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Brown Making the Right Moves

June 11, 2004|HENRY BIBBY

Henry Bibby has coached the USC men's basketball team for the last eight seasons, the highlight being the Trojans' advance to the Elite Eight in 2001. He was the point guard and an eventual All-American on three consecutive national championship teams at UCLA (1970-'72) and directed the Bruins to an 87-3 record as a starter. He played for nine seasons in the NBA, one of them with the title-winning '73 Knicks. He will serve as The Times' guest columnist for the NBA Finals.

Larry Brown did a great job of coaching Thursday night. He hasn't been recognized as a coaching giant because he is not in New York, not in L.A., not in Boston. There are not too many Phil Jacksons, not too many Red Auerbachs. For everybody else, it's one championship and you're out.

Now I know that Brown took a lot of criticism the other night for not fouling Shaquille O'Neal at the end of the game, from me and other people. But Brown doesn't care what I say, what the media say. He coaches for his team.

As for the Detroit players, they weren't about to let down because of that loss in Game 2. This is a team on a mission. They stayed focused because they know they should have won that game. They know that if they play that same game, they are going to win more of those than they are going to lose. They had a 10-second lapse at the end of Game 2 and they allowed a miracle shot, but they were able to tell themselves, "We know we are the better team, and we are going to show that we are the better team."

Thursday night, they sent that message early by scoring the first eight points of the game.

They played Brown's system to perfection. His coaching is predicated on mismatches, execution and defense. Brown is an old-style NBA coach in that regard.

Look what the Pistons did defensively to Kobe Bryant. He was double- and triple-teamed every time he got the basketball. I wonder why coaches haven't done that all year.

You have to make other people besides Kobe and Shaq beat you. Can Derek Fisher, Kareem Rush and Devean George beat you every night? No. What Brown was doing was playing the percentages.

And on offense, he was going to the mismatches. Every time down the floor, he was getting the ball to the guy he wanted to get it to.

The Pistons also got a lot out of the subs. Lindsey Hunter, Corliss Williamson, Elden Campbell, those guys made it happen. When I came to USC, I made sure I had dependable subs, because those guys can be the most important guys on the team.

Now, having given Detroit a lot of credit, I have to say that the Lakers played one of the worst first halves I've seen them play in the 10 years I've watched them. Yet at that point, they were still in the game. But they didn't change in the second half. They were not moving the basketball. There were not enough players involved in the offense. Where was the penetration? Where was the triangle offense? They were settling for one shot.

And they were shooting way too many three-pointers. Way too many. That meant that Shaq was not getting the ball, that Kobe was not going to the basket. They were not getting the easy baskets. They were settling for the one-on-one situations. Just catching the ball and trying to score. They were playing selfish basketball. You learn not to do that in grade school.

Shaq didn't demand the ball as much as he has in the past. Shaq and Kobe have got to handle the ball more within the framework of the offense.

At this point, Phil Jackson has some decisions to make about Gary Payton and Karl Malone.

I don't think you can wait any longer for Payton to come around. I think you've got to get Fisher in there. He's a veteran player who knows his role. You've got to go with Fisher. It seems like Payton's head is not where it should be. You've got to cut your losses. It's not about ego. It's not about who is sulking. It's about winning basketball games.

But having said that, you know that Payton still has that offensive mentality. I don't know if a guy like that ever loses confidence. The Lakers hope his offense will surface at some point. So maybe Phil can keep him in there for some minutes and find a way to get him easy shots.

As for Malone, I don't know how badly he's hurt. Maybe Thursday was the game to sit him with the hope he could help on Sunday in Game 4. Or maybe it takes three or four months until he's able to play effectively.

Having him on the floor provides inspiration. And as long as Malone is on Rasheed Wallace, Malone is not going to hurt you defensively. Rasheed is not going to score much. He is not going to beat Karl down the floor or take him off the dribble.

This is a totally different series without Malone. I don't know if the Lakers can get enough production without him.

The important thing is that the Lakers can't start pointing fingers now. This series isn't over.

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