[Editor's Note: Saurav Das wrote this, I'm just posting it. Computer problems kept Saurav from posting it himself]
Or Pau Gasol, for that matter. This game should make that damn evident. Hell, it looks like Phil Jackson might be a bad choice, too.
We started this game off sluggish, holding even in the first, before Denver dominated us for 35 points in the second. Coming out of halftime, we played some nice D to hold the #2 offensive team in the League to 16 points in the period, while putting up a respectable 27 in the same section.
We were outplayed in the fourth to the tune of only three points, but those three points were what decided the game.
As Dex mentioned, we struggled to find effective offensive options. Artest was our only really efficient player, finishing 7-11 from the field (3/4 from deep), and 5 of 6 from the line, totalling 22 points. Pau led the team in scoring, but needed 6 more shots to score 4 more points than Artest. Still, compared to the rest of the team, he was Shaquille fucking O'Neal in terms of field goal percentage.
Offensively, we had two decent quarters in the third and fourth, scoring 27 in each, and two substandard quarters in the first and second, scoring 20 and 22, respectively; whilst our only good defensive quarter was the second, where we held the Nuggets to a sweet 16.
Now that all the boring stuff is out of the way, I shall focus on the last few minutes of the game, money time, after the jump.
Ah, how wierd it is to see the Lakers try to execute in the crunch without Kobe. With no Mamba to hid their flaws, Los Angeles looked mighty vulnerable out there. It was here that the seeming lack of trust or sheer inability to run the Triangle offense was highlighted, as without their go-to clutch scorer on the court, the Lakers should have run the offense as usual and trusted in it to produce results. Instead, they passed it around nervously, everyone worried about the consequences of taking the shot.
Some choice possessions come to mind, such as one where Ron Artest received the handoff on the left wing, left pretty wide open due to a late close-out by Denver. Instead of taking the shot, as he should, he hesitated until it was too late (presumably his atrocious March shooting was on his mind), before trying to put the ball on the floor, and then passively passing it off.
Another was the Gasol post-up, the results of which Gasol has become infamous for over the season. Gasol, instead of making a strong move towards the basket, and either scoring or drawing the double and kicking out, pivoted and face-up for far too long, weighing up all his options instead of just thinking 'this ball is going in the GODDAMNED hoop, or I'm gonna tear two ACLs trying to force it'. As well as holding the ball for too long, he committed a fundamental mistake in bringing the ball down far lower than any big man should even think of doing. The result of this, of course, was a Nene strip.
What I also dislike is that in this period, aside from the aforementioned Gasol post-up, the team made very little effort to get the ball to anyone. Not only did the players seem hesitant to step up, but they almost seemed entirely content in trusting their future to Derek Fisher isos. Never mind that the guy is shooting 38% on the season, and was 2-11 on the night. Never mind that Artest was fire, and has actually carried a team in the past. Never mind that Odom had mismatches galore. Derek freaking Fisher was running iso's for most of crunchtime. DEREK FISHER ISOLATION PLAYS. I feel like the basketball gods are gonna strike me down just for typing that.
Speaking of Odom, why was he only given the ball in a position to score once in the last 3 minutes? He had a mismatch with Melo trying to defend him in the post, made a strong move to the basket, and got the foul call before the shot. That alone was better than what most Lakers were doing, yet that was the only time they went to him.
And the most efficient player on the night, Artest.. asides from that three he turned down, he didn't get the ball in a position to score once during crunch time. Now, this is both the fault of the players themselves for not demanding the ball, and of Fisher and Coach Jackson for not running plays to get them the ball.
Speaking of Fisher, he actually didn't do too bad in the clutch, last shot excepting. The two penultimate possessions in the game, he made a strong move to the basket and actually got past his defender before being fouled, and drew a foul off a midrange jumper, draining 4 free throws in the process.
Phil's subs in this period were also strange, only bringing Artest in with under 3 minutes to go, splitting his minutes with Shannon Brown.
Speaking of Brown, that was a nice block, but an epic brain fart afterwards. WHY would he not gather the ball before passing off!? WHY such a weak, high pass!? These sort of questions are what seperate champions and fools. Though, Shannon is still a rather inexperienced player, particularly in the clutch, and must get some miniscule amount of leeway for that mistake. As for Phil arguing that it was a bad call, in my eyes it could have gone either way and was just a tough call to make, even with the replay. I honestly couldn't tell who it came off last, and the refs probably couldn't, either. Undoubtedly, Phil definitely couldn't either.
Phil can't complain about the call, anyway, as even after the call the game was still within reach thanks to a pair of split free throws by JR Smith. But, why oh why no timeout? With Kobe, you can ignore the timeout, and let Kobe have free reign on the canvas like the maestro he is, but when your players are visibly unsure of what to do, you have to call the timeout to try and get a good shot out of a set play. Even if not straight-away, after it become obvious Fisher was struggling to find something, a timeout should have been taken.
I strongly suspect this was part of Phil's tried mind games, trying to get his players crunch-time reps in worst-case scenarios. Pardon my French, Phil, but IT'S TOO FUCKING LATE IN THE SEASON FOR YOUR PSYCHOLOGICAL BULLSHIT! There's 6 games, Phil, till every game counts majorly. Even now, your little mind-games may have cost us HCA in a potential matchup with Orlando. Cut the crap, and earn your 12-million-dollar paycheck.
Nonetheless, Phil's lack of coaching resulted in a broken play, with Fisher dribbling out the clock before pulling up on Carmelo Anthony for the dagger three with a few seconds left. He was, predictably, blocked. The question is, if Fisher was being checked by Melo, why did he not try harder to exploit the mismatch that presented? Instead of trying to work off the dribble, focus on force-feeding the ball to Odom, who was being fronted by Chauncey Billups. Find Artest, who had JR Smith on him. Do SOMETHING. Anything would have been better than a pull-up three over an athletic defender 7 inches taller than Fisher.
As Dex said, it's too late in the season for moral victories. These Lakers should be winning these games, even without Kobe or Drew. However, the reality is, with the way they've been playing of late, this is an improvement. And all there is to do is build on it.