Our buddies over at The Association are big Lakers fans. That's a shame, since we think they're pretty cool guys and, as far as we've been able to determine, the Lakers organization is personally responsible for the Black Plague of the Middle Ages, the rise of Nazi Germany, and those annoying sticker thingies they use to seal CDs and DVDs. Association correspondant Craig got riled up over one of our recent posts, and since my reply was getting kind of long, I figured I'd give it front page coverage.

Editor's Note: Basketbawful fact checkers have uncovered stunning new information. Craig is the only Lakers fan associated with The Association. Brett, for the record, has no well-defined loyalties to any team. We apologize for any inconvenience or incontinence.

Let's get all the Laker conspiracy theories out of the way:

For the record, I haven't used any words like "conspiracy" or "collusion" or "antienergistic" in any of my posts or comments (except those in which Gatorade was involved). And frankly, I don't think the NBA has any vested interest in ensuring a Lakers/Clippers series, or keeping the Lakers in the playoffs over the Suns. What I have pointed out is the tendency for the home team to receive better treatment from the officials, especially in the playoffs. You'll notice, for instance, that the Heat went from receiving five total freethrows in Game 4 (on the road) to 41 freethrows in Game 5 (at home). And while some of that discrepancy can be explained by the fact that the Heat, as a team, were much more aggressive in Game 5, they still got eight times as many freethrows from one game to the next. Eight times as many!!

One thing I didn't mention, but should have, is that home cooking doesn't always involve a major gap between the number of freethrows awarded to each team. In Peter May's book The Last Banner, Kevin McHale agreed that there is a home court bias in the NBA, but he described it as "just a call here or there." That's usually the case. The bias might be a small handful of calls, maybe even just one or two. But in many instances these calls change the flow of the game, reverse momentum, or in some way irrevocably change the outcome. Everybody mentions Michael Jordan's push-off against Bryon Russell in the 1998 Finals (which was a superstar non-call rather than home cooking, to the lasting dismay of the Utah Jazz). But earlier in those playoffs, Reggie Miller blatantly pushed off of Michael Jordan to get off a buzzer-beater to beat the Bulls in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a great moment in Pacers history, and it ranks as one of the top four or five experiences of my life, right between the first time I touched a woman's breast and the second time I touched a woman's breast. But that doesn't change the fact that it was an illegal maneuver that most likely would have been called as an offensive foul had it happened in Chicago. While that non-call didn't decide the series, it still meant the difference between the series going five games or the full seven.

The Nash no-foul was one of those game-changing moments. Not only was Nash clearly jostled while he and Boris Diaw were calling for time, there's
video and pictorial evidence (links provided by reader gfroese) that shows Luke Walton's foot was out of bounds while he was tying Nash up. And two refs were standing right there to see it.

Uh, guys...he's standing out of bounds. Guys? Guys?!

So at the very least, regardless of what side of the arguement you're on, the outcome of that play is somewhat dubious, especially now that even David Stern has admitted that the refs are missing calls. Would it have gone down the same way had it happened in Phoenix? I tend to doubt it.

1. Does anyone remember that Kobe missed all but 30 seconds of the second quarter because of foul trouble? (The worst call of the three early fouls was the hold foul on Kobe literally the next possession after Raja Bell had two hand pushing Kobe away from the post.)

I know Kobe missed most of the second quarter, but without reviewing the game I honestly can't tell you how much time he did or didn't play. As for the hold versus the two-handed push, I think I've mentioned this before: There are different officiating standards when a player is posting up. Grabbing, holding, and hacking a player while he's posting up are apparently completely legal. Whereas holding, hand-checking, or in any way touching a perimeter player now result in an almost automatic whistle. I'm sure you noticed how guard scoring went through the roof this season. That's not coincidence. I would really like to see David Stern clean this mess up. Why shouldn't post players be afforded the same protection from mugging that the perimeter players now receive? Stern unintentionally gave the answer during halftime of the All-Star Game, when he said his least favorite NBA era was the mid-90s, "When teams just posted up their big man, drew a double-team, and then kicked out for three-pointer. That was terrible to watch." Well, Stern has certainly put a stop to that, didn't he?

