Much has been made of the Lakers adjustment to move Kobe onto Russell Westbrook. And even more has been made about what Scott Brooks should do as a response. Will he alter the starting five? Will he change the rotation. J.G., playing the part of Phil Jackson, and me, playing the part of Scott Brooks, look into what might happen in Game 6.
Coach Scotty: You made (or Kobe made, depending on who you read) a great adjustment in Game 5 moving Kobe over on Russ. It totally disrupted the flow of our offense and limited our transition opportunities. I guess if I’m going to combat that, I’ve got to turn the tables and put the mismatch back in our favor. So that would be by exposing Derek Fisher again. It’s a risk, but maybe that means James Harden gets extended minutes over Thabo. KD can guard Kobe (or heck, Harden could), but now Fisher is covering Harden. Or maybe we go big and have KD at the two-guard and Green at the three. Now Fish is covering a big guy. Either way, we’ve got to focus our attack on the 59-year-old point guard LA is trotting out there. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT ZEN MASTER?
Phil: *puffs victory cigar*
Oh, excuse me, I was just reminiscing about all of my millions and how I have a championship ring for every digit on my hands, anyhoo, I can understand why you would want to turn the tables and use the BLATANT mismatch that is Derek Fisher in this series by matching him up against a bigger shooting guard like James Harden or moving KD to the two and Green at the three, but Scotty boy, we both know you’re not going to change your starting lineup this far into the game. You’re going to live by the utterly mismatched and underperforming starting lineup “horse” that got you here.
Remember, I lived in Montana. You know, horses.
So you’ll stick with Thabo and Krstic, which means that the “mismatch” you’re going to try and take advantage of is pitting a player who can’t defend his assignment (Fisher), against a player who can’t score on his assignment (Thabo). Um, I believe this is where I rake my little square of sand with what that tiny wood fork thing and say, “Check.”
But for humor’s sake, let’s say you do start Harden at the two or bring him in after five or six minutes when you’re already down by 15 again, do you honestly think Westbrook or KD is going to get him involved early on, despite the GLARING reality that Harden is the type of scorer who needs to get early looks to get in the flow of the game and boost his confidence.
It’s only really happened once in five games (Game 3), Game 4 was nice for him but at that point, we were really just ready for the flight back to the west coast where we could see actual changes in the landscape and real hills, and where a gentle breeze wasn’t 25 mph winds eroding away your will to live.
Did you say Jeff Green? Haha! I’ll introduce him to my two 7 footers in the paint each time he drives past or backs down Fisher (and he will, as he should, can you really kill something offensively that has no life defensively? Zen!). I think just the whisper of my big guys makes Green brace for impact at this point. I’m in his head more than David Stern’s in mine.
Shoot, there goes $35,000.
But seriously, Scotty, what are you going to do offensively to return serve in Game 6? Because I know that you know that I know that your best offense is your defense, yet do you really think there’s anything in OKC that can disrupt the dreaded triangle of defensive death?
Coach Scotty: You’re right. I concede that point. We’re not as deep, big or strong as you. And while I’m not going to adjust my starting five or really my in-game rotation, what I will adjust is how we use those things. Remember when the Durantula swallowed the Mamba whole in Game 3? You might see something like that again. I’m not revealing my cards until I get called. And when I do, you’ll see what I had up my sleeve.
But here’s reality: You can’t always make adjustments to magically become a better team. Sometimes, they other guy is just good. And you have to hope you can just hang tough, which is something I think we’ve done a darn good job of. Our thing is we have to play with what got us here and do it really, really well. We do that and you’ll see a repeat of Game 3 and 4.
You’re right, Phil. We don’t have the horses to match up with you head-to-head. We know that. But what we’ll do is try and get back to what dominated you in our building the other two games. We’re doing to defend, rebound and run. We tried to do that in Game 5, but it’s hard to do the last two when your opponent doesn’t miss.
I don’t think we have to adjust in any big way. I’ve always been a guy that believes in my players, almost to a fault. But who knows where my curveball may come from. If you see Kevin Ollie on Pau Gasol late in the fourth quarter, just know I that I know EXACTLY what I’m doing.
Phil: That’s the only thing that would merit a two-pinkied whistle from me (no, not Kevin Ollie on Pau Gasol, though Kobe still wouldn’t get him the ball until I told Kobe that Jordan wouldn’t have dumped it down low to Gasol until Game 7 either, thereby guaranteeing Kobe would do it in Game 6 just to beat Mike), but the reality that my guys really didn’t miss in Game 5 to an almost astounding degree, thereby negating the two things that have hurt us the most in this series. One of those being a huge shock to even me, and the other one being a giant “You think?”
Rebounding and speed in transition.
