Monday, May 3, 2010

Dissecting the Lakers win over the Jazz, WCSF 2010

For the most part, the Jazz played a great game. Deron Williams was a beast, scoring 24 on 15 shots, 8 dimes, 1 TO, a steal and a block. Boozer and Millsap played larger than life by combining for 8 offensive caroms. Matthews and Miles didn't shoot well, but contributed at the line (Miles 7-8) and in other ways (defense, rebounds, assists, steals). But there was one keys to this game that put it out of reach. Which is why I think that barring a big setback for L.A., this series is already written.

1: Paint scoring. I watched in the first quarter as L.A. had open look after open look from close range. Jerry Sloan is in a pickle here because his best defender (Kirilenko) and best help defender (Kirilenko) is out with an injury. I know that Okur is out, but he is not going to contest better than Fesenko. Sloan needs his bigs to bang with Bynum, but when they are in, they don't have the lateral quickness to cut of drives or the defensive instincts to get in passing lanes. For all the things that Sloan has done for this franchise, he has never been great at developing defensive centers, a must in this league.

You absolutely have to have a guy that will not only play his man, but shut down the lane. Boozer is too often occupied with Gasol, and is really better one-on-one than in team defense. Here is a list of defensive bigs from the last few Finals winners: Gasol/Bynum, Perkins, Duncan, Shaq, Ben Wallace, Rodman, Olajuwon. All those guys are in the all-defense discussion. None of the Jazz bigs are. You may say that Perkins may be a weak link, but in the playoffs in 09, he averaged 11+ boards and 2+ blocks in 36 minutes as a starter. In Mehmo's best playoff year ('07-'08), he did average almost 12 boards, but only .7 blocks and scored 15 points per game on 13 shots, shooting 42%. Not exactly what we're looking for in a 5.

The fourth quarter of Sunday's game just highlights my point. Sure, Kobe had his heroics, but when playing the Lakers, you have to live with some of those. A better measure of performance is the shot chart. L.A. took 14 shots to Utah's 10, and converted opportunities at the rim. In the last two minutes, L.A. had 2 layups, 2 blocks, and one offensive rebound. The Jazz had a dunk and an offensive board of their own, but ultimately, their limitations in the paint held them back.

From years of watching the Jazz, this seems like a microcosm of an ongoing problem. The Jazz have never been strong in the paint. I think the '05 Pistons are a perfect model for the Jazz: best player a PG (with Deron better than Chauncey), reliable scoring and one-on-one defense at PF (again, Boozer better than Rasheed), athletic swingmen (AK-47 when healthy, Miles and Matthews developing). But the game changer is the defensive presence of Ben Wallace versus whatever soft tissue the Jazz have inside.

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