If the Lakers had won the other two games they were supposed to have won, they would be up 3-1.
Instead, after another heartbreaking loss, they are down 3-1 to the Oklahoma Thunder. And as they head back to OKC for Game 5–and the Thunder’s homefield advantage–it doesn’t look good.
Simply put: The Lakers were winning the game in the first half (29-24 at the first, 56-46 at halftime) because they were able to get in the paint and drive to the basket, controlling the pace of the game.
In the second half, the Lakers let the Thunder drive to the basket and control the pace of the game. The Thunder also adapted to Lakers’ strategy and crowded the paint, choking Bynum and preventing the Lakers from scoring in the paint. The Lakers barely held onto their third quarter lead 80-71 with a buzzer-beating 2 from KB, and then lost it in the fourth 100-103.
And so we ask: Why didn’t Mike Brown’s strategy also adapt to the Thunder’s adaptation in strategy?
Perhaps because, as much as we hate to admit it, the Thunder are a better team. The proof is in how they keep pulling it out during the last 4 minutes…when everything is on the line and the essence of game and gamer is truly revealed. Whether it is the ability of the coaching staff to adapt strategy on the go or something else entirely, the Thunder players consistently perform their positions to the best of their ability. And they have Durant. Westbrook. Harden–all with intensity and drive and pitch perfect athleticism.
Those three never disappear. They never back down. They never get timid.
As much as we love them, can you say the same for Sessions, Gasol, and Bynum?
The Lakers just have Kobe–playing hard for 48 minutes because that is the nature of the man.
The first place anyone of the Lakers besides Kobe looks is to pass the ball to someone else–did you see Gasol at 33 seconds think that Ibaka was the basket–even when they have been given a wide-open look.
What are you gonna do with that?
“The first place you look is the rim,” admonishes Kevin Smith…and Shaq agrees. “The rim is your friend. Everyone else is just acquaintances.”
So let’s go back to how the West was lost in the fourth:
This is the time when versatility, speed, experience, adaptation, confidence, and strategy become vital.
This is the time when, like they had been doing all game, the Lakers’ defenders were still allowing the Thunder offense to draw them away from the basket and defend outside the paint–leaving it wide open for an easy run to the basket.
This is the time when the Lakers’ offensive strategy–by always running Bynum (and either Gasol, Hill, or MWP) deep into the paint under the basket–allowed Thunder defenders to block the paint, choking Bynum’s scoring and all Lakeshow rebounding. Every time.
This is the time when Durant or Westbrook easily accepted the rebound and powered down the court to score for the Thunder.
This is the time when Mike Brown’s strategy did nothing, in any way, to adapt and combat this.
With 4 minutes left, the Lakers were still up by 6…but the refs chose to ignore a key foul on KB at 3.00…and then called the reverse for Durant to give the Thunder the opportunity for a 2 point play that turned the tide in the Thunder’s favor.
Perhaps this time, the Los Angeles PR machine’s desire to make some drama in the last 2 minutes backfired. The Thunder took off on a run that couldn’t be stopped. KB tried his best to make plays–including a critical drive to the basket to tie the game 98-98 at the free throw line. But when Gasol passed the ball to Durant at 33.8 seconds, Durant calmly wound down the shot clock and then shot a WIDE OPEN 25 foot 3 point jumper over Metta World Peace to take the lead 101-98. And when Bryant missed his answering 3, Harden’s 2 points took it to a 5 point lead.
Bryant answered back with a 2 point SWISH, but it was too too late.
So when you think Bryant shoots too much, remember how many of you are saying this right now: Kobe should have never given up that ball to Gasol to keep his momentum going. He should have shot it then by himself.
And with Gasol scared to shoot in the 4th and Bynum contained by the Thunder’s defense, Westbrook, Durant, and Harden were too much for Bryant to combat by himself. But perhaps Brown’s strategy still has Bynum relying too much on size alone–thinking he can simply put his hands up and layup. Because when you have someone as long and hoppy as Durant–as versatile as Westbrook or as intense as Perkins and Harden–you can’t just stand in the paint.
You have to drive to the basket. There’s a difference.
“To be competitive in this series, the Lakers need a second dominant shooter and stronger strategy,” states Shaq flat out. And, whether or not you agree with the big man, we can all agree on this one question: Why wasn’t Durant double-teamed during that last 3 pointer when he clearly telegraphed his shot…or at any other time during the game Mr. Brown?
Top Scorers in the Contest:
Bryant: 38 Pts, 8 Reb, 5 Ast!
Metta World Peace: 14 Pts, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl!
Bynum: 18 Pts, 9 Reb, 4 Ast, 2 Stl!
Gasol: 10 Pts, 5 Reb, 2 Ast!
Sessions: 10 Pts, 1 Reb, 5 Ast!
Blake: 5 Pts, 3 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl!
Hill: 5 Pts, 7 Reb, 1 Blk!
Get Your Game On As LA takes on OKC Monday! Go LA Go!