By Craig Kwasniewski
Nice of the Lakers to "grant" us an exciting Game 1 by completely scrapping a successful offensive game plan most of the second half (ummm I believe they call it the Triangle) to barely beat Utah 104-99.
Here are a few observations from my seat high up in Section 316:
That game should NOT have been this close. Let's be honest here the Lakers are a terrible match-up for the Jazz. LA's length in the front court causes problems for the smallish Boozer and Ronnie Millsap. Utah's thorn in the Lakers side was Okur forcing Bynum or Gasol to step out and defend the three. Well Okur's gone and his replacement Fesenko is big but slow and nailed to the paint, allowing Bynum and Gasol to clog the lanes a keep Boozer from attacking the offensive glass. Oh and did I mention the Jazz don't have anyone to defend Kobe? Forget Kirilenko's injury, when healthy he wasn't able to stop Kobe. The Jazz have never had anyone to stop Kobe. Really Deron Williams is Utah's only advantage (well that and the Lakers boredom) and he's not dropping 40 points and 20 dimes anytime soon.
This is just a bad match-up for the Jazz. But they are well-coached, disciplined and talented enough to make this a 6 game series.
What happened to the Triangle in the 2nd half? Did you see the backdoor cuts from Artest and Odom in the first half? Yes. Did you see all the easy baskets after the ball was worked around the perimeter? Yes. Did you see the Lakers pounding the ball, dribbling around in the first half? No. That's what we in the business refer to as the Triangle Offense. For a second I actually believed that Ron Artest finally got the offense. Watching him slash down the lane and get the feed off Gasol was a thing of beauty. This is why NBA higher-ups always thought Gasol was the perfect fit for the Lakers. His court vision, patience and intelligence fit perfectly in the Triangle. Did you see the no-look behind-the-back bounce pass to Bynum for a dunk? (BTW - it's didn't count because of a foul but it got a loud "Ohhhhh!!!" from the 300-level) The Lakers spread the floor and initiated the offense from inside out.. in ONLY the first half. And for much of the first half the Lakers actually looked the part of defending champs.
Ahh but then the 2nd half rolled in... Dribble, dribble, dribble, fade-away... dribble, dribble, dribble, fade-away. Part of it was the Jazz bigs forcing Gasol and Bynum out of the low post (more on that later) but a huge part was the Lakers guards simply not initiating the offense from the inside. As Phil Jackson would say, the team lost their direction in the 3rd quarter. And it spilled over onto the defensive end as the Lakers couldn't get a stop. What's so frustrating with the 2010 Lakers is how quickly they revert to bad habits with too much dribbling and too many threes. It's obvious they know how to win, but like a rebellious teenager they refuse and want to do it their way. And only when their backs are up against a wall, like say 5 minutes left with the Jazz leading, do the Lakers finally collect themselves and do it the right way.
Good Kobe saved bad Kobe. Kobe took over down the stretch getting clutch jumpers from his sweet spots near the freethrow line and just out at the short 17. But it was bad Kobe that maybe forced good Kobe to save the day. Late in the 2nd quarter he got into a little one-on-one tussle with CJ Miles and let the refs get to him. Kobe bristled that Miles was aloud to body him around and lost his focus. Predictibly he tried to respond and took the game right at Miles, trying to force the refs to call something. They did... *TWEET*...Offensive foul. A comfortable double digit lead went bye-bye as the Jazz took some momentum into the half with Kobe now in foul trouble.
But again, Kobe saved the day offensively and won the game down the stretch. But unlike the 2nd quarter Kobe let the game to slow down and attacked the defense with poised patience. Meaning, he got the ball on the wing, waited to see how the defense set up, sized up his man and took to ball right to his comfort spots, nailing jumper and getting to the rim with relative ease. (Though it didn't hurt that the Jazz decided not to double him on the perimeter and force him to pass the ball off.)
Do we need to start MVP chants for Gasol? Phil Jackson thinks so...25 points, 12 rebounds and a playoff career-high 5 blocks... and he made ALL of his freethrows!!! If this were fútbol "they" would say Gasol is in good form. His game is peaking at the right time, especially with several Lakers injured or temporarily disappeared (that's you Odom!!). Boozer isn't going to be attacking the offensive glass in this series. Gasol's defense is forcing Boozer to work very hard for his points, forcing him into fade-aways that take his monentum from the offensive glass.
Utah's bigs turned the game around on defense. It started slowly in the second quarter but the Jazz's bigs bodied Gasol, Bynum and Odom out of the lane, keeping the from posting down low. Slowly over time the Lakers bigs got discouraged from all the physical play. Suddenly Gasol's getting the ball 12 feet from the basket and forcing shots.... SHORT! Plus when the Lakers did get the ball low, the Jazz doubled off Artest (and why not after all he is the WORST three point shooter in the playoffs), frustating the Lakers bigs into contested shots and turnovers. Utah's defensive approach was patient very much like an NFL team that sticks with the run. As time passed (and possibly with the benefit of the short turn-around) the Lakers bigs just didn't seem interested in fighting to get low. I expect more of this in game 2.
Ron Artest... just one thing here... STOP SHOOTING THREES!!!! Seriously, the way he worked in the offense in the first half I thought, "Hey' he's finally getting this!!!" But late in the 4th quarter, with the Jazz defense daring him to shoot the three (umm because he's like 1-918 this postseason)... there he goes again, firing one up from downtown... and like downtown LA on a weekend... no life. STOP SHOOTING THREES!!!!