After the Lakers seized control of the NBA Finals with a 99-91 Overtime win at Amway Arena Thursday night, Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy gave his standard “regular guy” press conference. I love Stan’s routine. He thrives at being under-estimated, and despite his more-than-passing resemblance to Ron “The Hedgehog” Jeremy, his round physique and a voice that, at times, sounds like a new character on Sesame Street, he is a crafty, smart, resourceful NBA head coach.
Before the game, he threw red meat to the assembled media about the NBA’s age-limit (more on that later), but in his post-game session he downplayed experience as being a factor in the series. Paraphrasing here, he says the experience thing is a cliché. All of these guys have played in big games their whole lives, and it doesn’t matter if they were NBA Playoff games. The baskets aren’t all of the sudden 11-feet high. The experience storyline is overplayed.
There's a famous adage that says,"Experience is what you got by not having it when you need it." Think about it for a minute. It applies to this series.
I did some quick math after the game. Including tonight’s Game 4, the Magic roster has played in 528 NBA playoff games compared to 716 for the Lakers. The 6 Orlando players who were on the floor for the most minutes – Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Torkoglu, Michael Pietrus, Rafer Alston and Jameer Nelson – have now combined to play in 273 playoff games. Compare that to the Lakers big 6 minutes-eaters – Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum – and you have 534 playoff games (+261 for LA).
Game 4 was Derek Fisher’s 175th career playoff game and Kobe’s 174th career postseason appearance. That matters. Orlando had a 5-point lead with about a minute and a half in regulation and a 3-point advantage with 11.1 seconds to play. This is where experience matters. This is where having "been there" matters more than being better than the other guys because as Phil Jackson likes to say, “These games are decided by a trifle.”
Two things happened in the final 11.1 seconds. The Magic’s Jameer Nelson didn’t defend the 3-point line and a guy who had been 0-5 from beyond the arc got a clean look. All of the sudden, Derek Fisher didn’t look like the 32yo guy who I’ve been railing on for the last 8 weeks. He bore only a passing resemblance to the point guard who was a combined 18-64 (25%) from 3-ball territory in this 2009 post-season. He shot right over the lackadaisical Jameer and tied the game, forcing overtime.
I myself have called for Derek Fisher to be benched in favor of some combination of Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown on multiple occasions this post-season. This has nothing to do with how I feel about DFish personally. He’s a spectacular human being and a great Laker through-and-through, but he struggled at the defensive end with guys like Deron Williams and Aaron Brooks and Chauncey Billups, and it seemed to be affecting his shot. In that 7-game Houston series he shot 37% from the field (12-32) and 6% from beyond the arc (1-15).
As I tweeted during the game, I take back every bad thing that I have ever said about Derek Fisher. Even after the game-tying, ice-water-in-the-veins 3 at the end of regulation, ole man Fish wasn’t done. He also drilled the trey in OT that put the Lakers up for good.
This game may have been a bigger one for Fisher’s legacy than even his .4 buzzer-beater against the Spurs in Game 5 of the Conference Semis against San Antonio in '04. That heroic shot didn’t lead to a championship as the Lakers were shocked by Detroit in the NBA Finals. Tonight's 2 devastating daggers happened in a Finals game and have pushed LA to within 48 minutes of its 15th NBA Championship.
Back to Van Gundy for a minute. Before the game, he called the NBA’s age-limit rule a “shame.” I couldn’t agree more. He also said that the NCAA is “one of the worst organizations going.” One-and-done should be over-and-out. College isn’t for everyone, and the NBA has no legal right to deny employment to an 18yo who could be cashing in for millions. The NBA’s rule is turning college hoops into a sham, and throwing the most talented 18-year-olds in the world into the deep end of the pool with a bunch of sharks (street agents and marketing dirtbags, etc.). Good for Van Gundy for saying it.
A couple of other thoughts. It dawned on me during this game, as Trevor Ariza took command in the 3rd quarter, that Lamar Odom may be playing his final games as a Laker. In a few days, he’ll have a ring. He’s got one big contract left in his career, and he may very well cash in. Plus it may not be possible for the Lakers to sign both LO and Ariza, and Trevor must be the priority. The choice could also come down to keeping Ariza and Shannon Brown (who I think has a real future in the Laker backcourt) and keeping Odom. If Lamar wants anything close to the 5yrs-$50M that Corey Maggette got last summer, he will be wearing another uniform next year.
My thought is that the Lakers keep Ariza and Brown, and then find a way to get Chris Birdman Anderson who’s a free agent from Denver. Not crazy expensive. Huge energy guy off the bench. Would be just the kind of star that Laker fans love.
Finally, Michael Pietrus should be suspended for the outright two-handed push of Gasol in the back while Pau was in the air at the end of the game. He was called for a flagrant, but that’s a dangerous play. It was sheer frustration on Pietrus’ part and served no strategic purpose whatsoever. That kind of dangerous, reckless immaturity should be punished with a one-game suspension. I’m guessing that the league won’t see it that way. Why take a game away from a valuable Magic contributor just as Orlando faces elimination? Isn’t there more revenue in a 6-game series as opposed to a 5-game series? I still say that the Frenchman has it coming.