Phoenix blew a great chance in the second quarter. The Lakers here having a hard time scoring and Phoenix never attacked. Instead a Kobe-less Laker squad held PHX to 15 points.

Phoenix couldn't attack. Phil Jackson did the same thing he used to do in Chicago when Michael Jordan got into foul trouble: He put in a unit that would focus on playing defense and slowing down the tempo of the game. As a result, Phoenix couldn't run or establish their usual scoring rhythm, and both teams slogged through the second quarter at a pace reminiscent of the old Heat/Knicks games of the late 90s.

We hear about Kobe always getting the calls and the Lakers getting away with bloody murder, obviously our memory stops at 29 minutes of game time. (Kobe and Odom both were out in the first quarter in foul trouble.) The first half PHX had many chances to blow the game open and choked.

Yes, I believe Kobe gets the benefit of the doubt on calls that many players do not. I don't think I've ever gone so far as to say he or the Lakers get away with "bloody murder." That's a little too extreme, even for me. At any rate, as I said above, when Kobe and Odom got into foul trouble, Jackson slowed the game down to a snail's pace to prevent Phoenix from literally running away with the game. Phoenix has been less capable of responding to that scenario this year because they're missing their best (and, really, only) post player, Amare Stoudemire.

And if I'm baised against Kobe, I think you're being overly critical of the Suns. They hardly choked. I mean, think about it. They hung tough and almost stole an incredibly intense road game, and they lost due to not one, but two amazing buzzer-beaters and (as some deem) a couple questionable calls. The Suns had plenty of chances to roll over and die, particularly after Kobe hit the shot to force overtime, but they fought tooth and nail, hit several critical shots under pressure (like Nash's three-pointer with 50 seconds left in overtime), and very nearly won the game.

2. Nash made a rookie mistake by dribbling the ball across halfcourt along the sideline. The sideline becomes the third defender. If he crossed the court in the center, Nash could go left or right and break down the slower Laker players. The MVP should know better than to make such a basic mistake.

Greater players than Nash have made bigger mistakes in even bigger games. For instance, everyone knows that Havlicek stole the ball at the end of Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals, but few people remember that he had to steal the ball because MVP Bill Russell had just blown a simple inbounds play by throwing the ball off the guide wire that was supporting the basket. (And Russell had demanded to inbound the ball so no one else would screw it up.) Fortunately for Russell, the NBA didn't revoke his MVP award for that one boneheaded play.

And do you remember Magic Johnson dribbling out the clock at the end of regulation in Game 2 of the 1984 NBA Finals? Or how he missed two critical freethrows and then threw a pass away at the end of overtime in Game 4? And speaking of Magic, remember his baby hook at the end of Game 4 of the 1987 Finals? He would't have gotten the opportunity to even attempt that shot if the Celtics' legendary front line had been able to control a defensive rebound off Kareem's missed freethrow. And yet no one has suggested taking away Bird's MVPs or removing Kevin McHale and Robert Parish from the list of 50 Greatest Players.

Don't abuse Nash for winning the MVP over Kobe. Since athletes are human, they make mistakes. You can't use a single error to prove or disprove someone's worth as a basketball player. Should we say Kobe proved why he didn't win the MVP by getting himself tossed out of Game 5? Wouldn't a worthy MVP candidate have kept his cool and not challenged the refs even though he'd already gotten one technical foul? I, for one, wouldn't say that. But what I will say is this: In my opinion, the MVP doesn't wait until the playoffs to start involving his teammates on a consistent basis. If Kobe had played the way he's been playing in this series, he probably would have won MVP. And I wouldn't have had an realistic argument against him.

Plus, why not pass the ball off as soon as the defense came to foul? PHX led the league in free throw percentage not just because of Nash but because everyone else hits their ft's.

It's standard practice to designate one person to receive and hold the ball in situations where the other team is expected to foul. I'm reasonably sure Nash was carrying out D'Antoni's instructions. And, I would guess, he likely assumed the Lakers would commit (and be called for) a quick foul.

3. D'Antoni is getting thoroughly out coached by Jackson. For the last 6 minutes of regulation and throughout overtime, the Suns ran the same offensive play. (screen and roll from the left side with Nash) Smush Parker had trouble with the play the first 3 or 4 times it was run, but since PHX ran the EXACT same play every time, he anticipated the screen and stayed with Nash. Soon PHX was blowing chances to put the game away, especially since Kobe was a turnover machine on offense for most of the fourth quarter and the Lakers offense was stagnant.

