Breaking Down Game Two

Kurt —  May 5, 2008

First off, you can catch some of my thoughts on the series at the Hoops Addict podcast that just went up (also on there was a preview from the boys at My Utah Jazz). As a preview, Ryan asked if the Lakers could win a title without Bynum, I said I think this series is the real test of that.

Next, Reed’s comment post from yesterday deserves more run, so here it is in its entirety:

I think fans on both sides need to guard against homerish, post-game tunnel vision — we tend to interpret game results only in positive ways for our teams (i.e. if only X had happened, we would have won/won more handily). Remember, X didn’t happen for a reason, and it’s more likely what happened will happen again than the reverse.

*Kobe got to the rim at will and attempted 24 free throws. Lakers fans: par for the course. Jazz fans: we would have won if Kobe hadn’t been favored by the refs. Truth: the Jazz have weak perimeter defenders, foul a lot, and have no shot blockers inside. Kobe is going to spend a lot of time at the line and score fairly easily, even for him — this has been the case all season against Utah.

*The Jazz shot 38% and were far less efficient on offense than usual. Lakers fans: proof that the LA defense is top notch. Jazz fans: we would have won if we had shot like usual. Truth: somewhere in between; while the Jazz missed a lot of shots, LA’s length and rotations clearly had something to do with this. Aside from a few possessions, LA stayed with back cutters, prevented easy looks off of the pick and roll, stopped Deron from getting to the rim, and defended the 3 point line well — most of Utah’s possessions ended in long 2 point shots at the end of the shot clock (followed by an offensive rebound or three…). Fisher has been locked in defensively for the last few weeks and once Odom took Boozer, the Jazz didn’t have an easy advantage at any position (Boozer ate Gasol up in the first quarter though). Utah will score more than they did today, but will be more frustrated most games than they’d expect.

*Utah destroyed LA on the boards. Lakers fans: we’d have won by 25 if not for all the offensive rebounds. Jazz fans: we are a much tougher team. Truth: the Jazz are a much better rebounding team, with Bynum missing. They are stronger at every position besides SG, crash hard every possession, and will probably win the rebounding battle every game. LA’s job is to keep it close and eliminate easy put backs when they do get second chances.

*Gasol struggled to score on the block. Lakers fans: Pau had an off game (despite the numbers) and will eat Okur up. Jazz fans: Okur can handle Gasol fine — Kobe is the lingering problem. Truth: Okur is underrated defensively. He’s big, long, and doesn’t let Gasol get to the rim on isolation sets. Gasol has not been scoring well on the block for weeks and has been getting 90% of his offense off of great passes when the defense breaks down or in transition (which I have no problem with — I’d rather have the ball moving and Gasol getting 20 on 12 chip shots than have him attack hard on the block and get 30 on 22 isolation shots; there are enough weapons that we don’t need him to carry that heavy of a load).

*LA dominated in transition. Lakers fans: LA is faster, deeper and more explosive. Jazz fans: we were tired from the Houston series and you won’t get this advantage again. Truth: Utah was a bit sluggish, but LA is more athletic at every position but point guard and should have a significant fast break point edge every game.

I think Utah is capable of winning any game in this series, and the series itself. Deron is going to play better and go off a few times (he’ll realize that there isn’t a lot waiting for him at the rim when he gets by Fisher and start to lower his head and bull through more often). Boozer can put Gasol in foul trouble and thereby disrupt LA’s freak offensive efficiency. And Utah’s rebounding edge is going to be worth a lot of extra points in a series where the margins are narrow. But, LA should ultimately come through. Kobe is just an awful matchup for the Jazz given their lack of wing defenders or help shotblockers. LA’s defense is also enough better than Utah’s that they should have an easier time scoring points over the long haul.

For another great breakdown, the always amazing KD at Ball Don’t Lie looks behind the boxscore.

Game two on Wednesday will be interesting because both teams came out of game one thinking there were key areas to improve on — Utah’s shooting, particularly from D-Will and Boozer, and for the Lakers on the boards. Of course, one impacts the other — if Utah made more shots they would have gotten fewer offensive boards. But the team that makes the better adjustments here will be have the upper hand.

The Lakers have an odd concern here — because every Jazz player crashes the boards there are opportunities for run-outs and fast breaks. However, the Lakers have to be smart about it, because it can lead to overwhelming numbers of Jazz in the paint. Good times might include running close-outs on three-point shooters, Gasol got his late-game hesitation breakaway layup when he just kept running on a close-out, then Kobe got him the ball. (Do you think Kwame could have done that? Ha.)

Also, Reed mentioned Kobe’s penetration above, and I agree it’s something we can expect to see continue. But part of what drove Utah’s comeback was their penetration — the Jazz offense really opens when D-Will gets in the paint. The Lakers need to limit it again (as much as one can do that against D-Will).

Finally, I don’t think enough credit can be given to the Lakers bench — The Lakers second-quarter run that gave them a healthy lead came with a lineup of Vujacic, Turiaf, Walton, Farmar and Gasol. Speicial kudos to Sasha and Turiaf. Turiaf provided defensive energy in the paint the Lakers needed at key times. Sasha has now become the designated Korver stopper, which is a good role for him (but all those 13-year-old girls in Utah will hate him). Sasha finished +8 for the game, matched with Korver, a good sign.

There’s a lot more, like this smart series preview at The Painted Area, but we can’t get to it all. Plus, we need to save a few things for the game two preview.