Now even though it may have been a shock to everyone before the playoffs that we’d be outrebounded in ANY game this series, the fact of the matter is that great defense that forces bad shots late in the shot clock is as much an influence on rebounding position as being 7 feet tall and owning a height/length advantage over your competition because a hurried shot not only affects the shooter, but also the other four players who are unsuspectingly and suddenly caught off guard as well. This has the effect of leaving the four offensive players on their heels and immediately swings the rebounding advantage to the more attacking-minded, athletic, crashing the boards at all cost defenders you have on your roster.
I should have seen it coming before Game 4, but like the rest of my team, I didn’t really expect to have to exert this much energy or even alertness in the first round so that’s a credit to you, your team and your fans, Scotty. Though, as you might have heard a thousand times by a thousand sound bytes: No, seriously, you really, really, absolutely have our attention now.
But let me continue my point by saying that the SUCCESSFUL crashing of the boards by your squad after terrific defense obviously aided your transition game as well, leaving my larger team flat-footed and slower in the run-out. Which is precisely why I would expect you to put KD on Kobe and/or possibly even pull out some paint collapsing zone because I know that you know that I know that you know that you’re no match for us inside, and since the paint is a higher percentage, you will live with us having to beat you by outside three’s and jumpshots, like you did in Games 3 and 4. Plus, even I don’t think Ron Artest is going to be raining threes again unless I convince him that there really is no such thing as a three point line, it’s only a starting line to ensure that he gets to play defense as fast as possible if he makes the basket from behind it.
Thus your decision to close off the paint to penetration and entry passes through a collapsing zone would force us into jumpshots again if you’re able to do it successfully, which after Tuesday night, seems like a pretty big if.
But your confidence in your players is foreign to me, as I prefer to play mind games with mine to try and spur them on to greatness that way (or cripple them, that’s what makes this so fun…and of course I knew Kobe would refuse to shoot a shot in the entire first quarter of Game 4 after I criticized his shooting and shot selection…which is why I still did it, knowing full well that a Game 5 performance from Kobe always follows a Game 4 performance once Kobe ‘believes’ he has proven his point).
But let me ask you this, Scotty, when are you going to tell Westbrook that he can still go right around Kobe and attack the basket, forcing my bigs to collapse so he can dish it off or get them in foul trouble, or get Kobe into foul trouble by trying to stop him…I know you’re aware of this and just didn’t want to tip your hand once you knew Game 5 was out of hand. You can’t blind a man who sees without his eyes, Coach of the Year. I’m on to you.
Coach Scotty: Here’s the thing I don’t think you realize Phil: I can’t play point guard for Russ. If I could, well, we’d stink because I wasn’t very good. You think I said, “Hey, Kobe’s on you. Start sucking”?
You know what we do well. It’s not secret. And when we do it well and do it right, you don’t have an answer. You may think you can create mismatches and re-assign players defensively, but when we’re out in transition and forcing misses, we’re dang tough to beat.
And here’s something else that should make you shake a little in your high-chair: Jeff Green is better than this. He’s going to find his outside stroke. And with Pau Gasol daring him to shoot, Green could pop out four 3s in a night at any moment. When we’ve got things going the way we like, we’ve got four viable scoring threats, with Nenad Krstic providing a little potential pop from outside. I don’t think Kobe can defend all four of those spots at the same time.
I’m not even 100 percent sure you’re going to start Kobe on Westbrook in Game 6. I think you may hold him back. Because let’s say we’re competitive in this one. And Kobe has to spend 40 minutes chasing Westbrook all around the court. How can you expect him to close out a game with a bum knee, a bad finger and add to that, really tired legs? He got lucky in Game 5 because we laid a stinker. But what happens in this one when it’s tight in the fourth quarter? Will Kobe have the legs?
Phil, you forget, just like this fanbase and all the media, that I’m coaching a group of kids. To expect perfection out of them for seven games is silly. That’s why I’m a good coach. I understand the strengths and weaknesses, but focus on the strengths. These guys can’t play you straight up. They know that, I know that. So we’ve found ways to exploit your age and lack of speed. But getting a group of 20-year-olds to do that every night when they’ve never been in these type of situations before isn’t easy. That’s why you should worry. Because when they’re on, you can’t hang with us. You know it and I know it.
Phil: It’s funny you mention that, Scott, because that’s exactly how me and the rest of the West Coast and the majority of NBA fans feel about this Lakers team. When we’re actually awake and motivated, no one, can hang with us. In fact, I’m not even going to mutter some half-humorous, half-inane zen statement about how Game 5 was the culmination of a train station finally meeting up with the train that
had already been travelling down the track for four games.
…what? Yes reporter people around the press conference who are looking at me like I’m crazy, I know train stations don’t move (hence the “stat” root word in the noun station, which means “to stay”), but that’s why my statement was zen. And why I’m the zen master. I made the switch flip you, not you flip the switch.
Anyone seen my Roman Numeral X hat?