The guy that got everything wrong. Hell, you didn't even run his play correctly on Sunday, and he's still getting blamed. Aldridge was your man and you let him slip. Blaming Gasol for that is like blaming a quarterback that got sacked because the left guard decided to run out of the way of the defense.
The Lakers are in trouble. They think they know better, because they do, but they won't do anything about knowing better. They couldn't top 90 points on Sunday at home against a mediocre (adjust for pace, please) defensive outfit from Portland. They're playing passive-aggressive, blaming and sniping and smirking and losing.
That's not how you roll into to the middle of April, if you plan on rolling into the middle of May.