We are at the midpoint of the 2009 NBA finals so let’s take a look at what’s been going on. Since my preview, a major event happened with Jameer Nelson returning and playing more than a handful of minutes in Game 1. Unfortunately, this tinkered with what I consider the most important aspect of a championship team: Chemistry.
Going back to Game 1, the teams were somewhat feeling each other out. The Magic led after the 1st quarter and then Nelson came in and played well on emotional energy. However, this sputtered out and the Magic were in disarray since the Nelson factor was unpredictable and everyone’s games were affected. Playing Nelson for so long was the worst coaching decision I’ve seen in a while and even worse was Alston’s reaction and pouting. In the NBA finals, these things are unacceptable. With the Magic out of sync, the Lakers attacked. Primarily, it was Kobe attacking in the 3rd quarter and he was both mentally and physically on top of his game during that span. Sensing that the Magic were confused, it was the right moment to do so and the game basically became a blowout in a few short minutes. There was not much to be interpreted here other than that LA was in peak form while Orlando was trying to adjust to Nelson at the worst possible time.
In Game 2, both teams struggled with some adjustments. Luckily for the Magic, even with Alston pouting, LA was off offensively so they had some time to fight. It was a grinding game based on desire and a few bounces here and calls here could have resulted in either team winning. Lee’s crucial layup miss was something the Magic had to live with but they could at least go home knowing that they should be tied 1-1.
Game 3 had both teams clicking in high gear. It seemed everyone was making shots. Kobe’s incredible 1st quarter kept LA in the game even with the Magic shooting an absurd 75%. However, having Kobe going meant he might be taking too many shots and the delicate balance of the team was affected. This was noticeable during the 2nd half when Kobe tried to be the aggressor but lost his touch. By that point, the team could not pick up the slack and Gasol, while red-hot, was not getting his shots because Kobe was taking most of them. It’s uncertain if still Kobe tries to force the issue because he is aware of his resume, but the self-consciousness of such play is detrimental to the overall chemistry aspect of the team. LA has so much talent, this may not even matter at this point but Orlando is such a potent offensive team that even LA needs to play their best to win. That means unified play as seen from Orlando in Game 3 will normally get the job done.
Orlando may have gotten their chemistry back now that Alston is back to his regular mode. However, they may have given up too much ground during that time to recover. Ironically, the unpredictable “Nelson” event was something the Magic should have been aware of more than any other team since they were the beneficiaries of beating a team with a similar occurrence when Michael Jordan returned to the Bulls in 1995 after 1.5 years of retirement. Adding Jordan made the team much deadlier and better, but in the playoffs, the team wasn’t on the same page and Jordan himself admitted that his timing was off and couldn’t get to the openings he saw. As a result, Orlando beat the Bulls in 1995 in the Eastern Semifinals and went on to their first ever finals appearance. Now, Nelson is not Jordan, but the added value of a star or superstar can only be fully realized when everyone’s tendencies are in unison. It’s not only a matter of Nelson performing, it’s a matter of what he knows his teammates will do and vice versa. Only Alston can know that since he’s been there through the struggles and intensity of the entire playoffs. But now that both teams are back and with the Magic having two more games at home, things might get interesting.