I won't disagree with you there. D'Antoni lacks Jackson's ability to make minor (but crucial) adjustments throughout a game. There's no question he's being outcoached.

4. Lastly, whether the refs gave the Lakers some leeway or not, Kobe still had to hit two incredible shots. Especially the one to tie the game! He was being "strongly" forced baseline and had to shoot it from under the basket. (and for the PHX conspiracy theorists, he was fouled on that shot by Diaw).

I'll be the first to admit he hit two big shots. I can't comment on whether or not Diaw fouled him, because I don't have the game tape in front of me. If you happen to have a link, please send it to me.

Kobe deserved to go nutzo is his celebration. I was at the game and it ranks up there with the great comebacks. The Lakers were dead in the water with seconds left in regulation, fans were leaving and crappy players like Fugazi Thomas were hitting clutch jumpers. It was over...suddenly out of nowhere the game was tied. It was literally that fast and the place rocked.

Maybe I'm just old school. But I fully believe that "nutzo" celebrations should be reserved for bigger games. Not to take anything away from the comeback, or Kobe's amazing shots, but in the end it's still a first round game, and not even a clincher. Let me put it to you this way. Back in 1991, the Celtics were facing the Pacers in one of the most competitive (and underrated) first round series in NBA history. In the fifth and deciding game, Larry Bird -- who had spent the previous night in traction at a Massachusetts hospital -- dove for a loose ball and ended up breaking his face on the Boston Garden parquet. He had to leave the game and was told by the Celtics' team doctor that he would not, by any means, be cleared to play again that night. But he came back anyway, Willis Reed-style, scoring 32 points (on 12-for-19 shooting) to go along with his 11 rebounds and 7 assists. And although this was the culmination of a heated semi-rivalry with Chuck Person (who had been talking endless streams of trash and taking cheap shots at Bird's injured back throughout the series), did Bird celebrate at the end? Did he scream at Person as he walked of the court? Did he celebrate what is now considered a legendary comeback from injury? No. He high-fived a couple teammates and walked off the floor. Afterward, he commented, "The Celtics don't celebrate winning a first round series. We celebrate championships."

But there's more, I suppose. It's not even so much the fact that he celebrated as how he did it. This wasn't Magic Johnson jumping playfully onto Kareem's back, all hugs and giggles. Kobe was totally over the top. The initial reaction wasn't the issue. He pumped his fist, his teammates mobbed him, everybody smiled and laughed...all the stuff you expect after a player hits a buzzer-beater to win a big game. But it didn't stop there. Kobe proceeded to glare around the court, thump his chest repeatedly, tear at his jersey, then ended the spectacle by wooing, flexing, and screaming like Ric Flair in the middle of a throng of camera men. It just looked...classless, somehow.

Kobe celebration
Hey, nice shot. But this is just the first round, dude.

Finally, this will all be pointless as I just read that Kwame Brown is under investigation for sexual assault. And since he doesn't carry Kobe's ability to compartmentalize, he'll be worthless for Game 5 and PHX will win easily. With the Lakers scrambling for help down low for the last two games, this could change the whole series.

Actually, Brown played pretty well. He shot 6-for-6 for his 14 points (the third-highest scoring total on the team). However, he was limited to 24 minutes due to (surprise) foul trouble. ANd did I mention Kobe got tossed? That'll happen when you're on the road in the playoffs.

Suddenly the Clipper-Laker match-up doesn't look like much of a reality.

To steal a line from the Basketball Jesus, you have a better chance of seeing God than of seeing the Suns win Game 6 in L.A.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
One thing to clarify, Brett at "The Association" is not a Laker fan.

I'll post more later (really busy at work), but that clothesline by Raja Bell reminded me of the 1984 NBA finals. With Kurt Thomas and Amare both out, Raja Bell of all people is playing the role of enforcer.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
For the record, only Craig could be considered a "big Laker fan." I did share season tix with him from 2000-04, and consequently couldn't help but get sucked in during the glory years. I was disgusted however with how the championship team was broken up and how the current roster somehow passes for an NBA team.

