Sunday, April 29, 2012
Brown's vision, Bynum's execution
By J.A. Adande ESPN.com
LOS ANGELES -- Push aside Andrew Bynum's assortment of double-digit numbers and lock in on that single solitary digit, the one under the win column in Mike Brown's embryonic playoff record with the Lakers.
It wasn't only that the Lakers won Brown's first playoff game with the Los Angeles Lakers, it was that they won it his way. They won it defensively, holding the highest-scoring team in the league to 88 points. They won it with Bynum recording as many blocks as points and grabbing almost two rebounds for every shot attempt.
Brown's "1" will have a greater carryover than Bynum's 10 points, 13 rebounds and NBA playoff record-tying 10 blocked shots, numbers that won't be duplicated by him or anyone else this postseason. Only two other players have hit the double-digit threshold in those three categories in NBA playoff history: Mark Eaton and Hakeem Olajuwon.
But each word Brown tells his team the rest of the playoffs will carry a little more weight now. Brown gained validation with every Bynum blocked shot, every time Kobe Bryant passed to a teammate with far lesser credentials, or every time Pau Gasol stepped out to the high post and fed the ball inside. Those are all things this coaching staff wants to see, and they all were repeated frequently Sunday. The Laker subtext to the 103-88 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 was: Do it Coach's way, win a playoff game.
"We had very few break downs in our game plan," Brown said.
Brown isn't boastful, so that's as close as he'll come to singing "My Way."
Mike Brown's playoff debut with the Lakers have things looking up for the Lakers.
Make no mistake, this was Brown's turn to step in front of a building full of Simon Cowells -- some of whom were in his own locker room. Brown isn't just coaching the Lakers, he's coaching the Lakers right after Phil Jackson coached the Lakers. He's the first man to coach this team without any head coaching championships since 1999. His last two teams in Cleveland had the best record in the league, plus the home-court advantage that goes with it throughout the playoffs, and still couldn't reach the NBA Finals. So, yeah, there was skepticism.
As Kobe Bryant told ESPN Los Angeles.com's Brian Kamenetzky last week, "Even when Phil was here, obviously [he] had come in having won six championships from Chicago, but at the same time you're still like, 'Is this really going to work? Is this really going to work?' You don't know until it actually works."
The plan for Game 1 worked.
"He was very thorough," Bryant said. "We knew what was coming. Very detail-oriented. Our practices were very specific. We knew everything we wanted to do."
Their first priority was to keep Ty Lawson from getting to the basket. That worked beyond their wishes, with Lawson going four minutes into the fourth quarter until he made his first field goal.
The Lakers knew the Nuggets will do anything to get layups, so they denied them as much as possible. Denver averages a league-leading 53 points in the paint per game. They had only 20 in the first half.
It started with the Lakers sticking with screen-and-rolls, and ended with Bynum.
"I just wanted him to go out and play hard, aggressive, play the right way and follow the game plan," Brown said. "But he brought some added juice to the table.
His impact on the game was monstrous. He was an absolute beast down there."
I use a stat I call SOBOA (Shots Over Bynum's Outstretched Arms) to track how opponents fare when Bynum contests their shots. On Sunday the Nuggets' SOBOA was 4-for-21 (19 percent).
Or, to use Brown's advanced metrics, "He changed a gazillion shots in the paint."
It started with a changed attitude. Bynum didn't worry about getting the ball. He knew he was just going to have to get rid of it immediately because of Denver's constant double-teams. Bynum played the entire first quarter without taking a shot.
His first basket came on a tip-in with 4:24 left in the second. And he never griped, never stopped chugging back on defense and never stopped protecting the paint.
"I just continued to pass," Bynum said. "It wasn't really for me to score today.
"I was able to use my energy up for defense."
And so he did, repeatedly contesting shots, and besting Denver rebound machine Kenneth Faried by five boards.
If Bynum is controlling the most critical part of the court like this, "That just puts us in another dimension as a team," Gasol said.
That's the message Brown has tried to impart to Bynum all season, even if sometimes it seems like Bynum's in a bad cell reception zone, and seemed more interested in shooting 3-pointers than blocking shots.
When it mattered most, at the start of the playoffs, Bynum fell in line.
It wasn't Brown's only success: Jordan Hill, who has been unchained from the bench for, oh, a week now, gave the Lakers 10 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in 24 minutes. Devin Ebanks got the start for the suspended Metta World Peace and had 12 points and five rebounds.
Bynum's most interesting comment came when he was asked to compare this version of the Lakers to the 2011 version.
"I think we're more focused this year than we were last year," Bynum said.
Interesting, given Jackson's history of pulling teams together, of keeping them motivated even after winning championships. Maybe last year's team was distracted by Jackson, and his pending retirement.
Brown admits he can learn as much if not more from the champion players in the locker room as the team can learn from him. He said one thing he took from them was how to be patient in the regular season.
Now it's the playoffs, when players need to absorb poise and confidence from their coach. Brown still has to show he can counter the inevitable adjustments coming from George Karl (who made his first move right after the game by saying Bynum was playing illegal defense in the lane all day). And he will need 11 more championships before he can have as much credibility as Phil Jackson. But he has a little bit more in the locker than he did just two days ago.
Someone (locker room spies said it was athletic trainer Gary Vitti) even grabbed a marker and continued Jackson's tradition of counting down the number of playoff victories needed for a championship on the team's whiteboard.
Even if it wasn't Brown's handwriting, this game felt like his script.