Watching Sunday's Mavs-Lakers contest on ABC was definitely a wise decision.
A buzzer-beating three from Dirk Nowitzki to send it to overtime.
A disastrous first ten free throws from Kobe Bryant. An epic performance thereafter, including success on his last 17 free throw attempts.
A near-catastrophic bucket-and-foul situation allowed by Pau Gasol and the Lakers with a three-point lead in the final seconds of overtime.
A crucial missed free throw from Jason Kidd.
An equally crucial air ball from Dirk Nowitzki to all but wrap it up in the Lakers' favor.
You get the picture: It was a thorough viewing pleasure from start to finish.
But thanks to Jeff Van Gundy, it was a listening pleasure as well.
Throughout the day -- but for the final minutes of regulation and overtime in particular -- Jeff Van Gundy epitomized the wisdom behind putting a coach in the broadcast booth. He was insightful, understandable and one step of the game at all times but never guilty of over-simplifying his commentary to the point of excessively dumbing it down. A few highlights:
- With the Lakers leading by one and less than ten seconds to play, Lamar Odom stands at the line to shoot two free throws. After Odom misses the first, JVG observes Brandon Bass and Kobe Bryant isolated on the right side of the lane. Van Gundy warns that the Mavs should be wary of leaving the inexperienced Bass alone to box out Bryant, as he is one of the game's best at grabbing offensive rebounds off of missed free throws, and he may simply be too crafty and active for Bass to handle on his own at this point in his career. Seconds later, Odom misses the second, and Bryant maneuvers his way around Bass to secure the carom and earn his own trip to the line.
- After Bryant hits his two free throws to extend the lead to three with inside of seven seconds to play, play-by-play man Mike Breen begins the discussion of whether or not the Lakers should foul right away to prevent a Dallas three-point opportunity in the final seconds. Van Gundy immediately dismisses the debate by noting that from his experience coaching, he knows that Phil Jackson is averse to utilizing that strategy and will give the Mavs a chance to tie it. That said, Van Gundy goes on to explain why he disagrees with Jackson on this issue and why he feels like the quick foul is the strategy to go with in this situation. Shortly thereafter, Dirk Nowitzki gets the ball around a Jason Terry screen and drains the trey that sends the game to overtime.
- By the midst of overtime, Bryant is decimating the Mavs' defense on what seems like every trip down the floor (he is en route to a 52-point effort on an efficient 15-for-27 from the field), and Van Gundy questions why Avery Johnson hasn't looked to make some significant adjustments to his scheme in order to force the Lakers' supporting cast to beat his team. The following possession, the Mavs send two defenders at Bryant as soon as he gets the ball more than 25 feet away from the basket, forcing him to swing the ball around the perimeter. The possession yields an open three-point look for Sasha Vujacic (he misses), and the next time down, the Mavs go to zone in an attempt to halt Kobe's penetration.
Sure, JVG wasn't re-inventing the wheel on national television this weekend. But he was doing what a basketball analyst is supposed to do: Adding accurate insights that wouldn't necessarily be apparent to the viewers watching the game.
And for one day at least, he couldn't have done it any better.