It was a pleasure doing business with you, Otis Smith.
In Game Four, Derek Fisher had a Robert Horry kind of night. This is a more complicated notion than you might think and, as hoops compliments go, is both enormous and enormously qualified. It invokes a sense of role player yin-and-yang that manifests equally in long stretches of ineffectual play, on the one hand, and historic, era-defining big shots, on the other. It describes a performance that screams out for big-picture context and perspective.
History remembers Horry primarily for the long threes he hit to change the course of many a playoff series. Those of us with doctorates in Advanced Horrysian Studies, however, know that this is but part of his tale, as in spite of his postseason heroics, he was among the more infuriating players to have on one's team. The fourth-quarter daggers were great, but they were often preceded by thirtysome minutes of GM-worthy underproduction. For the first 85 possessions of a game, Horry would wander the court without presence or direction, notching maybe three points and two boards and leading an angry Laker nation to ask the musical question, Why the hell is this guy playing?
But then, the answer, in the form of the shots that we all remember. The daggers that, yes, changed NBA history and rearranged how we look back on seasons and entire careers. I dig seeing the clips of Horry's classic bombs, but I also remember thinking, That win would have been a lot easier if he hadn't waited until the last second to do something useful.
Fisher's Game Four performance shares the same contours. Not the classic Horry fecklessness, of course; Fish is one of the all-time, try-hard badasses and one of the rare athletes who actually earns the overused adjective gritty. But let's be honest with each other: how many of us groaned irritably at his first five three-point misses and, through the TV, demanded his benchitude? And the thing is, we weren't necessarily wrong to do so, strange as it sounds. Up until there were four seconds left in regulation, Fish wasn't that great, and his not-that-greatness was a reason, one among many, the Lakers needed a historic comeback.
This isn't meant to disparage Fish's performance in Game Four; honestly, it's not. (Making three-pointers, after all, is actually difficult, especially against the Orlando Magic in their gym.) I mean only to observe that we as sports fans tend to focus overmuch on sequence. Whatever happened last seems most important, even though baskets made in the fourth quarter don't count any more than those made in the second. There were hundreds of tiny moments and interactions that led to Fish's bombs, so as we lavish praise for the shots that will likely lead to a Laker championship, let's not forget love for those who kept the Lakers in it until Fish could find the range.
For Pau Gasol, for instance, whose defense turned Rashard Lewis into a 6'9" version of J.J. Redick. For Luke Walton, unassumingly finding his role and his game after a season in the wilderness. For Trevor Ariza, who ripped third-quarter holes in the Orlando D and did some unsung work on the glass. For Otis Smith, who somehow saw fit to trade Ariza to the Lakers for - ahem - Maurice Evans and Brian Cook. And for Nick Anderson, who still carries with him the gypsy curse that makes the Orlando Magic miss free throws in the NBA Finals.
The Game Four numbers await you after the jump. Tick tock, Clarice....
Thursday night, including the overtime period, was a 95-possession affair, which prorates to 86 possessions per 48 minutes of play. Anyone up for a 15-second shot clock?
|TO Rate||FTA/FGA||FT%||EFG%||TS%||Off Reb%||Def Reb%||PPP|
Want to know a stat I absolutely hate? Points off turnovers. It's an utterly useless metric that to my annoyance continues to appear in the conventional boxscore. I suspect that it's a carry-over from football, in which a turnover can set up good field position and an easy score. In today's NBA, however, teams really don't fast-break off turnovers that much - see, e.g., the pace numbers for this entire series - and as a result, there's hardly any relation between the occurrence a turnover and what subsequently happens at the other end. The value of the turnover is almost entirely defensive, in that you end your opponents' possession without their having attempted a shot.
Anyhow, the Magic turned the ball over on a fifth of their Game Four possessions, and at this point I feel comfortable in saying: they are the worst passing team I've ever seen advance deeply into the NBA playoffs. They're just a hot nasty mess. Dwight Howard might be, like, the third-best passer on the team. Stan Van Gundy should try him at the point.
The wide-angle view of this series is looking pretty bleak for Orlando. Over four games, these two teams have played out 367 possessions, divided almost equally between Staples and Amway, and the Lakers are outscoring the Magic by 0.09 points per. (See composite series-to-date numbers below.) All available evidence tells us that Orlando just isn't good enough to beat the Lakers three straight times. If all three remaining games were in Orlando, L.A. would still be favored to take at least one of them. With two of the three to be played in the 213, there's really no reason, outside of the anything-can-happen unknowability of the future, to think that this series isn't effectively over.
Until it's official, though, I'll keep dropping the stat bombs like you're begging me to do it.
- The Magic backcourt was back to its usual capering on Thursday: aside from Frenchman Mickael (why isn't it Michel?) Pietrus, who scored 15 on 11 shooting possessions, Orlando guards were ghastly. Our good friends Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, Jameer Nelson and Redick scored 23 points on 42% True Shooting. Reached for comment, Pietrus announced plans to commence a general strike to secure improved working conditions, meaning teammates who can shoot.
- How bad is Anthony Johnson that he can't get a minute of playing time in this group? At least he got mentioned in my column, which I'm told is just as exciting as appearing in the NBA Finals.
- Howard and Hedo Turkoglu together missed 13 free throws, thereby voiding the warranty on the Amway Arena rims. Nobody dunk too hard, as repairs are all out-of-pocket from now on.
- Sashawatch 2009! This needs its own theme music. Four minutes played, oh-for-2 shooting. He hasn't scored since May.
- Pau has turned the ball over only four times in 170 minutes played this series. Dwight Howard turned the ball over four times while you were reading this sentence. BURN.
(As promised, composite series numbers are below.)
Savor Game Five, my peoples! It could be the last time we get to watch this maddening, magnificent edition of the Lakers.
|Poss/48 Mins||TO Rate||FTA/FGA||FT%||EFG%||TS%||Off Reb%||Def Reb%||PPP|