AP Photo/Chris Carlson
I don’t remember the last time an NBA game spawned so much post-game gossip, debate, YouTube clips, conspiracy theories, and wild speculation. The Internet is alive with talk of the two ejections, the technical fouls, and of course, the possible suspensions that may be handed out to Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant (the majority of this post was written before the suspensions were handed out). Here is just a few links to get you started:
Ball Don’t Lie – ‘Net Reaction to Rockets at Lakers, Game 2
Basketball Jones podcast – Elbows Up
Silver Screena and Roll – the best frame-by-frame analysis of the Kobe elbow you’ll ever see
TrueHoop – Kobe Bryant Suspension Watch
IntentionalFoul.com – Joey Crawford’s Wikipedia page gets defaced (added this one in for fun)
Breaking News: Kobe given Flagrant 1, Fisher suspended
My take on the Kobe elbow? I’ve seen every bit of footage and every photo that is out there. Firstly, Artest shoved his forearm into Kobe’s back almost bending him in two. THAT should have been a foul. Then after wrestling for a bit, Kobe retaliates with the elbow and lands it in Artest’s upper-chest. It’s not the neck – it’s somewhere between nipple and upper sternum. The thing you have to remember is that Kobe was “crouched” getting ready for the box-out, his body was closer to the ground than Artest. So it’s very difficult for Kobe in that situation to throw an elbow high enough to collect Artest in the neck or above. Kobe still should have been given a technical for throwing a wild elbow.
Unfortunately for Kobe, Artest seemed to grab his neck after the incident, making it seem like that’s where Kobe hit him. The reason this whole chest/neck debate is so important is that if it’s neck that means it’s above the shoulders, and the NBA rule states that any above-shoulder blow is an automatic ejection. And since Kobe was not ejected in Game 2, he would be suspended for Game 3. There is still a lack of good camera footage from the reverse angle to make it 100% clear, but weighing up all the evidence, I would be surprised if Kobe gets suspended for Game 3. On to my game diary.
- Four things happened at the start of this game that boded incredibly well for the Lakers. 1) Fisher makes his first shot in Aaron Brooks face. 2) Kobe hits his first shot over Battier. 3) Gasol makes his first shot over Yao. And 4) Brook’s first shot gets blocked. Four statement plays, right there.
- Jordan Farmer came into the game early, ahead of Shannon Brown. Did Phil Jackson read my Game 1 post?
- Kobe hits a buzzer-beater at the end of the first to give him 15 for the quarter – most of which came on tough jumpers with Battier in his grill. A 39 point first quarter to the Lakers, a clear return to form.
- During the second quarter the Lakers ran with an incredibly small lineup featuring Farmar, Brown and Vujacic. It didn’t give the Lakers any advantage. Landry started punishing them in this quarter, Artest was unstoppable and seemed to connect on every shot he hit, and Kobe resorted to 1-on-1 basketball. During the Denver-Dallas game I remember the commentator – can’t remember which one – saying that some teams play better when they’re behind, some play better when they’re in front. Denver is clearly the latter – when they get the lead they tend to blow you completely out of the water. They just run up the score, and they have bench guys who want to keep running up the score. The Lakers are the opposite. They play better when they’re behind or when the game is in the balance, but once they have a lead you can see the change in their energy. Is it complacency? I don’t know, I’ve got a feeling its more to do with their bench struggling at the moment. More on this later.
- Artest hit a jumper to give Houston a 49-48 lead with 3:51 left in the second – it had only taken Houston 9 minutes to erase the 14 point Lakers lead. It was at this time when I wrote something in my notebook that would turn out to be incredibly ironic. Again, more on this later.
- The Rockets built a lead of four points before Kobe dragged them level at the half with another buzzer-beater. It was even at 57-57, each team having dominated one quarter. Interestingly, Yao had only take one shot for the half – due to foul trouble no doubt, but also due to the Lakers (especially Yao) doing a great job of denying him the ball.
