Game 4: a virtual reality
In this edition of On The Ball, NATION basketball writer Justin Marville writes a likely series of possibilities of last night’s Game 4 of the Co-operators General Insurance Premier League finals between Lumber Company LSC and Pinelands.
DIDN’T GET to the game last night?
Don’t worry, we didn’t either. Well, kind of.
You see, this column is typically put together on Mondays to appear on Wednesdays, so it’s temporally (don’t be ashamed to look up the word) impossible to review any games that take place on Tuesday in this spot.
And guess which day the season’s biggest game just happened to fall on.
But we find ways around those type of issues in this business, so instead of being irrelevant and analysing a pair of games that took place almost a week ago, we’re going the novel route of answering your questions before the game after the match.
Or is it after the game before the match? You know, the morning after the night that didn’t happen.
However you want to describe it, we’re going to tell you exactly what happened without seeing it first – after the fact.
Still confused? Just wait until you’re done reading here.
Did Andre Lockhart eventually suit up last night? Yes.
But not in a starting role. You really don’t think Barbados’ best missed another chance to stick at a certain other prolific guard and set himself apart as the sport’s undoubted no.1 player.
Think about it. Everything just pointed towards Lockhart taking the floor for an all-too pivotal Game 4.
It’s not like he had to come back home from England during the finals, as national trials are only going to kick into high gear by the conclusion of that championship series.
And if the champs had no intention of playing him they would’ve just said such, considering Lakers hold no considerable advantage by fooling Pinelands into making them think he’s playing and then not dressing him, as the Pine has already faced a Lockhart-less LSC four times this season.
Then what if you’re head coach Francis Williams, wouldn’t you have pursued all available options to close out a series featuring four opposing national players that can only become that much more dangerous with two games worth of momentum under their belt?
Team chemistry wouldn’t have been an issue here either, as we’re not talking about plugging in a complete unknown into a foreign system, bearing in mind Lockhart won multiple titles running Williams’ offence for the last seven years.
About the only thing that would’ve stopped “Locky” is…well…the man himself.
Because somewhere in the back of that mind must be the thought of possibly appearing in a couple of series-defining defeats, which of course would lead most to believe Lockhart was the reason Lakers lost.
Were Pinelands able to win Game 4 and extend the series? No.
And it wasn’t even close. Yeah, you’re thinking I’m going to argue for Lockhart’s inclusion, and you may be right, but I’m angling for the change in venue more so than a difference in personnel.
For several stretches of this series Pinelands’ half-court defence has looked downright oppressive, but their aggressive hedging and hardnosed on-the-ball marking is seriously aided by the tight confines of the “College”.
There’s just no real spacing to be had on that tiny BCC floor, with two steps in any one direction moving you from one offensive threat to another. That won’t the case in the Gym, which suits LSC’s offence better against an eager and lengthy Pine side that had to cover more acreage while helping and recovering.
And if they continually gave up late-game spurts to the champs in the “College”, then what did you think happened when they were even more tired from dealing with a bigger court?
Chasing around the über-fit Keefe Birkett was no small issue either, especially with that other guy coming back to relieve him of the ball-handling duties for almost all of the second half.
Speaking of Lockhart, he was probably the last player a particular Jeremy Gill wanted to see but a game after finally working himself back into this series.
Yup, there was no 23-point performance from Gill this time, or a Pinelands win either, as the champs duly wrapped up their fifth title in eight years following a double-digit victory.
Who took the finals MVP award? Why Keefe Birkett, of course.
It was more than well-deserved this time, too. If you thought he was fortunate to have been given the 2011 honour then this series easily settled the score by awarding the LSC guard for his championship-winning performances.
Playing in a role he’s not accustomed to, Birkett was still the series’ best player without question despite serving as Lakers’ primary ball-handler, facilitator and leading scorer.
But without the weight of those first two responsibilities, the sharp-shooting combo guard proved even deadlier, running defenders ragged around screens and in transition for a litany of treys, midrange jumpers and floaters.
Sure, his court vision could still do with some work, but you definitely can’t refer to this man as simply a jump-shooter so much so that I am willing to say that Birkett may be underrated.
He probably won’t challenge for the regular season MVP, however, there’s no doubt as to who was the most valuable player on the league’s best team.
Did Pinelands at least mount a challenge? Yes.
But only up to the early stages of the third quarter. Forget that initial 2-0 hole, this was still the makings of a title-winning squad with the type of talent capable of running anyone off the floor.
That talent came to bear in the first half too, with Gill trying to take matters into his own hands against the smaller LSC defenders, while Charles Vanderpool and Junior Moore kept things interesting by hammering the offensive glass.
However, Lockhart subsequently put an end to the Gill threat, and Ramon Simmons and Daniel Lovell just couldn’t make Lakers pay from deep when their defenders paid extra attention to Vanderpool in the paint.
Charles Vanderpool didn’t cry again, now did he? Yes.
Only this time he was inconsolable. And understandably so, considering that this team was built to win now and not next season.
This was supposed to be a high-powered unit that ran two-deep at each position, with the inside-outside combo of Vanderpool and Gill set to be the driving force of a squad ably backed up by fellow star players Moore, Simmons and Halley Franklyn.
Their elite yet diverse abilities were also thought to be a perfect blend, with no one player truly replicating the skills of another, thus giving the appearance of a well-balanced outfit.
But that offence never really seemed in sync, functioning just in spurts at a time while only showing its full potential when changing ends in transition.
Vanderpool and company probably never envisioned a situation where they didn’t win this championship, especially after sweeping Lakers by double digits in the regular season.