Commish Comments: Game 3
Subbing Skip, Kobe’s rage, checking Pau and more!
From TheSpruceMoose1: “How is Kobe’s attitude towards his teammates when he’s in his element and it’s a high-pressure situation?”
Kobe is probably the most petulant star since MJ. Some legendary players — like Magic or, now, LeBron—are just wired in a way that gives them maximum patience with their mortal teammates. MJ and, now, Kobe aren’t blessed with that disposition. In last night’s presser, I asked Phil if the frustration and, sometimes, disgust that Kobe directs at his teammates negatively effects their performances—especially since, sometimes, he’s projecting frustration and disgust with himself onto his teammates. Yelling at a teammate for missing one of your errant passes or flailing your arms in disgust if they can’t get you the ball with a tough entry pass and miss a contested jumper instead—can that stuff beat down a teammate?
Phil’s response was simple: tough love. “If they can’t stand up to that, they can’t play on this team. You have to be able to stand up to that and play through it. That’s part of the expectations that we have for players is that they have to fulfill their roles. Kobe is demanding that way. I think we are as a coaching staff, too.”
I can dig telling players to man-up, not accommodating fragile psyches. But, what if Kobe managed his emotions better? Andrew Bynum mopes around the court like a depressed teenager. That irritates the spit out of Kobe—it has to. But Kobe doesn’t wanna do to Drew what MJ did to Kwame Brown. The way he projects that frustration is one of the main things that can derail the Lakers in tight games. After Gasol failed to call the timeout during that end-of-game scrum that ended with Kobe fouling Pietrus, Kobe didn’t even help Gasol off the ground. I don’t care how mad you are, that’s just not cool.
Two From Tzvi Twersky: “Raf was on fire after 1. Why did you sit him to start 2nd q?” and “Why doesn’t coach try playing a lineup of skip, meer, hedo, rashard, dwight?”
Rafer was indeed on fire in the first quarter. Given his struggles in the first two games and the spotlight of the Finals, I think we can say that the first quarter was the greatest 12 minutes of Rafer’s basketball career. That first quarter is what made his Game 3 a “podium game.” But taking a player out after playing 12 straight minutes, even if he’s feeling it, is pretty much a standard substitution pattern. Skip even mentioned that last night’s substitution pattern had him in a good ryhthm.
As for the lineup you mentioned… hmmm. I guess, if you put Shard or Hedo on Kobe and let Rafer check whoever L.A. is playing at the 3 (Ariza or Luke or Vujacic), it could work. But Jameer isn’t back to his potent self, just yet. So, playing him off the ball—how much does that help? SVG does a lot of lineup tinkering, though, so we might see that before the series is over. My favorite Magic lineup is Lee/Pietrus/Shard/Hedo/Dwight. That lineup, in six to eight minute doses, is incredibly tough because they’re all rangy and athletic. Send them out on the court and run some type of full court press and things get ugly.
From WhatRickyThinks: “Never fails…kobe gets real hot everyone creams themselves…but he always settles down to that 45% shooting percentage.”
I said it after Kobe shot 34 times in Game 1 and I’ll say it again, today: Kobe is shooting far too much. What happened to the Kobe that establishes his teammates early on and then gradually becomes more aggressive throughout the rest of the game? That’s the best Kobe. And, even worse, when Kobe starts out hot and he sees that 40- or 50-point game on the horizon, he really puts on the blinders. It’s what makes him great, but it’s also a flaw.
And don’t dismiss the Courtney Lee Factor in Kobe’s Game 3 troubles. Whenever Kobe gets a frisky defender that stops him a few times, maybe even mildly embarrasses him with a strip or block, Kobe maniacally tries to respond for the next several possessions and it throws the Lakers offense off-balance. He did it against J.J. Redick in Game 2. J.J. stopped him once and Kobe spent the next three possessions forcing shots. In the end, Kobe Jackin’ Shots is not productive basketball. Especially not when Orlando is utterly hopeless when it comes to stopping Gasol and, to a lesser extent, an aggressive Lamar Odom. And not when dumping it to Bynum could mean getting Dwight Howard into foul trouble. If I had to pick an arbitrary number, I’d say 18-22 shots is what the Lakers need from Kobe, with 2/3 coming in the second half.
From DJR: “Joey Crawford: Are you afraid you just officiated your last NBA Finals game after such a poor game? To site references – missing Pietrus’ double dribble; calling it Lakers ball after Lamar kicked it out…”
I know I’m in the minority, here, but I have absolutely zero inclination to join in the raging referee-lynching. Kenny Smith says it best: Refs miss calls just like players miss shots. Miss me with all the ref-outrage.
From mlaw: “SVG: Why do you continue to put Lewis on Gasol?”
This is a great question that I failed to ask SVG last night. I will definitely do so tomorrow, maybe during the pregame presser. I can’t understand it either. Rashard would seem to be better equipped chasing and checking the more lithe and athletic Ariza, whereas the slightly bigger Hedo would appear to have a better chance at bodying-up with Gasol. I literally have no answer, here. But SVG obviously does. I can see why, on the flip side, Phil wants Ariza to check Hedo, since Hedo drives more than ‘Shard and has more ball-handling/playmaking responsibilities. It doesn’t make sense for Orlando, though.
From Teddy-the-Bear: “Who else misses Charles Oakley?”
I miss Oak. But, let’s be real—the way the game is played and called today, Oak couldn’t be Oak. I miss Oak because he was a basketball Deebo. Well, that doesn’t slide in the League anymore… unfortunately. About the closest thing we have to Oakley is Kendrick Perkins, but even Perk wasn’t as physically intimidating and bullying as Oak. That kind of true throwback ain’t coming back.
From Gerard Himself: “No matter what Rafer Alston will do, or what Hedo Turkoglu will do, if they;ll be the heroes of the night or not, am I wrong to think that the both of them won’t be playing for Orlando next season? If so, what kind of message is that to the fans? I can understand why Alston might not be back (because of Nelson), but Hedo is such an important player, but can they afford him?”
Hedo has a player-option for next season, which he will undoubtedly accept. And Rafer is under contract too. So, contractually they’ll be in Orlando. But I can definitely envision Otis shipping both by next year’s deadline. With a healthy Jameer, Hedo’s playmaking becomes slightly less essential, especially since ‘Shard has has come into his own as a clutch shooter. And Hedo will be 31 next season, probably looking for a four- to five-year deal worth anywhere between $35-45 million. Trading his expiring contract, if it could net the Magic a young big could be prudent. And, as for Skip, it just doesn’t make sense to keep two starting point guards on a roster. You don’t pay Skip $5 million to be an insurance policy. If I were Otis, I’d send him somewhere and try to upgrade the frontcourt depth, kop a Battie/Gortat upgrade. As long as Smith makes basketball decisions, it sends the right message to the fans: We wanna win a championship.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM, a contributing commentator for ESPN and writes the weekly “From The Floor” column for NBA.com. You can email him your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @vincecathomas.