L.A. will need more offense from its supporting cast in Game 2
By Bryan Williams
LOS ANGELES, June 7 -- To total success, the Detroit Pistons tried out a new defensive strategy against the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals: Stop the supporting cast. With previous contenders who claimed they wanted to focus on Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and "make the Lakers' shooters beat us," the Pistons respectfully disagreed.
Gary Payton and Karl Malone combined for just seven points in Game 1.
Jesse Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
"We played Shaq and Kobe honest," said Detroit center Ben Wallace
after his team's 87-75 victory. "They got their numbers and we played everybody else honest. We didnít let the role players come out and just line up shots from the outside. We played everybody with a hand in their face."
O'Neal and Bryant combined to score 59 points, a single-game Finals-record 78.7 percent of their team's total. The remaining Lakers shot an anemic 6-of-30 (.200) from the field.
The performance of the Los Angeles role players was a departure not only from what they have contributed this season, but also from their efforts during the team's three championship runs from 1999-2000 to 2001-02. Take a look at the collective 2003-04 regular-season and playoff numbers for all Lakers not named Shaq or Kobe -- their average points per game as well as their percentage of the team's average points per game:
LAKERS SUPPORTING CAST PPG PCT. OF TOTAL
Conf. finals vs. MIN 47.0 51.1
Conf. semis vs. SAS 39.2 44.5
First round vs. HOU 49.4 54.9
Regular season 52.7 53.7
Aside from the conference semifinal series against San Antonio when neither squad topped 90 points per game, the Lakers' role players have scored between 50 and 55 percent of the team's points. But at the same time, O'Neal and Bryant have traditionally assumed greater scoring burdens in the NBA Finals; in fact, more dramatically each successive year when they won their titles. Here is what the remaining Lakers contributed during those series:
LAKERS SUPPORTING CAST PPG PCT. OF TOTAL
2002 NBA Finals vs. NJN 42.9 40.5
2001 NBA Finals vs. PHI 43.0 42.7
2000 NBA Finals vs. IND 51.2 48.9
Even when L.A. had its best second-tier scorers of Glen Rice and Ron Harper in 2000, the role players' percentage of the team's total points dipped below 50 percent. And in the Lakers' most recent NBA Finals against New Jersey in 2002, that percentage hovered at just above 40. That, however, may prove to be the low end of what L.A. needs to win.
Detroit may have taken its cue from last year's San Antonio Spurs, who beat the Lakers in the conference semifinals by accomplishing precisely what the Pistons did last night. In that series, the Spurs held the L.A. supporting cast to only 36.1 points per game, 38.5 percent of the Lakers' scoring. As unlikely as it may be that the Pistons will continue to hold Shaq and Kobe's troops to the 21.3 percent of team scoring that they did in Game 1, if they can keep that number below 40, they will have a terrific chance to win the series.
Going forward, it is a necessity for Los Angeles that the players most notably absent in Game 1 -- Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Derek Fisher -- re-assert themselves offensively.
"Iíve been giving us double figures all year and the playoffs, and I didnít do it tonight," said Malone. "We always talk about somebody else, but I can look at myself and say I didnít get it done."
True enough. Before last night's four-point, 2-of-9 showing, Malone had averaged 13.1 points in 17 postseason games, but he wasn't alone in his futility. Payton, who had averaged 8.8 points through the conference finals, attempted only four shots in 31 minutes, the whole of his scoring coming on a third-quarter 3-pointer. And Fisher had been shooting daggers from long-distance and posting 7.9 points per game before hitting just 1-of-9 from the field in Game 1.
Understated Fish afterward, "We did not execute as a team."
Coach Phil Jackson also hinted that he would expect more from reserve guard Kareem Rush, who has intermittently stepped up with big games throughout the year, including an 18-point performance in Game 6 of the conference finals against Minnesota. Rush's presence on the floor would enable Bryant to conserve energy on defense by guarding Tayshaun Prince rather than Richard Hamilton, but on offense, Rush bricked all three of his shot attempts in 16 minutes.
"We were not having success with Devean [George] or Rick [Fox] at the small forward," said Jackson. "Kobe could move over to small forward and Kareem could give us something a little bit different out there. He did, but he wasn't successful at the offensive end."
Not really an exclusive club for the Lakers in Game 1.