Went to Game 3 at Staples Center, and I did not go home disappointed.
Here are some random observations that I logged in my head throughout the game, to share with you now:
- THE 13TH MAN -I have been to a least a dozen games since the Lakers moved from the Great Western Forum, and I have never experienced Staples Center like that, with people standing at appropriate times, and "D-FENCE" chants pretty much from tip to buzzer. And did anyone catch the Lower Merion 33 jersey wearer in the front row jumping up from his seat to yell at Sefolosha taking a 3 pointer 5 feet from him? Not sure that's sportsmanlike, but that's how engaged the crowd was. And the energy was evident especially after the game. Spontaneous chants of "Let's Go Lakers" rang throughout the hallways of the arena as we exited the building. I'm guessing we were right at the perfect peak of being the underdog, yet having tremendous hope. You'd never hear that kind of enthusiasm if the Laker were the favorites. Kind of an amazing feeling, but also a reality-check about where the Lakers stand in the series.
- OKC FANS IN DA HOUSE - My friend and I sat next to a couple fitted in OKC Thunder gear. I couldn't resist giving them a nice welcome by telling them, "You came to the wrong game, because we're going to win this one, but I'm not so sure about tomorrow". My friend was prophetic when he consoled them in advance with, "At least you'll get tacos". I was a bit embarrassed when the upper deck started chants of "Westbrook sucks" after the World Peace summit.
- MORE FISH PLEASE - Except for a layup up where he blew by Kobe, Fisher was putrid. I can't believe the Lakers point guards don't take advantage of every single opportunity when they are being guarded by Fish. At least Kobe knows what to do. Watching Fisher trying to guard Kobe one-on-one was high comedy. And the running "Activate Mission: Sabotage Thunder" joke for Fisher has still not gotten old. Unfortunately Fish may have shown his hand too early, and Scotty Brooks might play him less the rest of the series. But I hope not!
- NO MORE OF THIS LINEUP - Early in the 2nd quarter, Coach Brown had this Fab Five on the court: Blake, Sessions, Barnes, Hill, and Gasol. Please, mercy, never let me see this again. There is not a natural scorer in the bunch, and the offense consists of approx zero players who are willing to create a shot. You always have to have either Bynum or Bryant out there, else the lineup is one that might work well if there were no shot clock. Unfortunately, there is a shot clock, and this group does not work well given 24 seconds to make something happen. Speaking of 24 seconds, why don't the Lakers guards try to "walk the dog" more, and let the ball roll so that time doesn't start? I know they're slowing down the game, but they're always giving themselves only 16 seconds to really start their offense, and I'm always checking the shot clock to make sure they pass the half court line before an 8-second violation can be called. They're wasting time that they could be using to create offense.
- MANU GINOBILI'S BROTHER? - James Harden plays similarly to a certain Spurs wing player, with shifty moves that make getting to the rack look effortless. He can also knock down the three, and he seems immune to Kobe's pump fakes (does he have some antidote to Black Mamba venom?). But he's also a dominant lefty, like Manu, a fact that seems to sometime escape Laker defenders. I know it's easier said than done, but a strategy of pushing him to his right would seem appropriate.
- KOBE - I won't lie, my favorite subject. Of course, he took some bad shots, but he also made some ridiculous shots, and his mere presence in a lineup gives it immediate offensive legitimacy. You always have to worry about him if you are on defense, and it takes its toll, especially if the Lakers supporting players show up and make some baskets. I'd love to see more of the PG-Kobe screen and roll, it's so effective if the PG is aggressive, because the defense has to pick their poison, and most of the time the poison they pick is "not-Kobe". Blake got at least five points running the pick-and-roll with Kobe, and while the credit goes to Blake for making the shots themselves, the credit goes to Kobe for Blake being open or having space to go to the rack in the first place. Box score watchers get hissy at statements like this, but you can see this effect all the way from the upper deck. It's real, and it's significant.
- FOULS AND MORE FOULS - Speaking of things you can see from the upper deck, you can't see the if the "ticky tack" fouls are warranted, but I can tell you this from high up: when Kobe is trying to establish post position, he's fouled just about every time. It's like a wrestling match, and every defender is fighting to keep him from getting to where he wants. It's understandable, because if Kobe gets good position in the post, it's a recipe for disaster for the defense. But defenders since time immemorial have been uprooting Kobe and pushing him off his spot. Think Raja Bell. If you don't fight as a defender, you're dead, but still, those are fouls. Look at tape of the 80s basketball, and you won't see so much shoving of the post player. Defenders respected when the player had position, and attempted to guard them from there. In Kobe's era, there's constant shoving in the back, arms being placed where they shouldn't be, and a ton of reaching.My favorite is the defender pushing with his chest, as if not using arms means it wasn't a foul. This happened to Durant too, by World Peace, but Durant doesn't try to get that post position as persistently as Kobe, which might be a function of the effort required and the potential reward for Durant. With all this contact happening, fouls are going to get called, and if, with all the other fouls, you're put into the bonus, then you're really in trouble because now every post foul you make is two shots, or the alternative is Kobe's going to get good post position, and then you're at danger of being scored on. Kobe must love being in the bonus.
- TRUE CLUTCH - Metta World Peace. Whereas I think most players just hope not to play worse in pressure situations, this guy actually does seem to be a better player under pressure, it's so strange. But just want to give some credit here, because the guy has some of the strongest, quickest hands I've ever seen. He even blocks shots without seeming to leave the ground! I started to assume he got a hand on the ball anytime a Thunder player lost the ball, even though one time, I think Durant just lost it himself. Also, I have to think that one of the most frightening situations to be in is at the bottom of jump ball scrum with World Peace trying to wrestle the ball from you. Nothing good can come from being in this situation.
- SHOOT THE FREAKING BALL - You don't have to tell Bynum or World Peace this, but you have to shout it to Gasol, Blake, and Sessions. Blake is a better shooter than World Peace, but World Peace will pull the trigger if he's open. If Blake had World Peace's mentality, the offense would run a lot smoother. Sessions was more aggressive tonight in driving to the rim, but I still saw him pass up at least one open shot. It wastes the effort of the offensive machinations that take place to allow you to be open when you don't take the shot when you are open, and you also show the defense that they can afford not to close out on you and help elsewhere. You never had to tell Farmar or Sasha this, and while it may have been frustrating at times to see them miss, it kept defenses honest. Yeah, I mentioned Farmer and Sasha.
- STILL NOT ON TOP - Self explanatory