How Chris Mihm Saved the Lakers in Game 5

Chris Mihm was the difference maker for the Lakers in game 5 of the 2008 NBA Playoffs. I realize this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but think about it.

In game 4, the Lakers had a 21 point 1st quarter lead, but ended up losing the game.

In game 5, the Lakers had just a 17 point 1st quarter lead, (so the Celtics had them just where they wanted them), until Phil Jackson pulled out his secret weapon: Chris Mihm.

Mihm had 0 minutes in game 4 and the Lakers lost. Mihm had 2:46 in game 5, and the Lakers won.

Obviously, Chris Mihm was the difference!

But seriously folks, I actually do think Chris Mihm was the difference maker — well, not Chris Mihm per se, but the fact that Phil Jackson had the courage to play Mihm, particularly after the squall of criticism Jackson weathered for his game 4 player substitutions, made the difference in the Lakers’ game 5 win.

To me, this proves that Phil Jackson still has the courage, creativity and brilliance it takes to win. I am honestly impressed, and you should be too.

The Mihm experiment obviously failed; he had 0 points, 0 rebounds, 2 fouls and 1 turnover in 2:46.

But then again, Ronny Turiaf actually has more fouls than points so far in the NBA Finals, thus putting a very good free throw shooting team on the line. And in 50+ minutes over 5 games, Turiaf has grabbed whopping total of 3 measly rebounds. He’s not exactly earning his minutes, is he? For comparison’s sake, backup point guard Jordan Farmar has 10 rebounds so far this series, more than three times the total of the Lakers backup center.

Seriously, with production like that from Turiaf, and with DJ Mbenga in street clothes, Phil Jackson would have been an imbecile not to give Chris Mihm a try.

Chris Mihm was once one of the better centers in the league, but thanks to injuries Mihm has basically not played basketball in 2 years.

It wasn’t like Phil put Mihm in during a critical point of the game. Jackson experimented with Mihm early in the game and when the Lakers had a 17 point lead.

So, given Turiaf has been MIA, and Mbenga was unavailable, that it was early in the game and the Lakers had a 17 point lead, didn’t it make sense to give Mihm a try? And the fact that playing Mihm surprised everyone, that Phil Jackson was the only person to see that this substitution made sense, doesn’t that make Jackson brilliant?

Had Mihm played well, Phil might have even been able to play him again in the second half and move Pau Gasol to power forward, Lamar Odom to small forward, and play Kobe Bryant with whichever other guard is playing well. Alas, Mihm looked terrified out there and played terribly.

The same courage and creativity it takes to give Mihm a try, is the courage and creativity it took for Jackson to bench Michael Jordan in game 6 of the 1992 NBA Finals, with the Bulls down big against the Trailblazers, and play long forgotten reserve, Bobby Hansen.

And this is the same courage and creativity it took to play Jordan Farmar (with Fisher, Bryant, Odom and Gasol) at crunch time of an elimination game. Farmar hadn’t been playing well in the playoffs, but in game 5, Farmar was effective at blowing by Sam Cassell and Eddie House to get to the rim and finish with a layup, or by assisting a teammate to easily score.

Without that courage and creativity, and with Vujacic having a bad game, Phil would have had to go with Radmanovic at crunch time. Who feels good about THAT decision?

Oh wait, I hear you: what about Trevor Ariza?

After game 4, I was one of the many clamoring for Ariza to get more minutes in game 5, but when I saw Ariza on the floor in game 5, I got worried. Ariza passed on totally open shots, literally. Trevor Ariza earned a seat on the bench by failing to shoot when open. The Celtics defense is bad enough 5 on 5, but if the Celtics are able to guard the remaining Lakers 5 on 4, the Lakers are dead.

Lest I give Phil Jackson too much credit for Farmar’s success, I have to mention Kobe Bryant as well.

Remember when Farmar launched an airball 3 pointer? The very next play, Kobe Bryant passed the ball to Farmar at the arc, and Farmar knocked down the 3-pointer. Kobe Bryant unimpeachably manifested confidence in Farmar, even when he had a good reason not to. I’m sure that built Jordan Farmar’s confidence, and helped him to play better the rest of the game.

Kobe Bryant, for those too jaded to see it, really does make his teammates better.

Of course, Chris Mihm wasn’t really the difference in game 5, Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant were.

I just thought I’d use Chris Mihm to point out to those whose faith in Phil Jackson might be wavering how brilliant Phil Jackson really is, so fear not, and be believing.

The Zen Master is still on his game.

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