Now though I'm more of a general NBA fan, and sadly I don't really have a favorite team. I can't get behind rooting for the same team year in and year out, no matter who's playing or coaching. To quote an old and unfunny Jerry Seinfeld joke, by doing that you're just rooting for the uniforms. Though being at game 4 on Sunday it was impossible not to cheer for the Lakers that day, it was a very special game.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
OOOPS!! I stand corrected. Sorry Brett...didn't mean to lump you into that "Lakers fan" category. I feel the same way when people stereotype me as a "Care Bears fan." I only have 31 of the plush toys and the official lunch box. That's pretty casual, right?

The Raja Bell takedown is somewhat reminiscent of the McHale/Rambis takedown. The main differences are 1. Rambis was a roleplayer whereas Kobe is The Man for the Lakers, 2. there has been bad blood between Raja and Kobe for years now, which wasn't really the case for Rambis and McHale, and 3. The McHale clothesline still looked worse than what Raja did. I'm not saying it was worse, but it certainly looked it. To this day, I still can't believe Kurt just popped right back up after that.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Love your site, guys.

Looks like Bell's suspension for game 5 just became official. Being Canadian and therefore a certifiable Nash-worshiper, I obviously sympathize with Bell, and I thought he carried himself quite well by acknowledging what he did was wrong. But I did also enjoy his refusal to back down from Kobe, calling him "a pompous, arrogant individual" (Lamar Odom really needs to wash out that young man's mouth with soap).

Does anyone remember game 1 of the Lakers-Sixers finals back in '01? It was just so damn awesome to see the rookie Bell hit that running floater over Shaq to steal home court after LA just reeled off 12 straight previous wins. What made it better was that during one of those halftime or pregame Access Amad-style interviews, Phil Jackson, condescending and sarcastic as ever, laughingly remarked that he thought Raja would be the key to the series. Too bad Shaq went on to lift his already-insane numbers for those playoffs and LA swept the next four game.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Love your site, guys.

Looks like Bell's suspension for game 5 just became official. Being Canadian and therefore a certifiable Nash-worshiper, I obviously sympathize with the Suns and Bell, and I thought he carried himself quite well by acknowledging what he did was wrong. But I did also enjoy his refusal to back down from Kobe, calling him "a pompous, arrogant individual" (Lamar Odom really needs to wash out that young man's mouth with soap).

Does anyone remember game 1 of the Lakers-Sixers finals back in '01? It was just so damn awesome to see the rookie Bell hit that running floater over Shaq to steal home court after LA had just reeled off 12 straight previous wins. What made it better was that during one of those halftime or pregame Access Amad-style interviews, Phil Jackson, condescending and sarcastic as ever, laughingly remarked that he thought Raja would be the key to the series. Unfortunately Shaq went on to lift his insane numbers for those playoffs and LA swept the next four game.

Blogger Greg said...
Very good breakdown, by the way. I'm a bit surprised that Reggie "Gettin' Me Some Family Jewels" Evans wasn't suspended but Bell was. I suspect that if the player he had taken down wasn't named "Kobe" they might have let him get away with it. Game 6 should be very interesting. Let's hope the Suns get to run and then they won't allow the refs to decide the game.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
This one's straight at Greg.

Can we please stop with the whole 'Just because it's Kobe" talk? Let's rundown the three other suspensions in the playoffs so far:

Udonis Haslem - 1 game for throwing a mouthpiece at Joey Crawford (Kobe is NOT involved in the game or either team). Then again Shaq plays for the Heat so I guess it's the NBA trying to "get even" with Shaq for leaving the Lakers and for hating Kobe.

Ron Artest - 1 game for leaning his elbow on Manu Ginoboli. Again, Kobe is not involved in this one. Wait a second... Sacramento is a huge rival for the Lakers, so maybe they suspended Artest just to stick it to a Laker rival and therefore a Kobe rival.

James Posey - 1 game for "for taking a running shoulder block at Hinrich". Kobe not directly involved... again. However the explanation for Haslem applies here, so it must be because of Kobe.

So I guess I'm wrong. ALL suspensions result in some tie into Kobe Bryant. So the reason for Reggie Evans NOT getting suspended is because it harms the Clippers, which would have been a better opponent for the Lakers than Denver. So I guess the NBA fixed it in hopes that Denver would beat the Clippers and thus be an easier opponent in the second round.

