Posted Jun 5 2010 12:03PM
LOS ANGELES -- You win 10 NBA titles, you learn a few tricks along the way.
No coach on the planet right now has more than Lakers boss Phil Jackson, a master of so many things (both real and imagined), that even when he insists he hasn't pulled a fast one, it looks like he did.
For example, take Pau Gasol's monster work in Game 1 of these NBA Finals. That sure looked like the product of just the right prodding from Jackson about Gasol's supposed lack of toughness, right?
But neither Jackson nor any of the Lakers will take credit for the job their scramble unit, namely reserve guards Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar with a timely assist from rarely-used subs Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton, did in the backcourt to help slow down Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.
"It really wasn't anything specific that was planned," Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw said, insisting that Brown and Farmar had an impact because of the circumstance that presented itself and not any grand design. "The early foul trouble on both sides caused us to change things up a little bit, that's all. Ray Allen got in early foul trouble, Tony Allen got in early foul trouble and Kobe got two early and Fish got two early, so we just had to improvise and change things up based on that. But it wasn't a set design, it was just a reaction to the foul situation. That said, it worked for us and it gave us confidence that if we needed to do something like that, we can make it work with those guys."
They didn't score like crazy in Game 1 -- Brown and Farmar managed just 10 combined points in 17 and 13 minutes, respectively.
What they did was completely change the tenor of the game off the bench on both ends of the floor. They attacked the driving lanes on offense, challenging the Celtics' big men at the rim without hesitation, while also taking pressure off of veteran point guard Derek Fisher to perform any superhuman feats on defense. Fisher is facing his fourth straight elite point guard in this postseason after dealing previously with Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Steve Nash.
"Well, you know Fish is going to have an impact at some level, scoring-wise," Jackson said after Friday's practice. "He's a key shooter in our offense, critical plays at the end of games, particularly at the end of shot clocks, so we anticipate that. We enjoyed the fact that Shannon and Jordan had moments out there on the floor that they really performed well, and I think we got what we wanted out of that game."
The Lakers got the same thing out of their scramble unit in Game 1 that Jackson has always pulled out of his role players on championship teams through the years. His championship Bulls teams mastered the art of taking a limited big man (Bill Wennington, Luc Longley, Will Perdue, etc.) to slow down opposing big men of more repute.
He's just flipped it to his backcourt this time, much to the chagrin of the Celtics' reserves, who know well the difference an energetic role player can have on a game and series when used properly.
"Shannon Brown had six big points, six big points," Tony Allen said. "But I think the real problem comes from guys underestimating those guys. All year long you hear about the Lakers' bench not being that good. I respect their bench to the utmost. I played with Shannon growing up in Chicago. So I know how good he is. I don't think my teammates respect that. If you look back over Shannon Brown's history, back in high school he was ranked up there with LeBron James.
"And you can go down the list. Farmar, I've seen games where he's come off the bench and opened up games with his shooting all year long. Vujacic is a pesky defender and can get his hands on steals and stuff like that. Luke Walton has a great feel for the game. I respect their whole bench. And we definitely have to do a better job of shutting those guys down, knowing first and foremost that we have to do a better job of containing the Gasols and Kobes, because once they are firing from all angles it's really tough to stop them."
Having played off the bench on a team noted for nearly everything else but its bench, the scramble unit knows that every little bit counts. Heading into Sunday's Game 2, where both teams will have to show that they've made the proper adjustments, Brown insists his crew has to stay true to its mission.
"There's only so much you can do in a limited amount of time," Brown said. "For us it's not all about scoring. It's about the little things. It's about the rebounds, the defense, the deflections, the steals and running our offense and executing properly so they don't get run outs. The scoring is a plus. So that's why when people try to compare the benches, you have to realize our bench is different from any other bench around the league. We have a little different role. We go out and try and do it to the best of our abilities. It might not always be up to other people's standards, but we know what we have to do."
That certainly works for Jackson, just like it always has.
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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