In their twilight years, the physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project, the American military effort to create an atomic bomb for use in World War II, developed severe ethical misgivings about the fearsome weapon they'd invented. The Italian Enrico Fermi spent parts of his final years campaigning against the development of a hydrogen bomb (kind of a successor weapon to the A-bomb) and publicly questioning society's ability to make appropriately moral use of scientific advances. The Hungarian Leo Szilard was so appalled at the destructiveness of the bomb that he switched careers entirely, from physics to molecular biology. Most famously perhaps, the American Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the Manhattan Project, later recalled that when he witnessed the first successful nuclear test explosion, it brought to his mind a piece of ancient Hindu scripture: Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
I hope that Tex Winter, somewhere in Kansas right now recovering from a recent stroke, felt well enough last night to watch his Lakers defeat the Denver Nuggets en route to their 30th conference championship. Because if he did, he might have realized that by the end of Game Six, he'd become Basketball's Oppenheimer. The Triangle Offense, the weapons system that he and Sam Barry conceived in the 1950s and that Winter has been refining ever since, achieved perfection last night. Its full cataclysmic potential was on display as it got dropped on the Denver Nuggets' season, of which there remains nothing left. And because we're talking about basketball and not, you know, global warfare and possible human extinction, Tex can enjoy this moment with none of the moral anxiety that haunted the Los Alamos crew.
Take a look at the Lakers' points per possession in Game Six, broken down by quarter and for the game:
119 points sounds like a lot, and it is a lot. But the Lakers needed only 89 possessions to get there, and they did it on the road, against a top-10 defense with its season on the line. As the table above tells us, not only could the Nugs not get stops with the game slipping away in the second and third quarters, but the onslaught only got worse as it went along. Over a point and a third per possession for the entire game, and sniffing two points per possession in the fourth.
Like I said: KABOOM.
And make no mistake, what we saw last night was the Triangle Perfected. This wasn't a Kobe Bryant one-on-one extravaganza, where he just destroys individual defenders on iso's and clear-outs over and over. There weren't a ton of putbacks or fast breaks off turnovers. This was halfcourt team offense as good as any of us have ever seen it played: smart, patient entry passes to the post.... cutting to and away from the basket on cue.... textbook floor spacing at all times.... crisp, purposeful passing through clear lanes... one or more open looks at the basket on each possession.
It doesn't always function so smoothly. We know that, and we know there are more struggles ahead in the next round. But for 48 minutes last night, the Laker Triangle was a thing of horrible, destructive beauty. I really, really hope you got to enjoy it, Tex.
Full Game Six numbers are after the jump. And hey - anyone know where I can purchase that bitchin' tee I've got pictured up there? I needs one something fierce.
As mentioned, there were 89 possessions per team last night, and what sublime possessions they were!
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Let's see... anything we don't like here? Hmm. Not really. The Lakers' turnover rate was a smidge high, but nothing outrageous. Basically this was just an all-around asskicking.
The 70% True Shooting mark has been hit only three times in these playoffs, and the Lakers account for two of those occasions. (They did it in Game Two against Utah on April 21st, and Orlando did it in Game Three against Boston.) And 24 for 24 from the line? SERIOUSLY NOW.
The Nuggets had no offense in the first half, as they averaged only 0.87 PPP in each of the first two quarters. One problem, to my eyes, was that they failed to exploit available driving lanes, especially when Sasha was gambling himself out of plays on the perimeter, instead preferring to jack threes (which didn't start falling for them until it was too late). And the Lakers finally locked down the defensive boards again, allowing the Nugs to collect only one out of every five misses. Very tasty stuff.
And now, kindly direct your attention to the usual assortment of player stat-bombs (of the conventional, non-Oppenheimer variety):
- Kobe's performance was a true masterpiece. The numbers are sparkling, of course. 35 points on only 23 shooting possessions (good for 73% True Shooting), plus 10 dimes, 6 rebounds, only 1 turnover and a block (which was probably a goaltend but it wasn't called so it turns out I don't care). He also, for good stretches of the second half, functioned as point guard, and when he wasn't racking up assists in that capacity, he was getting the Triangle started right - putting teammates in their correct spots and making that crucial first entry pass to Pau. It was one of the best games ever by one of the best players ever.
- Speaking of Pau, he was nearly every bit as magnificent: 20 points on only 13 SPs (1.36 points per SP for the series), 12 rebounds, six assists and a block. Has there ever been a big man this well suited to play in the Triangle? Tim Duncan? Bill Walton, maybe? Whenever Pau received the ball in the post, raising it high and surveying the court, you could sense fear overtaking the Pepsi Center and the Nuggets defense, as everyone in the building knew that he had three or four different ways to strike and was choosing among them at his leisure.
- Trevor Ariza and Lamar combined for 37 points on 22 SPs. If something like that is going to happen, there really isn't any hope for the opposition.
- Sasha's True Shooting in Game Six: 93%. It was that kind of night.
Before I leave you with the final aggregate series numbers, let's ask ourselves: between Cleveland and Orlando, for whom should the Thinking Laker Fan be rooting at this point? Josh touched on this on Thursday, but I didn't weigh in because... well, because I didn't know what my answer should be. I've been mostly agnostic on this question, but now that we can talk about it out in the open in front of God and everyone without jinxing anything, it seems I should strive to come up with an answer.
I say the Magic. I know the Cavs have looked awfully shaky, and if you want to pull for them on that basis, I won't think any less of you. And I won't deny dreading the prospect of Andrew Bynum fouling out in four minutes of defense against Dwight Howard, or of Sasha and Fish scrambling wildly to close out on all those Orlando shooters. And I know the Lakers fared better against Cleveland in the regular season.
But in my view, towering over all those factors is home-court advantage. Remember when home-court advantage in the Finals was the overriding goal of the Lakers' regular season? It's within reach once again, but only if the Cavs lose. And I dig the way Staples came alive in the Western Conference Finals. It's not the same arena that slept through the Finals last spring. Our crowd can provide an edge this year, and I'd prefer that our opponent face the pressure of splitting the first two games, and then holding serve for the middle three.
So Orlando's my choice, not that it matters much. And I fully concede that it's a very close call. If you'd like us to get the Cavs instead, I'm not going to challenge you to a fight or anything.
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