Things are getting a little chippy already in the Orlando-Boston series and the LA-Houston series, and they are only two games into them.
Usually it takes a little more time for players to get sick of each other and have tempers flare. I think the fact that both of the favorites, Boston and LA, got spanked in their first games at home, put an extra edge to the second game. If Pat Riley is right, that a playoff series doesn’t really start until a home team loses, then these series got started real quick.
LA started off quickly in last night’s game, with Kobe Bryant basically putting the team on his back and giving the impression that he was not going to let his team lose. Have to admire that.
That’s what great players are supposed to do. I just wish he wouldn’t walk around like a proud peacock after making a shot. What’s that about? I guess he thinks it is an intimidation factor. Ultimately, I think his chirping and the puffing of his chest did lead to things getting a little more intense. Whatever happened to “act like you have done it before?"
Anyway, Houston fought back with hard play after being down in double figures early, out scrapping the Lakers in the second quarter despite Yao Ming being on the bench with foul trouble.
Terrific effort from Carl Landry, as Houston just out hustled and out fought the Lakers to get back into it. You have to admire Houston's competitiveness. There’s no quit in those guys.
Another quick start for Bryant and the Lakers at the start of the second half, to get back up by double figures. Late in the third quarter, Luis Scola fouled Lamar Odom on a drive to the basket.
By no means was it even a hard foul. Just a basketball foul. Odom seemed to react, verbally, and then Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic got involved, running their mouths with Scola. Technicals were given to Odom, Walton, and Scola, as the refs tried to get control.
As Scola came up to set a screen on Derek Fisher in the next play, Fisher delivered a vicious elbow and shoulder into Scola, knocking Scola off his feet and to the floor. No Hollywood acting in this one. Fisher assessed a flagrant two foul and was ejected, and is suspended for the next game, rightfully so.
I have always been a Fisher fan. Not the most naturally gifted player, but he has made himself into a fine NBA player.
He is a hard nosed and very competitive, the kind of guy you want to play with as a player, and coach if you are a coach. He’s all about winning, and he has often delivered the big plays in the clutch. A tough guy, but not a “cheap shot” guy. Why, then, this cheap shot? It was so out of his normal character.
My take on it is this: Houston is definitely the more physical team, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. They are physical, but not dirty. I believe their physical play was bothering the Lakers, and I think Fisher felt a message had to be sent back from the Lakers.
Fisher knows that none of the Lakers’ big people are going to get tough, physically. Maybe tough verbally, but not physically. So he took it upon himself to deliver a message. Fisher had not been involved in the Odom-Scola little spat. There was nothing personal involved, but I think he felt a message needed to be sent, on behalf of the team. No big guys would do it. He would and did.
In the fourth quarter, Bryant hit Ron Artest with an elbow to the neck while the two of them were jostling for position under the basket for a rebound. Artest, who is stronger than Bryant, was using his superior strength to push Bryant under the basket, and Bryant threw the elbow.
There’s nothing like a thrown elbow to piss a player off, especially to the head and neck areas. Artest, rather than flat out punching him, like he probably would have done a few years ago, paraded around to get the refs’ attention to the fact that Bryant had thrown an elbow.
Artest ended up getting thrown out when he got into Bryant’s face, probably telling Bryant, "no more." Now, like Fisher, I have been a big fan of Artest for a long time. I wanted to trade for him when I was coaching the Pistons during his rookie year. I love his toughness and competitiveness. I know he’s done some crazy stuff, but I still like him. I’m proud of him for how he restrained himself last night. Like Charles Barkley said after the game, “he’d take Artest in his foxhole." So would I.
The NBA’s policy of no fighting has been a good thing. Basketball is a game of finesse and beauty. Physical intimidation and fighting should not be in the game. But there is also a downside to it.
Knowing there is no retaliation, some players gain a little bravado that they may not have had otherwise. Can you picture an Odom, or a Walton going up to Scola on the playground and giving him lip? Do you really think Bryant would throw an elbow at Artest on the playground in Queens?
Like they say, “not in a ******* NY minute."
In the “old days," guys thought twice about giving a cheap shot because they knew it would be coming back at them in spades, kind of like how Fisher retaliated. Even the toughest guys got tired of getting knocked down.
Image Source: Charlotte Observer