The Fundamentals

» May 29, 2009 11:20 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Charley Rosen of  “With the game — and their season — at stake, the Cavs exclusively used a single set during the last 12 minutes of the game: A 1-2-2 alignment that had LeBron massaging the ball a few steps above the center of the foul line, two shooters — alternating among Williams, West, Daniel Gibson and Wally Szczerbiak — stationed at the high corners, one shooter at a low corner and either Ilguaskas or Anderson Varejao roaming the baseline. And James simply overwhelmed Mickael Pietrus’ ineffective defense. Because of the spacing, any early attempt to double-team James would easily enable him to locate an abandoned shooter. So James drove into the lane, spun away from collapsing defenders, drew fouls, made baskets, or executed slick assist-passes to open shooters. In fact, for the game, LeBron single-handedly matched the total number of assists (12) that were accumulated by all of the visitors. Time and again, this same turn of events was irresistible — LeBron scoring and creating — and the Cavs lived to play at least one more game.”

Ian Thomsen of  “If you want something done … what you do is either score or assist in 32 consecutive points in a virtuoso performance. LeBron James has now personally won two games in these Eastern finals. First of all, he stole Game 2 on a last-second three, which now looks altogether straightforward and painless compared to the enervating route he took in Game 5 Thursday, when every Cavaliers’ point was scored through him over the decisive stretch of 11 minutes and 33 seconds. The Cavs were trailing 79-75 when he put his foot down by assisting Daniel Gibson’s three-pointer in the final minute of the third quarter, and they were winning 107-96 when James’ remarkable 32-point run concluded on the three-point drive created by his pass to Anderson Varejao. The 112-102 victory was not so much a game the Cavaliers can build upon — unless they plan to keep playing through LeBron for entire quarters — as it was an act of survival. They go to Orlando for Game 6 Saturday still trailing 3-2 in the series, but hoping that the Magic will feel pressure to close them out while his Cleveland teammates are inspired by the extended 32-17 run waged by James down the stretch.”

Ben Q. Rock of Third Quarter Collapse:  “Much will be made of their losing the lead in the fourth quarter, and maybe some people will attribute it to having to use so much energy just to get back into the game. That’s partially true at best. Cleveland, simply put, played its best defense of the series. The open looks to which Orlando became accustomed in the first four games were no longer there, save for Turkoglu, apparently. Howard had a tremendous game down low as the Cavs mixed-up their double-team coverages, hoping to confuse the Magic’s center. Funny that it was Ben Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas who ended up being confused. Their abject refusal to wrap Howard up, as coach Mike Brown instructed unequivocally, was amusing. Kelly Dwyer touched on this point after Game 4, but it bears repeating: Wallace greatly overestimates his own defensive abilities. He cannot play Howard straight up, and although people have tried to tell him that, it’s simply not going through. The Cavs repeatedly allowed Howard to finish at the basket after an offensive rebound or deep post catch. Usually, that’s a bad sign for any Magic opponent. So give Cleveland credit. A lot of it. It forced the Magic to play a lot of individual basketball tonight, with only 10 assists on their 28 field goals.”

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:  “Cleveland 112, Orlando 102. Magic 3, LeBron 2. Now it is absolutely imperative that the Magic close out the LeBrons Saturday in Game 6 back home at the Am. Not just for themselves and their fans. But for the entire world of sports. This series is bigger than you think. It’s more significant and symbolic than you realize. It’s about more than winning and losing. It’s about the ability of a good team to overcome the greatness of one individual. It’s about we vs. me. It’s about the Orlando Magic as a whole uniting and conquering the incredible one-man show known as the Cleveland LeBrons. And, believe me, it would be advisable to close out LeBron Saturday because you don’t want to face him in a Game 7 back up here. Not the way he’s playing. Everyone who is not a Cleveland fan should be rooting for the Magic Saturday. Why? Because the Magic would lend credence to everything we want to believe about sports. They give value to all those old axioms you used to hear from your Little League baseball coach or your high school football coach. There is no ‘I’ in team.”

Jeff Eisenberg of The Press-Enterprise:  “The NBA’s most merciless closer faces an interesting quandary as he plots his strategy for tonight’s pivotal Game 6. Should he continue to try to draw double teams and set up his supporting cast the way he did in the Lakers’ scintillating Game 5 victory? Or should he forgo restraint and attack a little more a little earlier because the Lakers won’t be able to finish off the formidable Denver Nuggets on the road without one of his signature scoring barrages? ‘I’ll just read the defense,’ Kobe Bryant said. ‘Denver’s not going to let me isolate someone and go by them. They’re not going to let me play one-on-one. I have to trust my teammates to make plays, and then when those lanes open up, I’ll take advantage of them.’ Whichever alter-ego Bryant chooses to unfurl, the Lakers will be counting on him to lead them to a rare road victory when their backs aren’t against the wall. They’ve squandered three such scenarios in these playoffs already, failing to recover from huge early deficits in Games 4 and 6 at Houston in the second round and getting run off the court in the second half of a 19-point loss at Denver on Monday night.”