- It’s interesting what happens when opposition teams make a run at the Lakers. Because the Lakers aren’t a natural defensive team (by “natural” I mean a team that plays good defense all the time without having to turn it “ON”, see Pistons 2003-2005, Celtics last season), the way they respond to these runs is by trying to keep scoring. But when the opposition team is making a run, it’s difficult to score because you have no momentum, and every missed shot seems to just fuel your opponent even more, and the pressure to score keeps building (because you know you can’t get stops). So what do LA do? They look to Kobe, who starts morphing into 2006-Kobe, and moves away from everything that built LA the lead in the first place. So next time you’re watching the Lakers and they’re blowing a big lead, ask yourself: are they really blowing a big lead? Or are they just incapable of withstanding runs from opposing teams? There is a difference.
- In the 3rd Artest continues to light it up, and I’m wondering why the hell Phil Jackson is persisting with Ariza? Why not mix it up a bit? Hell, why not throw Kobe on Artest for a little while and see what happens? Kobe is the All-Defensive First Teamer after all.
- After nailing a tough jumper in the lane over Battier, Kobe turns to the sidelines and screams ‘he can’t guard me!”. Memories of MJ against Gerald “Jordan Stopper” Wilkins from Cleveland, when MJ mouthed the exact same thing to the crowd (anyone got this video?). Apparently what got Kobe T’d up later in the game was a similar verbal outburst, but this time the referee heard it. What’s with sucking the fun and attitude out of the game? What would Charles Oakley think of this?
- 7:02 left in the third, Odom tries to dunk it over Yao from the free-throw line. What was he thinking exactly? I loved the aggression though. The fact the thought even popped into his head is amusing.
- Kobe goes on another little tear in this quarter, scoring 12, and the Lakers build the lead again. Lakers only looking threatening in this game when Kobe is scoring – what happened to that well-rounded offense?
- With 13 seconds left in the third, Fisher flattens Scola and gets ejected. After the game Fish explained that he thought Scola’s body was a lot closer, and that it only looked like he lined him up because Fish anticipated the contact too soon. He admitted he was trying to run through the pick hard, and that he knew the team had a foul to give (so there was obviously some intent). Fisher said he wasn’t trying to “send a message”, nor did he think Scola was coming to line him up. He also said that when he was ejected he was comfortable watching the game from the locker room, because he knew the Lakers would win. He said he was confident in Farmar and Brown’s ability to close things out. My thoughts on this is that Fisher will probably get suspended, because it looks so bad. I don’t necessarily think this is a huge blow to the Lakers, because Fish hasn’t been shooting the ball all that well this series, and Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar are more suited to guarding Brooks anyway. Obviously it’s bad news for D-Fish if he gets suspended, but it could be a blessing in disguise for LA in Game 3.
- With 7 minutes left in the fourth, Artest gets ejected. It started with a complaint to the ref near the rebounding battle, which was fine and harmless. Then he runs the length of the court right into Kobe’s grill which you’d think he’d only do if he wanted to fight the guy. At this point we all thought Ron was going to get a tech foul, and everything would settle down. Then, while being dragged away, Artest starts making the elbowing gestures at Kobe – he only got ejected because Joey Crawford perceived he was making a ‘throat-slitting’ gesture. From the stands, this is exactly what it looked like, and everyone was half-cheering half-in shock. It looked like Artest was threatening to kill Kobe. Being up in the press box, I had the benefit of the TV replay and it was clear Artest was just motioning with his elbow. He shouldn’t have been ejected – he never made physical contact with Kobe, it was just an extreme case of taunting which according to the rules is a technical foul. After the game Kobe said he didn’t think Artest deserved to be ejected, and even said “to be honest with you, I think it’s great”. When asked what Artest said to him, Kobe responded “Nothing… I didn’t hear nothing”, while smiling.
- Here is what I wrote in my notepad during the second quarter, while Artest was taking over the game. “Artest makes the right decision, on almost every play. The continued evolution from an uncontrollable team disturbance to the voice of reason”. How amusing! Clearly that evolution is not complete. Artest was hardly the “voice of reason” last night, but that fact I wrote that barely an hour before his ejection proves what an enigma Artest really is. I thought I had him figured out. After having seen him play four times in the past month, I thought I could go back home telling all my friends about the “new Artest”. Maybe I still can though. After all, wouldn’t the old Artest have run up to Kobe to knock hims square in the jaw rather than just mouthing off?
- Kobe pulls his off-the-backboard move. I’ve seen one or two players do this before – Jamal Crawford comes to mind – but when you watch other players do it, it feels a bit “flukey”. When Kobe does it, it seems genuinely preconceived. That shot-fake and pivot rolled effortlessly into the toss off the backboard. He meant it, which is kind of scary.
