What follows is an email exchange between Jordan Heimer and me that we hope is worth sharing. Enjoy!
Charlie: Well, that was…just like you might have expected? We’ve seen it time and time again — the Clippers invited the Lakers to get into the lane with ease, getting outscored in the paint by 10 and giving up 10 more free throws than they took. As Chris Paul said, “it’s one or the other: either Kobe gets his and no one else, or everyone else and not him.” Instead, both he and Bynum topped 30. The Lakers put up 63 points in the first half, but even when the Clips fought back, it was nonexistent rotations that did them in.
Vinny Del Negro talked in his postgame press conference about how the Lakers core has won championships, so you don’t go through those battles without learning a lot about yourself. I guess I’m wondering, what didn’t we know? The highlights are always awesome — and especially so tonight — but even with Caron Butler going for 28, haven’t they proven that they can’t just hope to outscore good teams with any consistency?
Jordan: “Haven’t they proven that they just can’t hope to outscore good teams with any consistency?” I’m not sure that’s what tonight proved. I know that my role is to play Pollyanna of sunny optimism to your Cassandra of doom, but let me do it anyway.
1. Kobe Bryant will not always hit those shots. 13-19? Really? Granted, the majority of Kobe’s shots were taken below the free-throw line, but most of those were with a hand in his face, and a body in his body. He basically hit every shot that any human being could hit. Sometimes that’ll happen. Usually, he’ll miss about 60 percent of them, jut out his jaw, yell at Mike Brown, and subtly blame Pau in his post-game comments. Tonight he just happened to make them all. Many of Kobe’s makes – particularly in the first half – were off the kind of shots you hope he takes. Look for a return to the mean in a seven-game series.
2. I think we can all agree that Vinny Del Negro is not Phil Jackson. But can’t we expect even the slightest second half adjustments? It didn’t take a basketball genius to realize that Andruw Bynum was unstoppable in the first half. And yet the Clippers (i.e. – Vinny Del Negro) refused to double team him, allowing him to dominate DJ or K-Mart one on one throughout the second half. I know Vinny prefers not to double team, but WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE? Aren’t the Lakers the ideal team to double team? Isn’t a wide open Metta World Peace 3 a better defensive result than another Bynum 3-foot bunny? What am I missing here?
3. I don’t want to seem inappreciative. Watching Chris Paul this season has been a pleasure and a privilege. But Paul’s refusal to take over a game before the fourth quarter continues to confuse and frustrate me. In the fourth quarter, CP3 absolutely dominated the Lakers. Once it became clear that the Lakers were quick to switch on screens, Paul began to dominate against the Laker bigs, who were content to allow him open mid-range shots. Unfortunately, the Clippers were already down 15 points. Why can’t Chris Paul be aggressive in the first three quarters? Is it contractual? Metaphysical? He was the best player on the court for the quarter… why was he so negligible for 36 minutes?
Charlie: I’m happy to play my part as “bad cop” if that’s what the situation calls for, but let’s not get it twisted — I recognize what the Clippers have going for them. They have serious beef up front, a legitimate stable of complementary guys capable of getting hot, and, as you said, they have Chris Paul. For these reasons, I have no doubts that they are capable of winning in the playoffs.
But while we didn’t necessarily “learn” anything tonight, I do believe that the Clippers gave it their best shot and still came up short. You say Kobe Bryant won’t shoot 68%, but I don’t see what these Clippers can do to stop him. I love K.A.’s idea of sliding Bledsoe into the stating lineup once Mo Williams returns to bolster their defense, but all of their options at the position would be susceptible to nights where they get hands in his face and still get torched because they are all 6’4″ and under. Except Nick Young, of course, but then you are crossing your fingers to get 13 points on 15 shots, like we saw tonight.
Not that you need to stop Bryant. I think we both agree that letting him shoot away is a viable strategy, but in order to be successful that way, you can’t let Bynum go off for 36. And, unfortunately for Clipper fans, that has been a losing effort every time they faced him this season. No doubt, the Lakers are a tough matchup for the Clips, with the length to combat Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and a wing that can flat out score. As you said, though, it sure seems worth a shot to design a gameplan that forces someone else to beat you. I don’t blame Del Negro exclusively for not doubling, because I think defense comes down to individual commitment at its most basic level. If Jordan can’t stop Ramon Sessions outside the lane as he wheels all the way from the top of the key, around the wing, and to the rim, there is no amount of coaching that will save this team against playoff-caliber competition. The Lakers bench scored 11 points tonight. If they are going to beat good teams with this many defensive breakdowns, they’ll need more than 15 points on 16 shots from Blake Griffin.
And more than spurts of dominance from Paul. Clipper fans are justifiably concerned with his tendency to pick his spots early before turning it on down the stretch, but I’m not sure it’s really his decision. The Lakers, like many teams do, made a concerted effort to get the ball out of his hands early on by trapping on screens. Tonight, it was Butler who got the opportunity to make shots — and he did just that — but they don’t seem to have a reliable counterpunch (how about a commitment to working the ball in to Griffin and/or Jordan on the low block?) when teams key on Paul in the pick-and-roll.
Finally, I don’t want to deprive you of an opportunity to address the BlakeLash that was out in full force tonight. Like many people, I saw at least two fouls that could and probably should have been called either technical or flagrant fouls on Griffin when he shoved Pau Gasol in the back and then needlessly put him in a headlock. He added a couple gems to his highlight reel that injected energy into the team temporarily, but at the end of the day, it was another game where style dominated substance and he provided little resistance on the defensive end. At what point do we hold him accountable?
Jordan: Dear Chuckles,
We can’t hold Blake responsible, when we – fans, coaches, ownership, whatever – are also his main enablers. This was an utterly typical Blake performance: dirty fouls both given and received, an inability to create against longer defenders in the half court, a fluctuating commitment to defense, a few missed free throws, and two of the top 10 dunks of the year… In short, Blake being Blake, as sure as per breaks in the green monster and PED use was Manny being Manny.
But let’s not be too down too long. While losing the battle for LA was painful – particularly if you were, as I was, wearing a Danny Manning jersey in a crowded Pasadena bar – The likelihood that these teams meet in the postseason remains slim. And there were some positive takeaways.
Vinny finally seems to be making headway towards logical rotations. Eric Bledsoe is getting the run he needs and deserves, while Reggie Evans has finally been recognized as a cult hero who uses his beard to disguise his lack of defensive prowess. It will be interesting to see if Mo can be worked in without taking away Bledsoe’s minutes. (Speaking of Bled – I love the guy, and respect his crazy plus/minus. But every game he makes a decision that makes me wonder about his future at the point. His fourth quarter turnovers last night were both costly and inexplicable, the product of not having a clear idea of where to take the ball)
And you know what? This game was straight fun. Even though the Clips lost. Maybe the team is still a year away from truly contending, but their relevance can’t be denied. (KA refers to this kind of thankful-for-anything rationalizing as “battered fan syndrome, but whatever) But Last night, As I watched a bar full of men in gold jerseys chant “Clippers suck! Clippers suck!” all I could think was how nice it was that they finally care.
Charlie: I hate to take the last word, but Kevin is absolutely right. As someone who grew up going to Clipper games, I cannot think of many things about which I care less than how Laker fans feel about the Clippers. To each his own, but more importantly, thanks for the back-and-forth. I’ll look forward to doing this again.