Monday, April 20, 2009

Round 1, Game 1 Post Mortem: This is not the beginning of the end . . . just the end of the beginning!

Relax -- its just basketball By now everyone should have come off their ledges and attempted to digest this game. Utah lost game 1 of their series in LA. LA is the 1st seed, and did what they are expected to do – win their game. This should not be a surprise to anyone, nor should it be a great sense of disappointment for Jazz fans either. [It’s not like we got complete beatdowns like the Hornets did on the road, or the Blazers did at home! – Utah lost to the mighty Lakers by 13 points in a game where one starter was playing hurt, and another was injured while our best player only made 4 FG, shouldn’t the Jazz have lost  by 30?] If anything, this is not just one loss, it’s just the first move. The playoffs are a completely different animal and to complicate the already random nature of the game (a player steps up and makes shots that they shouldn’t, another ends up missing shots they usually make, one ref sees a play different than others, a time keeper starts the clock half a second too late, etc) the playoffs aren’t a simple, ‘one and done’ situation. It’s a series, a series that features game plans, adjustments and an almost ever increasing number of variables.

It’s a chess match, it’s a turn based strategy game, it’s all still far from being over – even for the lowly Utah Jazz who have less chance at success than those rebels did against the mighty empire back in Star Wars.

I’ve been an NBA Fan since 1984, and (oddly) a Jazz fan since the 1987-1988 NBA Playoffs. I’ve seen almost everything a fan can see, except an NBA championship. I’ve lived through the days of free agent excitement (“Chris Morris is going to be awesome!”), trade ups and downs (Jeff Hornacek and Rony Seiakly respectively), unfounded draft day highs (“Erick Murdock will be a great back-up to Stockton!”) and 7 1st round exits in 21 years. Playing a really talented Lakers team doesn’t scare me, and I will not be devastated by losing the series, if/when that occurs. Karl and John couldn’t get out of the 1st round 9 times in their careers – it shouldn’t destroy Deron’s career to get eliminated in the 1st round once.

Nor should the fans get too down by losing the first game of the playoffs either. It’s not like that spells ultimate doom either, Utah wasn’t supposed to win this round in the first place . . . any games we play and any experience we get from this is to our ultimate benefit. After all, in my tenure as a Jazz fan I’ve seen Utah lose the first game of the playoffs (sometimes even at home!) and still end up winning the series 3 times. I’m not insane enough to suggest that the Jazz are going to win this series – but you’re going to have to go as far back as 1988-1989 to see the Jazz get swept out of the playoffs. (How many other current playoff teams can boast the same? Very few have such a long streak of consistently making the playoffs, yet not getting swept out)

So what the Jazz are probably going to lose . . . you still have to play the games. Aside from the Celtics, no team played the Lakers harder than the Jazz did last season in the playoffs. This is, essentially, the same team – why expect the Jazz to roll over and die? They shouldn’t. Neither should the fan base.

Jazz message boards have been rife with criticisms of Jerry Sloan for the last few days. (or years, depending on which boards you frequent) I don’t agree with everything he has done this season, but one thing that I do solidly have faith in is that he is one of the better (and somehow under-rated) strategists in the game today and makes astonishingly effective game to game adjustments. [#3 on this list] he is a methodical guy who really understands fundamentals and has a very solid group of assistant coaches on hand. They go over game tape and do make solid adjustments. (Why can’t they do this during the game? I don’t know . . . maybe it’s a long processes that isn’t as quick as we fans think it is?) Of course, it’s an entirely different thing for his players to actually do what they are supposed to do. That breakdown ends up being blamed on Sloan and his game plan.

Mind you, it’s a game plan that is a work in progress as the series progresses . . . this same team, in their virgin playoff sorties, got beat down in Houston two games in a row and T-Mac was like a God, imposing his will on the likes of Gordan Giricek, Derek Fisher, Ronnie Brewer, Matt Harpring and company. Jerry looked at what else was happening in the game and decided to keep picking at something, until an opening arose. Over the 7 game series the Jazz ended up making, over-all, better net adjustments than the Rockets. Yao Ming’s production tapered off from what he was getting in the first 2 games – he was the key for Sloan’s adjusted strategy. Sloan also stroked T-Mac’s ego and made him continue feeling like a God by not changing what they were doing, and allowing 6’nothing Derek Fisher check him. Only for him to switch his defense in the 4th quarter of games to have two guys quickly bull rush T-Mac (Andrei and Memo) causing the Rockets little chance to adjust to something they had not seen before. The result was the Jazz winning game 7, on the road, after losing the first 2 games in the series – something that before then, had never been done, and remains a feat of coaching that has yet to be duplicated since.

In the playoffs you can’t take any team for granted. If the Lakers do, then don’t expect this series to be as short as some media analysts and fans alike would have pegged it for. This series is 48 minutes old. It’s not over. It’s not going to be a sweep. While the Jazz are most likely (98%-ish) going to finish on the wrong end of 4 losses, they are going to go down fighting.

Jazz fans, Lakers fans, and bloggers all over the internet: this is not the beginning of the end . . . just the end of the beginning.

Utah is going to die hard and not give up the ghost willingly as long as this guy is suiting up. You can take that to the bank.


Anonymous said...

definitely agree about jerry.

moe said...

interesting comments about the Houston series in 2007, your post reminds me of that article about the Rockets "statistical methods" and I wonder if they were using their advanced analysis at that time.