The Game Outside the Game


Today, I'm remembering the Portland-Detroit Finals back in 1990.  Back then, Rick Adelman was our coach.  It was our first NBA Finals with the Drexler-era team and we were new and inexperienced.  Aside from the loss to the Bad Boys, one of the things I remember most vividly was how gentlemanly Rich Adelman was.  He was understated and relatively restrained in contrast to the Detroit's public comments by people like Laimbeer, Dumars, Isiah Thomas, and Chuck Daly.  Adelman seemed to have the view that the team will do all its talking on the court.  I remember  shaking my head thinking this was not a good indicator.  I wished I could tell him, "Rick, you need to hit back.  Send some messages too!"

In 1990 didn't send many messages.  Now Rick's is on the other side coaching against us.  (I still like him and feel that PA should never have had him fired only to hire  Mike Schuler  P.J. Carlesimo (thank you, Thomas!) .. but that's a topic for another time.)  Now after nearly two decades and after 140-plus playoff games later, Rick has really learned: He sends messages in public.  He plays the game outside the game with the best of them.

Just as Nate uses the phrase "the game within the game," there is also "the game outside the game."  This is the game of strategy and message-sending in which the coach and the team use the press, interviews, and any other means available to send messages outside of the game.

Does it always work?  Of course it doesn't always work.  But in a difficult series you look for every little bit of advantage and leverage that you can find.  It's an advantage if you can influence the probability of getting a foul or two less on your guys, or getting a foul or two more on the other guys.  (How big is it for a single referee to whistle 5 fouls on your two centers within a few minutes and change the way they have to play the rest of the game?)

By extension, the game outside the game is partly why the home court is an advantage.  On the court, both the court and the basket are the same size for both teams.  But home court noise sends messages .. sends messages to our players, the opposing players, the coaches, and the refs.  These messages can influence the psychological environment within which the game is played.

The best coaches use the game outside the game to send messages to influence games.  Some of the best college coaches too.   Phil Jackson is one of the masters.  People call him a "whiner".  Maybe he is sometimes, but from another perpective, he's sending messages.  Sometimes there is such a thing like "whining" with a purpose.  It's something that can be learned with experience.  Rick didn't have it in 1990.  In 2009, now that he's coaching against the young Blazers, he has it down solid.

The Blazers haven't used this tool much this year.   After Game 2, I was bothered that we weren't playing enough of the game outside the game.  I felt that the coaches should be out there complaining more about the grabbing and bumping on Brandon.  Just like I wondered Rick not standing up to Detroit in 1990, I was starting to wonder about our current coaching staff doing enough message sending.  After all, it does takes a little chutzpah with a dash of performing skill to play the game outside the game.  The experienced player on our coaching staff who has these characteristics in spades and the cleverness of a fox is Maurice Lucas, but he's not on the bench for this playoffs.

Another question is what can we fans do?  Can we help play the game outside the game?  Most of us understand that we don't have enough of a voice to influence the refs, coaches, and players much.  But maybe we do have a little role to play in all this.  Cheering and maybe even a little "selective focused" booing can send messages during a game.  Beyond that, to the extent that if we complain even in fanposts or a blog, or if someone respected like Dave complains, then maybe people like the people at O Live, or Henry at TrueHoop, or Casey might pick up certain complaints during the playoffs and then meesage might amplify and spread. 

I think the game outside the game works best when its focused, directed, and strategic.  I don't think it can hurt for us to join in and play it a little too. 

So while the back-and-forth about refereeing is going on, don't chalk it up as "just whining."  Sit back and enjoy, because there are many levels of the game that we can watch, study, and appreciate.



I wrote most of the above starting last night.  Maybe we're learning.  O Live says that today Nate was disturbed by the officiating.  (I haven't seen his full comments.)  My opinion is that we're late and really needed to start responding about refereeing two games ago.  But I'm still very glad we're finally starting to do this now.  That being said, I'm still positive about tomorrow's game.


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