Coming soon to a theater near you: "Honey I Shrunk The Mamba."
The Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers learned an important lesson last night: It's really, really tough to not lose when you let your opponent shoot nearly 63 percent from the field, including an incredible 75 percent (24-for-32) in the first half. That 63 percent shooting is an NBA Finals record, by the way. Quite a turnaround from Game 1, when Orlando shot a worst-in-the-shot-clock-era 29 percent. The Magic were so hot, especially in those first 24 minutes, that the Lakers' hands would be covered with blisters if they'd actually been in anybody's face. Amazingly enough, L.A. still could have won the game, if not for...
Kobe Bryant: Let's face it: The Lakers got Mamba'd last night. Kobe obviously wanted to steal the show, only he ended up trying to do too much. Bryant was indeed a bad, bad man during the first quarter, when he hit seven of 10 shots and scored 17 points in the final 5:41 of the period. But after his first-quarter tour de force, Kobe missed 11 of his final 15 shots...mostly jumpers of course. Not that it mattered, though, since he also blew six of his eight layup attempts (two of which were blocked) and bricked five of his 10 free throws. Oh, and did I mention that he committed a game-high 4 turnovers. The league's supposed best closer went 2-for-6 in the fourth (missing layup and a trio of three-pointers). He only went to the line once in the last 12 minutes, and he missed one of two. Said Kobe: "It was a bad night."
I can't help but wonder why Kobe is shooting the hell out of the ball when Pau Gasol has been scorching the nets. In this series, he's shooting better than 62 percent from the field (23-for-37) and almost 90 percent from the line (17-for-19). Last night, Pau went 9-for-11 from the floor (3-for-3 on dunks, 3-for-3 on layups and 3-for-5 on jump shots) and knocked down five of six of his freebies. None of the Magic know quite how to stop him, even the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. And yet it seems Kobe would rather try to win on a steady stream of contested jumpers than defer to his big man. A cynical person would say that it's not only important for Kobe to win the title, but also to be the Finals MVP while doing it. As it is, Pau has been the better player in this series.
Meanwhile, Kobe was actually going after his teammates last night for what he saw as THEIR mistakes. As Adrian Wajnarwoski explains: "He shot his teammates disdainful glares when they failed to get him the ball, and he berated Andrew Bynum(notes) in timeouts and did his damndest to hold down the Magic. This was one of those nights when it was hell to be a teammate, when 17,461 screaming fans found an ally in No. 24 on the Lakers. Kobe was on the edge, the brink. These Magic scare him, but so does the understanding that these championship seasons can be so fleeting. It makes him a nightmare of a teammate this time of year. He was beyond unpleasant with his teammates Tuesday night; he was downright nasty."
Why does someone so unquestionably great and single-mindedly devoted to winning continue to revert to such schizophrenic behavior even after over 1,000 career games? It's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. Cortez commented on a possession that epitomizes the dual nature of the man I once dubbed "Dr. Bryant and Mr. Kobe":
As another example of that sentiment take the final shot of the half in last night's game.
The Machine was wide open on the wing off a beautiful down screen (which clearly must have been drawn up in the huddle) when Kobe did his usual "ignore my open teammate" nonsense and chucked up a contested jump shot (note: he was probably fouled but that is besides the point).
Why not throw the ball to Sasha and get him a clean look for the easy three and help get his confidence up?
I can (sort of) deal with the "down a basket with 5 second left so I'll ignore my teammates" force-ups but some of these decisions are idiotic.
I would bet that the primary reason he does it is to show the defender he is better than him (and for the most part he is) despite the defenders maximum efforts.
"Making the right play" is of secondary importance. Just so happens that he is highly skilled so he wins his fair share of games.
My (and others) contention is that he would probably win a few more if he cut down on trying to live up to his 'Black Mamba' persona and kicked the ball to his shooters as opposed to his usual contested jump shot arsenal.
...unless he knows something we don't about the abilities of his teammates.
Phil Jackson and the L.A. defense: The box score reveals something rather bizarre: Orlando attempted only 14 three-pointers. As Ben Q. Rock pointed out at the Third Quarter Collapse, that's a season-low for the Magic. The Lakers couldn't seem to figure out a way to defense the Howard-Turkoglu pick-and-roll, even though they probably have mountains of scouting video of that play. It's strange they never figured out an adjustment. Of course, it can be pretty hard to do that when your opponent is shooting out the lights. As Kobe said: "We lost this game on the defensive end."
Stan Van Gundy: So Rafer Alston (20 points on 8-for-12 shooting) played most of the game (as he should have) while Jameer Nelson got reserve minutes (as he should have). I guess Stan finally figured it out...it only took him (and cost his team) two games. I'll never understand his "If it ain't broke, break it" attitude in L.A., when he forced Nelson into the game (and major minutes) at the cost of Rafer's confidence (not to mention his shooting form).
