Earlier this week I wrote about Steve Nash and the way his commitment to the broader concept of team basketball - not just passing, but sacrificing, supporting - was just as special as his other considerable athletic gifts. He helped guys play better because he believes that to be a worthy cause.
And thus you have guys like Jared Dudley and Channing Frye and 37-year-old Grant Hill in the rotation of a team that went 36-9 on their way to the Western Conference final.
But after two games against the Lakers comes a scary concept: What if a team with superior talent throughout the lineup - with the exception of point guard - really plays like a team.
The obvious point of comparison here is Kobe Bryant, who had a playoff career-high 13 assists as the Lakers blew out the Suns for the second straight game. In Game 1 Bryant did it with an impressively efficient scoring performance; in Game 2 it was him finding teammates in good spots; the best ones apparently anywhere near the Suns' Amar'e Stoudemire as Pau Gasol and Lamar 'Lucky' Odom combined for 46 points on 18-of-29 shooting.
But the snippet that stood out to me from the comfort of my couch was Andrew Bynum spontaneously and deliriously greeting Pau Gasol as he came off the floor after one late timeout and the Lakers were making their run. Either Bynum was really happy for Gasol, or he's the best actor in the Staples Center, Jack Nicholson included.
A talented team with great chemistry can obviously do some exciting things in the NBA; a really talented team with pretty good chemistry can do a lot more. Of the two series I see the Suns as most likely being cooked; they don't seem good enough. But Orlando? I'd be shocked if they dropped four straight to Boston; I still think they're an excellent team, but they've put themselves in a deep hole and chemistry won't get them out of it; Rashard Lewis has to starting making some shots.
One thing that explains to me the way the Lakers and the Celtics have caught fire in the past couple of weeks is that these are two teams for which internal and external expectations are massive. The Lakers won 57 games this season, but spent much of the second half of the season trying to explain why they were playing so crappy. Boston was in a similar boat. If you're supposed to be the best team in the NBA, being one of the best doesn't really cut it; you spend all your time trying to figure out why you're not the best and blaming yourself and others because you're not. Now Boston and L.A. are getting very close to actually reaching their goals; the pressure is off. Now they're playing for fun, or at least the satisfaction of actually achieving expectations.
In other words, why shouldn't Andrew Bynum be happy for Pau Gasol and vice versa? Or Paul Pierce play like a young buck. They're this close to reaching the goal set by them and for them, and good chemistry seems a natural byproduct.
As for Nash? He again showed that his room for error and the Suns is pretty small. He's been just okay and the Suns have been getting drilled. He had 15 assists against five turnovers in Game 2, but was hardly transcendent. He's taken just 18 shots in two game and even if that's because the Lakers are taking away that part of his game it seems like the play might be to find a way to thwart that strategy and score the ball a little bit. There's no 'I' in team, but there is one in win, is how the saying goes, I think.
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