Los Angeles came out strong Friday night–up 8-0 after just 2 minutes in the first. And it wasn’t just the greater sense of urgency in the Lakeshow’s game that did it; the Lakers have realized that the only way to dominate the young Thunder team is to get aggressive and get inside the paint to drive to the basket. Within the first 6 minutes, all but one of the Lakers’ points (a sweet 3 point SWISH from Gasol) had been scored in the paint…and the Lakers were up 14-4. Sessions capped the Lakers’ 8 point run with a 2 pointer to take it 16-4 before the Thunder began to answer back. But with 6 Pts, 3 Ast, 1 Reb, and 1 Stl from KB, the Lakers took the first quarter 23-15.
And then, when Westbrook and Durant showed just how high they could fly in the 2nd quarter, OKC took the lead 33-32 with 6 minutes left to play in the second…eek!
But they don’t have Kobe Bryant.
And now that the Lakers finally realize–just like everyone else has been saying with us–that they need to get in the paint and power to the basket, the Thunder lead didn’t last for long. By attacking the basket, the Lakers slowed the pace of the game down to their advantage. And, by fouling hard when Durant, Westbrook, Harden and the rest of OKC drove hard in the paint, the Lakers made the Thunder work for every point. They let the Thunder know nothing would come easy.
At halftime, the Lakers up were up 50-47! Woot! Woot! Bynum had 8 Pts, 2 Reb, 2 Ast, and 1 Blk. Bryant had evaded the double-team and powered to the basket to score 13 Pts, 3 Reb, 2 Ast, and 2 Stl! Gasol was looking good with 6 Pts, 6 Reb, 3 Ast, and 1 Stl. MWP had 6 Pts, 1 Ast, and 1 Blk. And Sessions had stepped his playoff game way up with 10 Pts, 2 Reb, and 4 Ast.
The Lakers kept Durant and Westbrook at bay during the 3rd…and a completely scoreless Harden was desperate to prove he had game at the end of the quarter. Sorry, man, too bad that beard couldn’t have given that 26-foot airball a few extra inches. But a dwindling presence from Bynum (who missed all of his shots during the 3rd and 4th quarters except for 7 free throws) and Sessions (who only scored 2 more points after his amazing first quarter) put the Lakers down by 1 at at the end of the 3rd to the tune of 69-70…Eek! Eek!
But you know what that means…it’s Kobe time!
Fueled by 4 FT’s from Gasol and Bynum combined, Bryant took over the fourth to sink two sweet 2-pointers over Derek Fisher…probably the worst coaching decision made by the Thunder all night. But OKC wised up and subbed in Westbrook to jump up and block his long shot. No matter. Bryant drove to the basket to take the lead 92-91…then again 94-91. And with two 3′s from Blake–perhaps the death threats will stop now haters?–and another 3 from MWP, the Lakers’ new strategy of driving to the basket–earned them a bonus of 41 of 42 FTs. Combined, both teams made 67 of 70 FTs, proving the game was fought and won in the paint. But OKC, it seems, just couldn’t contain the Lakers’ physically aggressive offense nor handle the Lakers’ physically aggressive defense.
But then you realize something else.
That last half of the game, it was really only Bryant scoring any points in the paint. Bynum’s 2 of 13 shooting kept him from being any kind of inside presence. And Gasol, when inside, focused on rebounding rather than driving to the basket…preferring at all times to channel the old Lamar Odom and score from the top of the key. MWP is driven–as he needs to be–on aggressive defensive inside the paint and perfect 3 point touches from his soft hands when outside. Blake, too, is an outside shooter, rarely getting in the paint to drive to the basket.
Simply put: this is what Sessions was brought in to do…and isn’t. It’s not because he isn’t capable or because he is still adjusting to his first playoff season. It’s just that Sessions is simply a lot smaller than Westbrook and Durant; he can’t physically match up with them in the paint…and this physicality is what Brown’s new playoff strategy is depending upon.
So when Bynum is not performing, its up to Kobe to drive to the basket again. And again. And again. And more often than not, Brown’s strategy has Bryant playing point and powering down the floor. And then, he has to evade his double/triple team and drive to the basket to score. Most teams–Thunder included–pass the ball into the paint to maximize the explosive power to the basket.
The single adjustment the Lakers need to make their lives a whole lot easier is the addition of another strong, fast presence who can match Westbrook and Durant in size and who is able to take flight and drive to the basket.
Did I just hear you say LeBron James? Well, there have been rumors…
So what do the Lakers need to do to get a back-to-back win tonight?
“The team that’s the most physical will win,” states Head Coach Mike Brown.
In other words, the Lakers need to maintain their aggressive play in the paint; they need to continue to drive to the basket. It’s important they play their best defense and protect the paint–that they keep their hands up ready to rebound, disrupt passes, and block shots. They need to continue establishing a physical presence on the defensive end. Aggression, physicality, and defense gives the Lakers their best chance to beat a more youthful and skillful Thunder team.
Top Scorers in the Contest:
Bryant: 36 Pts, 7 Reb, 6 Ast, 2 Stl!
Bynum: 15 Pts, 11 Reb, 2 Ast, 3 Blk!
Sessions: 12 Pts, 4 Reb, 2 Ast!
MWP: 10 Pts, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk!
Gasol: 12 Pts, 11 Reb, 6 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 Blk!
Blake: 12 Pts, 8 Reb!
Get Your Game On Tonight as Los Angeles takes on OKC in back-to-back Game IV! Go LA Go!