The Lakers’ Big 3: Rebounds, Ball Movement and Defense

Photo credit: I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news.

The good news is that Lakers are a good outside shooting team.

The bad news is the NBA Finals are played indoors. 😉

But seriously folks, in game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals, the Lakers played as if they thought championship basketball can be played from their comfort zone, chucking up outside shots.

This group of Celtics players may not have much championship experience, but unlike the young Lakers players, the veteran Celtics’ collective years of disappointment seem to have taught them that championships are EARNED, not bequeathed.

If you are a Lakers’ fan, you better hope these young guys aren’t too proud to take correction, because if you study Phil Jackson’s championship teams, you will find that 9 out of 9 of them did 3 things better than their opponents, and the Lakers did NONE of those things better than the Celtics in game 1.

True, the Lakers have won games in this years’ playoffs when they haven’t bested their opponents in these 3 areas — and maybe that’s why these younglings aren’t taking them seriously this year, but they would be smarter to decide now, once and for all, that now is not the time to tinker with his championship formula.

Just what are these three keys to Phil Jackson’s success?

The first year the Chicago Bulls won the NBA Championship, 1991, they were +2.4 in rebounds per game over their opponents, +2.4 in assists, and that season they had the 7th best defense in the NBA.

The 1992 championship Bulls team was +4.4 in rebounding per game over their opponents, +5.3 in assists, and had the 4th best defense in the NBA.

The 1993 championship team was +3.3 in rebounding per game over their opponents, +2.6 in assists, and had the 7th best defense in the NBA.

The 1996 championship Bulls were +6.6 in rebounding per game over their opponents, +5.4 in assists, and had the best defensive team in the NBA.

The 1997 championship Bulls were +5.0 in rebounds per game over their opponents, +3.1 in assists, and had the 4th best defense in the NBA.

The 1998 championship Bulls were +5.2 in rebounds per game over their opponents, +4.4 in assists, and were the 3rd best defense in the league.

For the Chicago Bulls, the three keys to championship success were superior defense, ball movement, and rebounding.

Let me pause here to point out that the Bulls outrebounded their opponents even before they acquired Dennis Rodman. And while Bulls highlight reels tend to give the impression Michael Jordan was taking on defenses 1 on 1, or 1 on 5, statistically, Jordan’s points came with the help of ball movement, as did the points of the entire Bulls team.

The Triangle Offense gets a lot of press, but it is just a system, a means to an end. When Phil Jackson’s teams had superior defense, rebounding and ball movement over their opponents, they won championships.

And how did the system work when Phil Jackson brought it to Shaquille O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers?

The 2000 championship Lakers were +3.9 in rebounds, +4.0 in assists, and had the best defense in the NBA. By the way, the year before Phil Jackson got there, the Lakers were 23rd out of 29 teams defensively.

The 2001 championship Lakers were +3.4 in rebounds, +2.8 in assists, and swept their opponents in the first, second, and third rounds, winning the NBA Finals over Philadelphia with only 1 loss the entire playoffs.

The 2002 championship Lakers were just +1 in rebounds, +3.0 in assists, and had the 7th best defense in the NBA that season.

The next year, when the Lakers lost in the Finals to the Pistons, they still led their opponents in rebounds and assists, however they were just 19th in the league defensively.

In game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals, it has been widely and incorrectly reported that the Lakers were outrebounded by 13. The truth is the Lakers were -19 in rebounds in game 1.

Why the disparity? Not all rebounds can be attributed to a single player, some are batted around a bit before they are corralled. These rebounds that cannot be credited to a specific player are designated in the box score as “team rebounds,” and since they fall outside the matrix’s totals line, these rebounds are often overlooked. But make no mistake about it, they are rebounds, and the Lakers weren’t hustling to these loose balls either.

As for ball movement, the Lakers were more competitive in the first half, when they had 14 assists on 19 field goals. In the second half, the Lakers had just 7 assists on 13 field goals. The Lakers stopped moving the ball.

And as for defense, the Lakers gave up 46 points in the first half, and 52 points in the second half. How does THAT happen? Shouldn’t the youthful Lakers be running circles around the older Celtcs as the game goes on? Especially when the Lakers are supposed to have a great bench?

In short, the Lakers are ignoring Phil Jackson’s tried and true championship formula, and they don’t seem to believe it is even important.

After game 1, Ronny Turiaf said, “I think we’ve managed pretty well as of right now. Last time I checked, when we played Utah, they outrebounded us by 15 and we won the game. I don’t think the rebounding made the difference tonight.”

How embarrassing.

If the Lakers don’t wise up, they’ll get to watch the Celtics celebrating their first championship since team president, Danny Ainge, was a player for the Celtics.

In fact, Celtics team ownership has said that if the Celtics win, they will retire Ainge’s #44 jersey.

I like Danny Ainge, I always have. Do you think the Lakers like him that much as well?

Phil Jackson’s system requires defense, rebounds and ball movement. The Celtics’ defense forces opponents to settle for outside shots.

Championships are EARNED, not bequeathed.

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