I come not to bury Phil Jackson, but to praise him.
Wait - that's not right. I've most certainly come to bury him.
Not for all eternity, mind you. Maybe just up to his neck in sand. Nobody's here to suggest that coaching malpractice is a capital offense, but at the same time, it shouldn't go unpunished. I'm tough, but fair!
As fans and critics, we assign credit and blame to NBA coaches on bases that can generously be described as speculative. Part of their job description is to keep players motivated and focused, but coaches don't actually exercise mind control over anyone, so we don't really know which of them, if any, are good at this. They're also responsible for designing offensive sets and defensive schemes, but called plays have a way of breaking down in the fog of war for reasons that coaches can't anticipate or prevent. "No plan survives contact with the enemy" and all that.
So when we're watching a game, we're not watching Phil and George Karl play NBA Live against each other. They're not sitting on a basement couch somewhere, PS3 controllers in hand, with a bong and some Mountain Dew on the coffee table and Kings of Leon booming out the speakers. I think most fans get that, even if with these two particular coaches that scene isn't hard to picture.
There is, however, one aspect of game execution over which coaches do in fact wield direct, push-button control... and for which we can therefore, with clean conscience, hold them fully responsible when they fuck up. Lineups and substitutions: coaches decide who's on the floor, at what point and for how long. It's their job to allocate the 240 minutes of playing time in optimal fashion, and it's my job, when they do it wrong, to tell you all about it.
With 11:22 to play in the fourth quarter of Game Two, the Lakers and Nuggets had played 73 possessions each, and the game was tied at 82. At that moment, Phil opted for the following lineup: Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol. These five players should not be on the court together, ever, outside of a 24 Hour Fitness. There's not enough scoring punch, not enough size and way too much Luke Walton.
The lineup stayed in the game only long enough for each team to have three possessions, but in that short time hilarity definitely did not ensue, except for those watching from the 303. Here's how it went:
- Gasol gets stuck out of position, can't find an open man and has to take and miss a 19-foot jack as the shot clock expires.
- Carmelo Anthony penetrates and finds an open Linus Kleiza, who hits a three.
- Walton scores off an assist from Farmar.
- Brown fouls a driving Chauncey Billups, who hits two free throws.
- Walton turns the ball over on an errant pass.
- Denver has a 33-second possession that includes two offensive rebounds and ends with a Melo layup.
- Laker timeout. Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom reenter in the game.
Bear in mind that while the Nugs put together this 7-2 run, a rested Andrew Bynum, who had played just fine in the first half - and who could have provided a defensive deterrent in the paint, a rebounding presence and a complementary post option on offense - was sitting on the bench, not having played since the 7:13 mark in the third quarter.
From the point when the run ended, the Lakers outscored the Nugs, 19-17.
To review in breathtaking table format:
|First 73 Possessions||Possessions 74-76||Final 18 Possessions|
|Teams tied 82-82||Nuggets +5||Lakers +2|
That's all it takes. When two teams are playing each other to a draw, only three possessions' worth of lineup mismanagement can determine the outcome. And can lead to my neighbors hearing me dust off my full supply of expletives at ear-splitting volume.
Before I get to the full Game Two numbers after the jump, congrats to the Nugs for securing the two-game Staples split. To honor the occasion I had a little banner printed up, as shown in the above pic. Who says Laker fans aren't gracious?
If you think you can start to tell the difference between two teams after 94 possessions, well... I give you this:
|TO Rate||FTA/FGA||FT%||EFG%||TS%||Off Reb Rate||Def Reb Rate||PPP|
Pretty spooky, no? Close games happen all the time, of course, but never in my years of stat-geekery do I recall two teams posting tempo-free lines so nearly identical. An extra turnover here, an extra rebound there, and voila. Denver has its split.
The story of the game is the collapse of the Lakers' defensive rebounding. After limiting the Nuggets to offensive rebounding rates of 22% in the regular-season series and 23% in Game One, L.A. allowed them to collect a ghastly 36% of their misses in Game Two. Small forwards Melo and Kleiza did a goodly portion of the damage, combining for eight offensive rips.
Man... if only the Lakers had a real size advantage on the inside they could use to control the boards. Wait, what?
(Seriously, what exactly did Bynum do to Phil? Did he dent Phil's ride one day while pulling out of Staples after practice? Did he borrow Phil's Lost, Season 2 DVDs and never give them back? Only 18 minutes of burn for your athletic seven-footer, when the opponent is gashing your team in the paint, is just third-rate coaching.)
Too much is being made of the Lakers' missed free throws in the fourth quarter. I mean, sure, it would have been nice if they'd gone in, but it's not like the Lakers had a bad night at the line. As team, they made 77% of their free throw attempts in the regular season. As a team, they made 77% of their free throw attempts last night. If the misses had been scattered across the second and third quarter, no one would be talking about them. And it's not like free throws are worth more points if made in the fourth.
Turning to some of the individual combatants, stat-bombs away!
- Check out how Melo and Kobe compare through the first two games of the series in terms of minutes played, shooting possessions (SPs) and points scored:
|Minutes Played||Shooting Possessions Per Minute||Points Per SP|
You'll now want to take a moment to wipe the brain matter off your screen, because I know I just BLEW YOUR MIND.
- The decline of Sasha's shooting touch has reached terminal FAILocity. He's now at 34% True Shooting for the playoffs. FREE ADAM MORRISON.
- Trevor Ariza: 20 points on 10 shooting possessions... and only 33 minutes played? And 19 minutes for Luke? Come on, Phil. I like when you give me material for my column, but I don't need this much material. Prithee consider giving Trevor 40 minutes per game and Luke eight or fewer.
To wrap up, here are the composite team numbers for the first two games. Enjoy Game Three, and hey - if you're a Laker fan in Denver for the game and looking for a place to drink, you could do a lot worse than Rock Rest Lodge out in Golden. That's my joint whenever I'm in town, and I still consider myself the champion of its legendary bubble hockey scene.