But wait, there's more. Dan B. sent me a brain cookie from Ric Bucher's Twitter: "Gotta love SVG. 4Q he yelled: 'You've got to fight!' Then went mute. Then slammed his clipboard. Then swatted Hedo on the ass. Timeout over."
The doom and gloomers: It's amazing how many times I've heard or read this morning that the Magic are in trouble because they had an historic shooting night and still barely won. Now normally, that's something I'd be pointing out except for one thing: Orlando barely shot better than 40 percent in Game 2 and were one missed layup (or, depending on your point of view, one blown goaltending call) from winning that one. Besides, the Lakers shot 51 percent themselves...a mark that probably would have been even higher without Kobe's remorseless gunnery.
Lacktion report: Chris took a quick break from celebrating the hiring of Paul Westphal in Sacramento to send in a lacktivity update: "For the Lakers, Sasha Vujacic annoyingly missed a shot and fouled once for a +2 suck differential in 3:10, while DJ Mbenga painted up a tune in a 17-second Mario! Stan Van Gundy's sorcerers of stress sent out Marcin Gortat in celebration, as in 4:42, he fouled once, tossed a brick, and took a rejection for a +3 that also was recorded as a 2:0 Voskuhl."
Bizarro coaches: One of the much-discussed officiating gaffes in Game 2 occurred when Pau Gasol didn't get called for goaltending on Courtney Lee's last-second alley-oop at the end of regulation. It was pretty clear that Pau touched both the net and the rim, but the refs swallowed their whistles. According to rule No. 11, section I-A (i) of the NBA rulebook, a player shall not "vibrate the rim or backboard so as to cause the ball to make an unnatural bounce." That no-call literally cost the Magic the game. (Although, in all fairness, it was only one of the many things, no-calls and otherwise, that led to Orlando's defeat.) Of course, as Kelly P. pointed out in an e-mail, that might have been a make-up no-call for Dwight Howard's rather spectacular "blocked shot."
At this point, NBA fans are well-used to embarrassingly bad officiating. Frankly, I'd be more surprised by a perfectly officiated NBA game (or even a "well officiated game") than if I woke up and found out that someone had stolen one of my kidneys. But here's where things get weird: Phil Jackson admitted that the call got blown. Said P-Jax: "It's called basket interference. Even if you hit the net supposedly in the process that's part of it, but that rule is kind of archaic. It isn't called in this day and age as much, but when we were in high school—that was something a high school ref might call, basket interference. ... According to the rules, [the call] was not [correct]. It wasn't made." Whaaa...?! Who is this guy and what did he do with Phil Jackson? Back in the day, Phil was well-known for his razor-sharp wit, which he used to stick it to the media and his opponents. He used to clash with Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy, and he once made a motivational team video that made Jason Williams out to be a neo-Nazi and compared Rick Adelman to Hitler.
Things got even stranger when Stan Van Gundy, who's no stranger to wouldn't take the bait: "Look, I'm not going to get into a call. Calls didn't decide that game. I don't think his (Gasol’s) hand being there or not being there had anything to do with the shot going in or not. You're just not going to get a complaint from me on that call." Wow. Somewhere Bill Simmons is muttering to himself, "Remember when teams used to hate each other? I miss those days!"
This fact recently came to the attention of Reebok, who for reasons unknown actually have some ink of their own...in the form of Gortat's signature on a shoe contract. Reebok asked him either to wear higher socks to cover up the tattoo or to apply makeup so it will not be noticed through the rest of the NBA Finals. No, really. But I don't think Marcin plans to comply.
According to the Polish Hammer himself: "They called and said I had to do something about it, but that ain't going to happen. I've been wearing it 4-5 years now, and it helped me get to the NBA. They didn't say anything about it when I signed the contract, so it's not going anywhere. I don't think they are paying me enough to take it off. ... I've heard from other people that even other players, if they don't know my name, they know I'm the big white guy with the Jordan tattoo. I like that. Reebok will have to get used to that."
Oh, one last thing. Gortat apparently wants to trade in "Polish Hammer" for a new nickname: The Odom Stopper. "I promise you, he won't score as much. He won't get as many rebounds if I'm out there against him. Other guys on our team have to stop Kobe Bryant. I have to stop Lamar Odom. I can do that. I'm supposed to come off the bench and stop him. If I do that, it will give us a better chance to win." (For the record, Odom finished with 11 points, 2 boards and 4 fouls last night...but not because of Gortat, who spent all but 4:42 on the bench.)
Shaq: His season-long one-man war against Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy peaked with his Twitter attack on them before Game 1. But now, regardless of whether the Magic win or lose the title, Dwight has done something The Big Twitter Bully never did: Avoided getting swept in his first NBA Finals. Oh, and his Finals record with the Magic (1-2) is also better than Shaq's (0-4). So much for The Big Cranky's "Everything he's done, I've invented" comment.