Monday, June 9, 2008

The Inglorious Escape

Now that we're all feeling pretty good about last night's results and have had some time to remove the fourth-quarter panic from our minds, I think it's time to revisit the scene of what, for a few brief yet excruciating moments, threatened to inarguably become the most spectacular single-game collapse in NBA history. Allow me to preface this by assuring you that this is not a freak-out post: if anything it's the opposite, a way of putting to rest both the silly claim that LA may have finally "put it together" in the fourth quarter and the even more ludicrous notion that the Lakers now have "momentum" going into Game 3.

Truthfully it all seemed to happen so fast; I remember looking at the clock with about six minutes to go, seeing the Lakers down 18 and half-thinking to myself how improbable it would be for a team to come back from that, and then it all just sort of happened. There was a barrage of three-pointers, some incredibly careless ball movement from the Celtics, and Kobe Bryant finally remembering how to get to the foul line, where he somehow, some way, cut the lead to 2 with 38 seconds remaining. It was absolutely chilling to watch, it never should have happened, and it says here that it's not going to happen again. Here are some reasons why:

First of all, one should never underestimate the potential effectiveness of a desperation offense like the one LA was running at the end of last night. It's more or less the equivalent of one of those crazy two-minute drills in football when all of a sudden every pass is being caught, running backs are casually breaking off 15-yard runs from draw plays and the defense is playing some sort of half-assed prevent scheme that's not really about winning the game so much as simply not losing it. Never a fun thing to watch if your allegiance lies with the defensive side, and you invariably find yourself wondering how the hell this offense could possibly be doing this now when they seemed so overmatched the rest of the game. That said, the problem with the desperation offense is that, by definition, it's unsustainable. It's not a system, and in fact, it's almost an anti-system, which is one of the reasons it can be so difficult to defend: there's not really any logic to it besides to overplay the ball on defense and score at all costs on offense. The Lakers scored 41 in the fourth last night by brazenly gambling on the passing lanes and firing up 3-pointers on the break; the fact that this non-strategy happened to prove extremely effective doesn't mean that we're going to see it again, and I guarantee that Phil Jackson was hating it almost as much as the fans at the Garden. In short, don't hold your breath for another 41-point quarter from LA unless we're in a similar situation to last night, in which case any Celtics fan would probably once again like his/her chances.

Secondly--and this is at least somewhat related to the first point--Glenn Rivers probably won't let this happen twice. This is an odd thing for someone like myself to say, who's spent a healthy dose of the past several years viciously deriding Rivers' capacities as a coach, but if there's one thing that's become clear about Glenn over this playoffs it's that he does, in fact, seem to learn from his (copious) mistakes. The mistake last night--and my God, was it a huge one--was deciding to completely change his team's style of play in a game that they were in the process of winning by an embarrassing margin. Around the 8-minute mark it suddenly became apparent that the Celtics had recently been instructed to play to run out the clock, a profoundly misguided maneuver when your primary success has come from attacking on offense and a downright atrocious one when you're playing a team as potentially explosive as the Lakers. I do not understand why this happened, and honestly to start playing to hold with eight minutes left in Game 2 of the NBA Finals is flatly indefensible. I'm not saying you should pay absolutely no attention to the scoreboard, but Christ, these are the Lakers; nobody will take exception with running up the score because, as we now uncomfortably know, even a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter is not a legitimate comfort zone. All in all this was a brief and highly unpleasant flashback to earlier in the playoffs, when we often wondered if Glenn was even aware he was coaching in the postseason, so scattershot and unfocused were his decisions and tendencies.

But he's been better of late, and I guess that's the larger point: he continues to get better, and for this reason alone last night's rather disgracefully close call shouldn't happen again. I'm not going to sit here and argue that the Celtics are going to sweep the Lakers, or even that this series definitively will not return to Boston: I'm just pointing out that after two games, the Celtics have the Lakers exactly where they want them, and no one ought to think otherwise.


Tim said...

Totally. When I was watching the game at the end of the third I was saying the Lakers would need like a 40 point 4th quarter to somehow pull it out - which seemed impossible under the circumstances. The fact they scored 41 is almost absurd - but the Celtics survived to tell about it, and that's probably all that matters. They never should have taken Powe out of the game, though.

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eda said...