Everyone stay calm!
The Lakers looked pretty loose today after practice. Focused and ready to play Game 2 on Sunday, but certainly not freaking out over what happened last night. The feeling was that they simply didn't perform at the level to which they're capable. Yes, the Celtics are a very good team, especially on the defensive end, but the Lakers, particularly Kobe, felt they missed some easy looks, costing them points they'd normally log. When challenged by Boston to show extra discipline and patience, they stopped doing a lot of the things that got them to the Finals to begin with. A little better ball movement offensively, some adjustments on the other end - better rebounding and fewer fouls, just to name a couple - and the game could have had a very different result. As it was, the Lakers did have a chance to win the game if they could have cleaned things up down the stretch.
I spent most of my time at this afternoon's media availability talking with Brian Shaw. Generally speaking, the assistants are a great source when things get crowded. They know stuff, break it down, and don't draw nearly the same sort of horde as your head coaches and star players. As always, Shaw had a lot of solid insight. I pulled some quotes below, and will try to get some more audio up over the day. Some, not all, the q's are mine. Just assume that the good ones are (haha).
On the game generally:
"I don't think that they played well, and we didn't play well, particularly in the second half. We know we can play a lot better and expect to, and it's a game that in spite of not playing well, we had an opportunity to steal the game and we didn't. We have our work cut out for us now, but like I said we feel like we can play a lot better and we will."
Q: Over the last six minutes of the first half was the only time you really seemed to roll offensively and look like the team you were over the course of the playoffs. What was different then, and why didn't it reach into the second half?
"We just stopped moving the ball. We had 14 assists on 19 baskets in the first half. We only had seven assists in the second half. We did everything via the pass in the first half, and particularly in the second quarter - you know, Kobe was coming off the screen rolls, he was finding Pau rolling to the basket, making timely passes, we were swinging the ball ahead of their rotations and getting shots that we wanted. In the second half we did everything off the dribble. And their defense is cocked to play an offense that's going to dribble, use dribble penetration to try and make it to the basket. They're not going to allow you to do that. That's part of our game plan coming in, to counteract and use their aggressive nature on defense to work against them. But we fell prey to our own attack in terms of dribbling the ball instead of passing the ball.
"We looked at film and to me, that was the biggest difference. It wasn't their defense, it was more our lack of offensive execution, in our game plan that we came in looking to execute."
Q: Kobe has struggled over the three games this year against Boston. Is it defense, or something else?
"Some of it is defense. I still think that he took shots that he normally makes and the ball didn't bounce in for him last night. But again, in the first half, in spite of whatever his percentage was in the first half, the ball moved and guys were knocking down (shots). Fish was knocking down shots, Lamar hit a couple of shots, and so that'll loosen up their defense which will open it up for him if we continue to move the ball. He did what he normally does. He kind of gets everyone involved in the first half and then he comes and is a little more assertive in the second, and I think he started to press after he started missing shots, wanting to get to his spots and they made it uncomfortable for him, but he continued to try to fight through it instead of moving the ball and allowing other guys to open it up for him."
Q: Do you think the Celtics are a little like a football team defensively, like they flood to the ball and the way to beat them is to cut back and get to the open side?
"Definitely. I think it's all about counteraction. They think that NBA players aren't patient enough to get to the second or third option of a play, so they're going to throw two or three people between you and the basket, and play the odds that you won't reverse it to the other side, and maybe even bring it back again, and we didn't... We just have to be disciplined enough to trust that if we do get the ball back to the other side that we'll have some better looks, and open ones."
Q: The risk, though, is if you go to your second or third option, Kobe doesn't get the ball.
"The remedy for that a lot of times is to start the ball away from Kobe. In the second half, we started the ball giving it to him right away. Then their whole defense, now you've got five sets of eyes and they're all focused on him. So now they're all on (one) side of the court and he's trying to break them down. If we start the ball away from him and then explore the options on that side of the court and bring it back around to him, that's the second option and he has the ball in his hands. It's the best of both worlds for us."
Q: Like the times you ran him off screens, or had him flash across the post for jumpers at the elbow?
"And that's one of the advantages of this offense, is that all five spots are interchangeable. So you can have Kobe at the top of the floor, you can have him at the elbow, on the post, you can even have him in the corner, and that forces the defenders to defend him on different spots on the floor, so they can't get comfortable where they're going to come from in their rotations or what have you, but we were reluctant to do that. We basically threw the ball to him on the wing and stood around and watched him try to make stuff happen. They're too good of a defensive team to allow you to beat them that way. They proved that when they played against Cleveland with LeBron James. You have a guy who has the ball in his hands all the time and they can focus on that one player, it's going to be tough to beat them."
Q: The bench seemed to struggle last night.
"The rotations were a lot different. They didn't really get into the rhythm that they normally get into. I think with the Sam Cassell matchup, we know he's tough and when he gets into his areas he can shoot over guys, even taller defenders. I think what Phil was trying to do was to get Jordan in a little more time against Rondo and then bring Fish back to go against (Cassell), because Fish has some experience going against Cassell, but he came in and got hot right away, and we had to adjust to by putting Kobe on him, and then that shortened Jordan's rotation, and (affected) Luke and all the guys at the small forward position. It was tough, too. We had some calls that went against us that took Vlade out of the game. We felt that he was doing a pretty effective job with Pierce when he was in at the beginning of the game. He got into foul trouble and never really got to get into the game. (Sasha had to come in earlier,) and that pushed Kobe down to the small forward. It just changed things up for us."
Shaw didn't think the Lakers suffered from any first-game jitters, at least nothing really bad. Maybe some moments of pressing, but no freak outs or anything. Boston does a lot of things - big, hard (and often moving) screens, running guys off the ball, putting bodies on people - that can be tough, "but we have to do that to free up guys on our offensive end as well."
Great quote from Jim Cleamons (like I said, I made the rounds with the assistants):
"People talk about winning. Winners don't talk about winning, they talk about kicking your ass. You do what you have to do. That's what winning does, that's what championship teams do. The hell with talking about it, you have to be about it. We've been challenged, but record wise this is the best team in the league. Record wise, this team has the best defense in the league. So hey, what are you supposed to do. Their record doesn't play for them, you've got to play. Any team I've ever been on, if you wanted to be the best you've got to play the best. If you want a championship you've got to go through the best team in the league this year. So fine. That's a challenge anybody I know that's a competitor would welcome."
Who isn't all fired up after that?