- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008


The Lakers earned 12 more free throw attempts than the Celtics in Game 3 after Phil Jackson complained about the 38-10 free throw disparity in Game 2.

This is the NBA. This is basketball.

Twenty-four percent of the Lakers’ 87 points in Game 3 came from the free throw line, which is hardly unusual.

It makes you wonder why youth, high school and AAU coaches do not hammer the importance of free throw shooting with 24/7 conviction.

Well, we know why most AAU coaches elect not to dwell on this point with the precocious ones in their midst. They might risk offending them and losing out on the trickle-down economic effect of the agents’ runners and the bottom feeders of the shoe companies.

This is not to suggest that free throw shooting is a lost art. There are plenty of exceptional free throw shooters in the NBA, few as reliable as Celtics guard Ray Allen, who shot 91 percent from the foul line during the regular season.

Yet there are enough mediocre and poor ones to baffle and frustrate coaches, fans and members of the national press alike.

After all, free throw shooting is as important to a team’s success as its ability to play both ends of the floor.

You saw how Gregg Popovich used Shaquille O’Neal’s foul-line limitations against the Suns. You saw how the Wizards deliberately fouled Ben Wallace late in Game 5 and dispatched him to the bench.

Jackson routinely expounds on the essentialness of the free throw line. In fact, he has been telling all the right parties about this since he began winning championships with the Bulls in the early ‘90s.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers is not in the mood to hear how sly Jackson is on this subject with the media and the referees. Rivers has been around the game long enough to know how the political aspect of the game is played. He just does not subscribe to it. That is not his style. He sees it as less than noble, not in the spirit of the competition.

“I told our players I don’t want to hear about Coach Jackson complaining [to the media about the referees], and that’s why they got to the line and won the game,” Rivers said. “No, that was not why. They played harder, they drove to the basket and they deserved to go to the foul line. If you play harder [in Game 4] and you attack the basket, then you will go to the foul line.”

It is funny how the officiating in the NBA sometimes works, if work is the correct word.

Kobe Bryant wound up with four fewer free throw attempts than the Celtics in Game 3. If Bryant had not shot 11 of 18 from the free throw line, the Lakers would have won the game easily.

Bryant had a ready explanation for his struggles there and an amusing one at that.

“It felt like I was in foreign territory because I haven’t been there in so long,” he said. “It’s like somebody took me and just dropped me off in the middle of Shanghai with no translator. You know what I’m saying? And with no dictionary. It was crazy. At least I got there.”

Referees, did you get all that as part of your pre-Game 4 instructions?

It must be June. You can tell by the mind games.

Bryant certainly knows how to work a national audience. Nice eye contact. High-wattage smile. A dash of wit.

Talk in this instance is not cheap. The talk after Game 2 helped the Lakers stave off a 3-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series. A change in venue helped as well.

Referees are not machines. They prefer to hear the pleasing sound of cheers from the home crowd.

And no doubt the free throw correction steadied the wobbly Lakers.

While Bryant scored 36 points, the rest of the team’s starters combined for 22 points on 7-for-28 shooting.

Yet as Jackson knows, nothing improves the mental condition of a team like a series of beneficial whistles.



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