Game Theory And The Politics Of Basketball
Every politician will tell you that a campaign is only as good its staff. A candidate can only get so far without talented aides assisting him in decisions, speeches, and keeping him fighting through rough patches in the campaign.
Fisher's stat line reads as if he were merely a supplemental player in Friday's clash with Chris Paul's New Orleans Hornets: 14 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals, while shooting a woeful 30 percent from the field. However, he made the biggest two plays of regulation, as the Lakers trailed, having given up a 13-point fourth quarter lead.
Fisher drew a charge on Chris Paul after an errant pass by Kobe Bryant was picked off by Paul and he darted down the court. A basket would have given the Hornets a five-point cushion with 20 seconds remaining, and all but assured a victory.
As good as Paul is, he should have pulled that ball out and forced the Lakers to foul him. He admitted, as much when he motioned after the play was over that it was his mistake.
However, Fisher wasn't done being the hero. After a timeout, he was left wide open by Paul and drained a 3 pointer to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Kobe, being the perfect political candidate, took the campaign the rest of the way. He scored 11 of his 39 points in the overtime session.
Kobe started overtime with a difficult fall away, and converted a sweet baseline-spinning floater, each time to break a tie.
Bryant was given the benefit of being on his home turf when Chris Paul was whistled for his 6th foul after the two got tangled. The replay clearly showed Kobe pushed Paul to get the loose ball before both players fell to the floor. It's the kind of call every big name, whether politician or athlete, gets in his own neighborhood (for better or worse).
In fitting fashion Kobe ended the Hornets' threat with two free throws that rattled around the rim and fell through to give the Lakers the 115-111 overtime victory.
While the Lakers remain the best team in the NBA, this game displayed many of their flaws.
The Lakers' defense throughout the game was suspect. Even as they pulled out to an early lead they gave up many wide-open jump shots to Hornet players (luckily for the Lakers, Peja Stojakovic forgot how to put the ball in the basket, starting the game 0-5 from 3-point range). And the fourth quarter was just plain awful as the Hornets scored at will-two separate times they scored on five straight possessions.
Part of the Lakers' defensive problems throughout the year has been coach Phil Jackson's insistence on letting his bench players ride out bad stretches. His rationale-and the correct one, in my opinion-is that his team is in very good position to come away with the top seed for the playoffs and he doesn't want to grind down his starters. He is able to calmly watch his reserves surrender leads knowing his starters are generally going to make up for the reserves' ineptitude. He also knows that when the benches shorten in the playoffs he won't have to put his starters in those situations. And just in case his team suffers any more injuries he wants his bench to gain experience.
However, his bench is ungodly thin, especially up front, and teams, as the Hornets showed, have been able to exploit the middle of the Lakers' defense.
Kobe also conceded his team's lack of a menacing inside presence after the game when he told reporters that even with the success the team has had since Andrew Bynum went out with a knee injury (8-2), "We miss his play in there, especially in the interior defense."
The Hornets runs mostly came against the Lakers' bench, and astonishingly none of the LA reserves ended with a positive +/-, while all the starters were well above the Mendoza line. For the game, the Hornets outscored the Lakers 23-8 when Bryant was resting.
What is more disconcerting for the Lakers is that once the starters re-entered the game in the fourth quarter their defense wasn't much better than the reserves'. The difference is that Kobe, Odom, Gasol, and Fisher can keep pace scoring with most anyone in the league. But they still give up penetration too easily, and stand and watch jump shooters instead of putting a hand in their face.
With 11 seconds remaining in overtime and the Hornets only down three 111-108, James Posey curled for a wide-open look at a three pointer. Two Lakers watched him shoot the shot that could have tied the game, neither jumped out to deny the inbound pass nor stuck a hand in his face. It might not have mattered this time, but if that is Manu Ginobili, Ray Allen, or LeBron James in the playoffs it might matter big time.
Even Kobe admits the Lakers aren't the best yet.
"Oh it [the game] was ok ," he said, "we still got a lot of room for improvement."
Spoken like a true politician.
This article originally appeared on Kevin Patra's blog.