Nine Things to Remember About the 2009 NBA Finals
Orlando lost in overtime in Games 2 and 4. Each was loaded with regrettable moments, from Courtney Lee's alley-oop layup attempt to Derek Fisher's almost wide-open 3. But if the Magic and Lakers could play the series again, and could repeat their efforts of Games 2,3 and 4, quite likely it would be a whole different series -- a bounce here or there changes everything.
The games Orlando ought to regret were Games 1 and 5, when the Magic simply did not play very well.
In the NBA Finals, you can make little mistakes here or there and still win. But you can not lay an egg. And if there's a lesson for next year's playoffs in this year's Finals, it's probably, more than anything, about preventing meltdowns, rather than sweating the details of crunch time.
Not all that long ago, people thought Phil Jackson was crazy for trusting Derek Fisher.
Derek Fisher has been through some serious battles in Laker history -- and has developed a special bond with Kobe Bryant. Yet when he missed shots in big numbers in early rounds of the playoffs, Laker faithful bailed on Derek Fisher in big numbers. But Phil Jackson didn't. He stuck to Derek Fisher like James Carville stuck to the Clintons. Forum Blue and Gold reader Zephid writes: "Everyone under the sun was calling for Phil to bench Fisher and play more Shannon Brown (myself included). Tell me, does anyone honestly believe that anyone outside of Bryant could have made those two shots other than Fisher? Through all his struggles, all the 1-8, 1-7 shooting games, our coaching staff kept the faith in Fisher. Even when he was getting crushed by Deron Williams, Aaron Brooks, Chauncey Billups, and Rafer Alston, the coaching still kept calling his number, sending him in during crunch time, sending him to battle when the games were on the line. And for their faith, they were rewarded with the most crucial victory of the season, delivered to us by one and only Derek Fisher."
3. Kobe Bryant's Mission Accomplished
Kobe Bryant's competitive fires burn as bright as anyone's. (Exchange with a reporter: "As far as me hitting the wall, so what if I did? I didn't, but so what if I did? What does it mean if you did? It means nothing. Because? Because I'll run straight through it.") So, of course, he is obsessed with championships. Winning one without Shaquille O'Neal presumably lifts a tremendous psychic weight, and gives him four, to compare to Michael Jordan's six. Before Game 5, Bryant was asked if he had matching Jordan's six rings on his to-do list. "I'm trying," he said with a smile, "to get this damn fourth one." It has been seven tumultuous years since Bryant's last title.
4. Kobe Bryant Didn't Do It "Alone" All the talk about winning one without Shaquille O'Neal makes it tempting to think of Bryant winning a title "alone." Despite the fact that Kobe Bryant was the series' clear MVP, of course many of the biggest plays of this series were made by teammates like Fisher, Ariza and Odom.
Pau Gasol, however, is series MVP 1a. Not only was he extraordinarily efficient with the ball all series, but he also evolved to be nearly masterful on defense. For much of the decisive Game 5 the Magic simply couldn't finish around or over him -- even as he single-covered Dwight Howard much of the night. ESPN Stats and Information charted Gasol single-covering Howard on 38 possessions -- and Howard did not score from the field on any of them.
6. Yes, Big Men Matter
Spoiler alert: Have you seen "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3?" I'm about to spill the beans, so skip ahead if you don't want to know how it ended.
Before Game 4, Phil Jackson took the Lakers to see that movie. It's essentially a big-budget public transport hostage negotiation conversation between two men: The calm, centered and largely innocent Denzel Washington, and the brilliant but excessively angry character played by John Travolta.
I'm beginning to believe that the primary focus of Jackson's coaching is to keep his players centered and mindful, as opposed to over-adrenalized and mindless. He's the opposite of the coach who screams in your face to play harder.
Denzel Washington's character keeps focused, doesn't lose his head, and gets what is most important to him in the end. Travolta's character is a great strategist, but callous and frenetic. Things don't turn out so well for him.
This may be the first and last time that Stan Van Gundy gets compared to John Travolta.
Meanwhile, Mickael Pietrus assigned himself his own cinematic inspiration. Before Game 5, he watched "Borat."
7. A Laker Benchwarmer Savors a Personal Victory
Laker forward Josh Powell played just 73 minutes during these playoffs, but he more than earned the sense of victory and relief that comes with his first championship ring. Needing money to support his family, Powell left North Carolina State in 2003. Long, skilled, athletic and tough he was so impressive at some of his workouts that he was briefly discussed as a lottery pick -- although he ultimately went undrafted, and has played for several team overseas in the NBA in the interim.
One of his workouts was for the Washington Wizards, where Patrick Ewing was then an assistant coach.
After the workout, Ewing stunned Powell, by telling him that he would never make the NBA.
Powell has not forgotten. "Every time I see him," he says, he remembers the words that once cut him. "It was just motivation. I can't do nothing but respect it, if that's his opinion. It just drove me to go hard. It drove me to stay hungry."
About then, some NBA personnel came through the champagne-soaked Laker locker room with the gleaming NBA championship trophy. Powell finishes his thought, reaching for the trophy: "Everything worked out for the best ... now let me see that thing right there ..."
8. Courtney Lee's Missed Alley-Oop
Despite point #1, aren't we all going to remember that Game 2 was almost decided on a buzzer-beating alley-oop? One of the most electric missed opportunities in NBA Finals History.
In addition to playing for a title, Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza were essent
ially playing for their Laker lives this post-season. Both are free agents and, each could have played their last game as a Laker. Of course, there's nothing like a championship to encourage an owner to spend to keep a team together.
Which could be concern for the likes of Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu and Marcin Gortat -- both of whom could command big dollars on the open market this summer. Losing either player, but especially Turkoglu, could be a blow to an Orlando team with a lot of promise.
The other big goodbye that must be anticipated one of these years: Phil Jackson's. If Tex Winter was right that Jackson was motivated by a desire for ten rings, then what's going to keep Jackson in the hunt now?