For all but a few minutes of the Los Angeles Lakers’ blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs, it was crystal clear which franchise was where it wanted to be. The perennial playoff contender wiped the floor with the up-and-comers, as just about everyone should have predicted. Still, Luke Walton did whatever he could to fight any such potential apathy.
“We gave up too quickly as if this is going to be hard for us. That is not OK. That is not the way we want to play as a team,” Walton told the Orange County Register’s Mark Medina. “We want to be aggressive, but there is a fine line between being aggressive and doing dumb things. Sometimes when we were being aggressive, we were also doing dumb things.”
A coach’s job is to keep an eye out for poor habits both within the scheme he lays forth, but also in the minutiae of any given game. That said, coaches must also be wary of any potentially repetitive message that takes away from productive criticism.
If Walton felt his team gave up as soon as the going got tough, fine, that’s his observation and he has vastly more information to go off of to make such a call than anyone else judging from afar. When he criticizes as fiercely as he did Thursday night, he should do so with full context: The Spurs are a vastly superior team that has been together for exponentially longer as a unit than the Lakers.
It’s perfectly fine (and Walton’s job, by the way) to make sure that remains an explanation and not an excuse, which he may have noticed as the game progressed.
Read those quotes again. Neither come across as all that critical of a gameplan, right? To paraphrase, “You quit. You played stupid. It’s on you.” If it’s true, cool. Move on and adjust accordingly. But a team doesn’t lose by 40 without some onus falling on the coach as well.
In complete fairness, Walton hasn’t come anywhere near making a trend out of this criticism and we don’t know what was said behind closed doors. One would imagine someone as self-aware as he is would recognize such repetition or lack of accountability. So, players should take in this message and prepare accordingly for a similarly tough opponent in their next matchup (the Clippers) having taken into account how rare it’s been that their coach called them out like this.
Here’s to hoping we don’t have to hear such criticism much more for the rest of this year.