Some Notes on the Lakers Series

Published: June 9, 2008

One of my co-workers (a Knicks fan, pity him) asked me to take a look at some historical Finals stats after Phil Jackson's complaints about the free-throw disparity in Game 2 of the Finals(10 to 38).  He was certain that at some point in the past, there had to be a game where a Jackson-coached team had gotten a major advantage in free throws – probably against his beloved Knicks.

So – I looked at what PJ said – "You can't play from a deficit like that that we had in that half, 19 to 2 in the first half in situations like that. I've never seen a game like that in all these years I've coached in The Finals." – and went and looked at the other Finals games Jackson had coached . . . and he's right.  There have been some big discrepencies, but never as many as 28 in a game.  Here are the other big discrepencies(15 or more FTs) in his Finals career:

  • 2000 Game 2 – Lakers 57, Pacers 34: +23(Shaq shot 39 FTs.  39!) 
  • 1993 Game 3 – Suns 31, Bulls 9: -22
  • 2002 Game 4 – Lakers 37, Nets 16: +21 
  • 2004 Game 4 – Pistons 41, Lakers 22: -19
  • 2002 Game 1 – Lakers 45, Nets 26: +19
  • 2000 Game 5 – Lakers 45, 76ers 26: +19
  • 1998 Game 4 – Bulls 40, Utah 21: +19
  • 1993 Game 6 – Suns 36, Bulls 20: -16
  • 1991 Game 1 – Lakers 34, Bulls 18: -16

In the end, I guess he does have some room for complaint.  Personally, I think he's overlooking the real story though: This series has been decided so far by that Celtics Defense. 

Essentially, good defense makes the other team look like crap.  The Lakers aren't getting what they want in this series: no easy cuts and dunks out of the triangle, no easy penetrations off of screens – and are looking terrible.  When they do manage to drive, they don't get fouled.  When they cut, the Celtics switch and are versatile enough that the mismatches aren't that advantageous.

I picked the Celtics in six before the series – and there were two primary reasons for this:

  1. Lamar Odom is vital to the Lakers success.  All the focus has been on Pau because he's the new guy around, but Odom's defense and offensive versatility is what makes that Laker front court go.  I felt that Garnett was going to squash him – and so far, Odom hasn't done jack.
  2. The Celtics had a fluke series against Atlanta, but they overall played better than most people realize – and then went on to play Cleveland and Detroit, two of the toughest defenses in the league.  Like I mentioned above, Good Defense makes a team look like crap.  So the Celtics seemed to be struggling and didn't look all that good even in their wins.  As a result, people assumed that they weren't actually all that good.  The Lakers, on the other hand, played two abysmal defenses in Utah and Denver – looking great on their way to the conference finals, and then met the Spurs, who were exhausted and banged up by their New Orleans battle. (Manu looked awful on that ankle)  So the Lakers looked good and were annointed.

Suddenly, it's the Lakers who look disjointed for large parts of the game.  If they can't solve that Celtic defense, they're screwed.  Maybe Phil should focus on that.

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