Ken Berger of  “It’s taken five games, but Fisher believes the Lakers have finally begun to win their collective battle with the counter-intuitive nature of Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. ‘In this system, when there’s pressure, you go away from it,’ Fisher said. ‘You don’t force pressure, you cut away from it. Cut around it. Cut behind it. Pass the ball and move. If two guys are cutting off a space, you pass the ball to somebody else. At times, we have fought that one constant as a team. Don’t fight the pressure. Invite it and then pass it and move around it. And the games seem to get very simple in the second half once we start to do that. Pick the ball up, pass it, and trust that he’s going to make a play.’ That’s what Kobe Bryant did in Game 5. He had his fewest shot attempts in a 40-plus-minute game in more than a year. Kobe would like you to know, by the way, that he’ll have a little more in the tank going back to the Mile High City than he otherwise would. Remember how he was doubled over in exhaustion there earlier in the series? He needed the rest he got in Game 5. ‘I didn’t have to work as hard,’ Bryant said. ‘They were really trapping me out at halfcourt. They were determined not to let me beat them. And I think because of that, I have a little bit more energy today and will have more energy [Friday night].’”

Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:  “Billups said Thursday that ‘every game’s different’ — and from J.R. Smith to Lamar Odom, fans have seen roller-coaster contributions from both teams in a series in which neither team has won back-to-back games. One big reason for the Nuggets’ inconsistency is their erratic shooting. Entering this series, the Nuggets were the hottest 3-ball shooting team in the playoffs. Of late, they’re shooting like a team of Gheorghe Muresans, having made 7-of-24 from beyond the arc in each of the past two games (29.2 percent). That’s actually far better than their Game 3 showing (5-for-27, 18.5 percent). Heading into tonight’s Game 6, the Nuggets know they must space the floor better to get more open looks from long range. As coach George Karl explained, that comes from ‘executing screening a little better.’ In the loss Wednesday, Karl said, ‘we didn’t get in the open court as much; we didn’t have those good gaps that we normally have. But we’re close to scoring. I mean, 94 points is low for us. But we’re capable of scoring on their defense, and we’ll figure it out.’”

Woody Paige of The Denver Post:  “Attention, J.R., L.K., A.C. and The Birdman of Razzmatazz: In order for the Nuggets to defeat the Lakers in Games 6 and 7, you there, you four reservists, can make the difference. Simple as that. Hard as all get-out. In three of the five Western Conference finals games, the winning team’s bench has finished with the higher total combination of points, assists and rebounds. L.A. had a slight advantage in the three critical categories in Game 2, but the Nuggets managed a win. In Game 3, Denver’s bench had the edge, but the Lakers won. Want motivation, you four guys? The first four Lakers off the bench get paid $24 million. You guys have contracts adding up to a measly $8.5 million. They make almost three times as much as you. You four make $1.5 million less, combined, than the Lakers’ coach. You make less for a full regular-season and postseason than Jack Nicholson did for ‘The Bucket List.’ The wife of one Laker wears jewelry to a game that costs more than it costs for the Nuggets to pay you. You are chump change, Jackson’s fines, Gasol’s tips, Kobe’s gas money.”

John Canzano of The Oregonian:  “I bumped into Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard at a local farmers market last Saturday. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and enjoying a breakfast burrito. Which is only to say that he looked like a regular Oregonian. The cat also was working the cellular telephone. Basketball business, he said. Said Pritchard: ‘Man, seriously, if you only knew who I was talking about.’ Trade? Why not? The scene should be encouraging to Blazers fans. Because it wasn’t that long ago that a previous general manager was running the team from Seattle, along with more than a dozen other Paul Allen companies. And now the guy in charge of personnel is walking around the farmer’s market, peeking into strollers. I’m thinking that’s one significant change worth pointing out. Of course, Pritchard will make a trade. We’re talking about the general manager who once pulled off an NBA-record six deals on a single day. And we’re looking at a franchise that knows now more than ever that it needs to dramatically improve, quickly grow or decide to make a deal, and raise the talent level in three positions if it wants to play deeper in the playoffs.”

Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:  “The NBA’s draft process is stuck in an identity crisis. The league’s pre-draft camp returned to Chicago, and the Moody Bible Institute, this week after a brief stop in Orlando. And the parameters have been as varied as the moving expenses. With an increasing number of agents holding their clients out of any sort of head-to-head workout, this week’s camp doesn’t have scrimmaging. Only workouts or, as Danny Ainge put it, ‘it’s great if you want to watch a bunch of guys taking jump shots.’ Perhaps the NFL really is taking over the world. ‘This has pretty much become the NFL combine with the way they do things,’ said Ainge, the Celtics executive director of basketball operations, who spent most of yesterday in interviews with players. Beyond the stopwatch approach to evaluating talent, this is what general managers are left with. They get to watch jump shots and conduct interviews, the latter an especially inexact process for the Celts, who with only the 58th pick in next month’s draft can’t afford to limit their options.”