The sole determination for all suspensions all relate to how the league can fix it so the Lakers are in the finals to play LeBron. I stand corrected...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Basketbawful, good stuff. I feel honored and (it's a little dusty here) a little emotional to be part of your post. I always like how you respond with some historical perspective, especially the peak of the NBA, the 1980's.

A lot of what I said had more to do with what I was hearing and reading all day regarding the Game 4 finish. I wasn't directing all my takes at you, but rather at all the responses from your site and at all the audio diarrhea spewing from talk-radio.

What slays me is the CONSTANT conspiracy theorists regarding the Lakers. Like somehow David Stern is in some shack in the woods scheming up a plan to get Kobe and the Lakers in the finals every single season.

My favorite all time conspiracy theory was the 2002-03 playoffs. The league expanded the first round to a 7 game series to milk as much TV money as physically possible. Instead all I heard was the sports-talk screamers and newspaper columnists claiming that the NBA extended the series to improve the 5th seeded Lakers chances against Minnesota in the 1st round.

My entire point was that all this Laker conspiracy talk is the lazy solution to the issue. In Game 4, instead of looking at why or how the Suns got to the point of the game where it was a one possession deficit (I listed some in my post), everyone just throws up their hands and says, "the NBA wants the Lakers to win!" For game 4 to get to the moment where Kobe is taking a game winning shot, a lot of things had to happen. From Smush Parker shot putting a three to cut the lead to 2, to Nash simply pulling a bone-headed move and dribbling into the defensive strength at the end of regulation, to the Lakers stealing the ball and getting it quickly to Kobe for a game tying shot, to Kobe hitting a high degree of difficulty shot just to send the game into overtime...

But instead I hear and read (not from you but from a lot of places) that the refs fixed the game because the NBA wants the Lakers to advance.

Just like Derek Fisher's 0.4 second shot over San Antonio in '04. The shot was EXTREMELY lucky! That's all, nothing else. Yet for days, all I heard was that the refs fixed it because ABC doesn't want a Pistons-Spurs Final. (As though there some button in Al Michaels hand that increased the size of the hoop during Fisher's shot that night.) Instead of giving credit to a sick shot or just luck, it's somehow the NBA fixing that outcome.


Anyway, keep up the good work! We need to do more collaboration posts in the future like a point-counterpoint segment.

Blogger Greg said...
Craig, you misunderstand me. I don't think this has anything to do with the Lakers. I think this has a lot to do with Kobe. I don't think the NBA is fixing things for Kobe, but you have to admit that for 25 years, since the advent of Magic and Bird and especially Jordan, the NBA has been marketing stars, not teams. That's why Spurs-Pistons is a death knell to television ratings, because the closest either of those teams has to a superstar is Tim Duncan. The NBA treats its superstars better than the rest of the players, because that's who they want as the face of the league. I'm from Philadelphia, so I'm sort of a Sixers fan (sort of because, you know, they stink), but it bugs me that Iverson doesn't get called for palming the ball all the time. Ewing walked all the time. We've already referenced the Michael Jordan push on Bryon Russell. Shaq fouls somebody almost every time down the floor. I imagine in a few years, if Amare Stoudamire improves as much as he has prior to this year, he'll be able to shove people out of the way in the low post all the time and not get called for charging. That's why I made the point about it being Kobe. It's not the Lakers, it's the superstar wearing #8.

Of course, that's my opinion. Yours may vary.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Sorry I missunderstood you Greg. I agree that there's definately a star system in the NBA. The NBA promotes individuals over teams and the system has worked since the 1980's. Now I agree that in some cases the league goes waaaayy overboard in the star system (just look at all the travelling and offensive fouls not called by Arenas and LeBron in the Wiz-Cavs series) but it's better to protect the stars in physical situations or you get what they have in hockey with the thugs taking out the other team's star player in game 1.

That being said, Raja Bell's foul, no matter who it was on, would have led to a one game suspension. The Heinrich-Posey incident had nothing to do with any superstars and still Posey got a one game suspension.

I was just getting tired of the Laker conspiracy theories that I've been bombarded with over the past 3 days.