Playoff series are as much about what happens between games as they are about what happens during the game.
This is where the nuances of a Playoff series are worked out and coaches prove their real value. They adjust and tinker with their game-plans to give their team new ways to put players in the exact right spot to be effective and score. This is the tug and war.
The good coaches know how to run the Xs and Os, but they also know how to play to the emotions of their team… and their opponents.
Phil Jackson was a master of media posturing and and molding the discussion about the game in the media. Everyone says they do not listen to any of this… but it is human nature to at least hear it and process it. If the tactic of playing the media did not work so many coaches would not use it.
Rick Carlisle spent his time before last night’s Game Two matchup with the Thunder explaining that he was not trying to posture with the media in renewing complaints about the officiating from last year’s Western Conference Finals. Carlisle was, in his words, calling it as he sees it:
“When I was asked about [the physical play], I was asked about my opinion, and I made two statements of fact,” Carlisle said Monday to Tim McMahon of ESPN Dallas. “It’s not posturing or positioning. They were two statements of fact. You’re talking about a guy who has been very difficult to officiate because of his unusual skill set, and he gets played very physically, and we’ve seen it for four years. That’s a fact. That’s not an attempt to lobby the league. That’s a fact of life we have to deal with, and Dirk does a great job with it.
“But hey, look, it’s physical. We don’t expect it not to be. We’re going to have to be a little bit more physical tonight. That’s a part of the game where we feel we can pick it up a little bit.”
Indeed, Carlisle’s message probably boiled over when Dirk Nowitzki and Kendrick Perkins got into a light shoving match at the end of the first half following a hard foul Dirk Nowitzki took. And Oklahoma City won the game on the free throw line, even though Oklahoma City did not record a field goal the final four minutes of the game. Shawn Marion expressed some frustration with the call Kevin Durant got that proved to be the game-winner in Game Two.
It seems Carlisle’s alleged posturing backfired.
The Thunder committed two more fouls than the Mavericks, but held a 39-32 advantage at the free throw line in free throw attempts. Kevin Durant took 16 of them. The Thunder had a 55.2 percent free throw rate in Game Two.
Yes, complaining about the officials in this case backfired.
With the series shifting to Dallas, maybe Rick Carlisle can expect the whistles to go back in his favor. More likely though, Carlisle will have to expect his team to power through, ignore the officials and take care of their own business at home.