After the game I sat in the press conference and heard from Phil Jackson, Rick Aldeman, Derek Fisher, Yao Ming and Kobe.
- “Absolutely not” was Phil Jackson’s response to whether he was concerned about losing Fisher to a suspension. He said it was an “inconsistent call” based on how the game was being refereed. He said he wasn’t concerned about the physicality of the series, which doesn’t surprise me, because Phil has seen playoff series 20 times more physical than this (Knicks v Bulls anyone?). He praised Kobe for his shooting and getting the ball out of his hands quickly tonight – he thought Kobe let the defenders get a little too close to him in Game 1. Phil used the word “momentum” a lot when talking about this game, a game that swung in both directions at least twice.
- Coach Aldeman refrained from talking about the Artest situation and also the Von Wafer situation. I didn’t actually know what happened to Von till after the game – apparently he argued with Aldeman late in the third quarter, went straight to the locker room, and didn’t come back. He talked about Yao needing to do a better job against Pau, and that Pau is going to attack Yao a lore more than Bynum would. He thought “things did get out of hand” in the third and fourth quarters, but also added that “we’re not backing down from any body”. Aldeman looked pretty riled up after the game.
- Yao talked about his team needing to fight back. He said Gasol was a very intelligent player which made it challenging to play against him. Another piece of Yao comedy came during the questioning. When someone asked him whether the team was happy to get the split going back home, Yao had to apologize. “What is that word? Split?” He had no idea what it meant. After someone explained it meant being 1-1, Yao mentioned he had “learned lots of words this week” (‘underdog’ was the word from Game 1). He went on to say that home court advantage doesn’t necessarily matter in this series, and that it was important to care of business back at home. He paused for a bit. “We don’t want a split over there”. Everyone laughed.
- Kobe talked about how it was a “good physical game” and how emotion brings out the best in the team. I asked Kobe whether when things are getting that chippy and that emotional, whether he uses that energy to drive him to attack even more, or whether he feels the need to settle things down for his team? He said in those situations he definitely uses it as fuel, as much as possible. “I use it to drive me, absolutely”. Finally, when asked about the physical nature of the series, Kobe said “It’s fun… 80′s style“.
I fully expect the Rockets to win Game 3. I honestly think the Lakers are in more trouble than everyone realises. What does everyone else think? Am I missing something here? Am I putting too much faith in a madman?
On to the votes:
3 votes – Kobe Bryant. Scored 40 points in a must-win game against one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. That will always get you 3 votes.
2 votes – Eddie House. This guy has been the Celtics savior of late. Was huge in Game 7 against the Bulls and does it again in Game 2 against Orlando. When asked about Rafer Alston hitting him in the head, his response was golden: “That’s what happens when you bust somebody’s ass”.
1 vote – Pau Gasol. Almost gave this vote to Rondo for another triple-double and the poster he made, but Pau Gasol was gets it for the 22 points, 14 boards, 4 assists, 4 blocks AND and stopping Yao. They should have gone to Pau a lot more in this game.
Day 18 – The Day LeBron was named MVP
3 votes – Lebron James. Lebron being awarded the MVP was probably as predictable as the whooping the Cavs handed the Hawks in this game. A casual 34 and 10 for LBJ. Sorry Hawks fan(s), wake me up when Lebron gets to the Conference Finals.
2 votes – Nene. I honestly did not think Nene would top his Game 1 effort of 24 – I thought that was an anomlay. Then he goes and gets 25 in this one on 8-12 shooting, and all of a sudden he is a huge factor in this series – and beyond. After watching Game 2 of Denver v Dallas, in the heat of the moment I very nearly put $20 on the Nuggets winning the championship. I’ve already talked about how they have all the ingredients. I’m still waiting for a Denver meltdown to bring them (and me) back to reality, but it hasn’t happened yet. They’re average winning margin these playoffs is 24.8 points, and the only game they lost was by 2 points. That is ridiculous. I see no flaws in that team at the moment. They are without doubt playing better than anyone else right now.
1 vote – JR Smith. This guy is unreal. He’s the best bench player of the playoffs so far. He has the shooting conscious of Ben Gorden (i.e. he doesn’t have one) yet he’s shooting 52% so far in these playoffs.