By Jason Wojciechowski on April 23, 2010 at 2:35 PM
It's a beautiful day in L.A., with clear skies, not much haze out my window (the Hollywood sign is quite visible today), and a wonderful spring temperature. It's the kind of day that makes me think that maybe there is a god.
An angry, mean, asshole god. Because this weather is in sharp contrast to the frustrating, dim performance the Lakers had last night against the Thunder.
That's a harsh thing to say when the game came down to the wire, when Ron Artest's two foot-on-the-line almost-threes were the difference between Kevin Durant shooting free throws for a two-shot lead rather than a two-point lead in the closing minute. But those jumpers typified the night. Once again, the Lakers just didn't execute what ought to be the game plan. They're up against a team whose bigs are Jeff Green (highly skilled, but not a banger), Nenad Krstic (a less-skillful version of Mehmet Okur), Nick Collison (Scot Pollard come back to life), and Serge Ibaka (athletic, energetic, but not really in control of the game). It's not a terrible front line, but it's a line that shouldn't be able to stand up to the size and skill of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. It's a line that can be victimized by over-aggression in shot-blocking, allowing for interior passing to lead to dunks and layups by the bigs. And yet the Lakers took just 16 shots at the rim.
In a game where you build a 10-0 lead in the first two minutes, you have to follow up by settling in to a rhythm and just pounding the other team, putting the ball inside, not letting them get out on breaks and get on runs. Because when you're up ten that early, the other guys have to make at least one run to catch up to you. You can't let them make that run. And yet that's exactly what the Lakers did: they shot off-balance corner threes (if the Dirty Lion does that one more time, I'm going to track him down at his next flag football game here in L.A. and ... well, politely ask that he stop); Kobe dominated the ball and shot long jumpers, even when he had Kevin Durant, with his superior size and athleticism covering him; they drove the lane to shoot rather than to dish, playing right into the hands of Ibaka and Green and Durant, who love nothing more than to sky high for a dominant block on a smaller offensive player. In general, they looked like they thought their hot shooting from the first two minutes would last all 48. The Lakers are too experienced to not take a good defensive squad like OKC seriously.
After all that complaining, I still like L.A.'s chances in Game 4. I think Phil took a laissez-faire approach to the game and he can be more active in ensuring that his guards (and Dirty Lion) feed the post with more diligence (although it should be said that OKC is very actively denying the post with fronting -- the triangle, though, has clear responses to that, and the Lakers have not been using them, preferring to go "oh, can't get the ball to Pau, so here, Kobe, bail us out"), that the team be aware on defensive transition, and that drives to the lane not be so intent on challenging the OKC bigs. That said, I'm fully prepared for an anxiety-inducing seven-game series here, as OKC is absolutely capable of winning every game on its home floor.
Speaking of which, mad props to the OKC fans. They were loud. When the Thunder finally got to a tie and then the lead, it was absolutely deafening in that arena. Very very impressive.