Michael Lee of the Washington Post:  “Arizona State sophomore James Harden admitted on Wednesday that he sometimes checks the Internet to see where various mock drafts have him slotted, and he is often annoyed by criticism that he lacks the athleticism to be a successful shooting guard in the NBA. Southern California swingman DeMar DeRozan said he doesn’t pay attention to draft speculation, but people have told him that some analysts compare him to NBA star Vince Carter. DeRozan’s beef? ‘I think I can jump higher than Vince Carter did,’ DeRozan told reporters at a Chicago hotel. After running drills trying to impress scouts at the league’s draft combine with their athletic gifts and basketball intelligence, the top prospects for June’s draft then went about making their cases to the media. Some carried duffel bags and cellphones, while others — like Harden and DeRozan — carried big dreams and a gift for hyperbole.”

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:  “‘New York is the most ideal situation right now,” Curry said. ‘To play in the (Madison Square) Garden 41 games a season? That’s a legacy. How can you beat it?’ I’ve been hanging around NBA pre-draft camps for 20 years. The interviews all blend together. Players typically come in two flavors – the nervous and coy (their agents telling them not to screw anything up with the wrong remark) and the recklessly cocky. Curry was neither. The kid is confident in a way that places those around him at ease. He isn’t trying to convince himself or others how good he is. He doesn’t need to; it comes naturally. We asked him Thursday about the training he’s been doing in Washington, D.C. He said the misconception is that he’s preparing for the draft, and not what will follow that draft. It was like hearing a student interpret the difference between cramming for a test and absorbing the class material.”

Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee:  “‘You’ve got to come in, you’ve got to talk the whole time, you’ve got to sit up right, have a presence,’ said Flynn, who is believed to be high on the Kings’ list and a candidate for their first pick at No. 4. ‘It’s way more tiring. Playing basketball, that’s the easy part.’ Ty Lawson, the point guard out of North Carolina who is seen as a middle to late first-round pick, went into his interviews expecting to be asked hard questions and wasn’t disappointed. ‘They were grillin’ me man,’ said Lawson, who added that he is scheduled to work out with the Kings soon. ‘They ask you everything. One person asked me, ‘Would you rather go to a team with the 29th pick and sit on the bench behind two players or would you rather go to a team in the second round, and get picked up by a bad team and play a lot?’ It’s things that make you think.’ In the case of his interview with the Memphis Grizzlies, there were questions that made Lawson think the team executives knew more about him than he knew about himself.”

Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times:  “The Bulls are known for their anything-goes workouts of draft prospects, and not just with the physical play on the court. Arizona guard/forward Chase Budinger, who was held out of the physical play due to an ankle injury, said the Bulls psychological testing was also much different than others he has undergone.`They had a very interesting psychological test,” Budinger said. `They had a guy who you were playing with blocks, You were drawing pictures, memorizing things. I thought it was a pretty cool process.’ Budinger, who will reschedule a workout with the Bulls, said he has heard many different questions while being interviewed by NBA teams. One of the strangest was when one team asked if he had a girlfriend. When he said, `No,” the follow-up was whether he had any ‘friends with benefits.’ `That was kind of a whacky question,’ Budinger said. Asked how he responded, Budinger said, ‘No comment.’”"

Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger:  “The terms ‘flagrant’ and ‘excessive’ and ‘rescinded’ have dominated an otherwise splendid NBA postseason, and now the issue is no longer about whether there is a fine line between ‘hard’ and ‘dirty’ fouls. Those are easy to discern. The hard part is predicting what the referees will call, and whether the league will overrule them the following morning — leading to the usual protests about playoff officiating and the lack of consistency. ‘There is mass confusion,’ said ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy, the former Knicks coach. ‘How do we know there is mass confusion? Because the best officials in the world constantly have their calls overturned by the league office — even on Flagrant 2 fouls, which they must review’ on the court, during the game. ‘Just look at the rule,’ said Bob Salmi, the ESPN analyst and former NBA coach. ‘There are 62,000 interpretations of ‘unnecessary’ and ‘excessive.’ And it just opens a Pandora’s Box: They put a line in the sand, and that sucker just keeps on shifting.’”

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

One Response to “The Fundamentals”

  1. john amaechi Says:

    Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:

    “Everyone who is not a Cleveland fan should be rooting for the Magic Saturday. Why? Because the Magic would lend credence to everything we want to believe about sports. They give value to all those old axioms you used to hear from your Little League baseball coach or your high school football coach. There is no ‘I’ in team.”

    everyone outside of cleveland has been rooting against the Cavs for years, why should that change?

Leave Your Comment