In a lot of ways, the Lakers first game of the playoffs looked a lot like too many of their regular season games. They came out focused on the defensive end of the floor and caused all sorts of problems for the Jazz, plus shared the ball and hit open shots in the half court. Then they got up big and lost that focus. They held on for a comfortable win but not a dominating one.
Still, not a lot of concern in these parts about that first game. I feel my prediction here is safe. I don’t think the Jazz made great adjustments in the second half so much as the Lakers got sloppy. Things could be different if Okur returns — the Jazz were light on the pick and roll in the absence of their best pick-then-pop guy. They tried to be physical with this Lakers team, but these Lakers push back.
I want to break down what made me the happiest — the Lakers defense when Andrew Bynum went to the bench in the first quarter. This is where I feared a letdown, and instead the defense stayed strong. Here is a breakdown of the last four minutes of the first half, when the Jazz had the ball.
4:14 (Lakers up 6): Jazz run an inbound play from the sideline, where Deron Williams stepped back when Shannon Brown got stuck behind Carlos Boozer. Brown recovered fairly well but Williams isn’t missing an open shot from the top of the key.
3:51 (Lakers up 4): Williams tries a little iso shake and bake at the top of the key but ShanWOW stays in front of him well, so Williams passes to AK-47 popping out on the wing (off a couple screens). He has the shot, so Boozer and Millsap jump into the paint thinking board. But AK hesitates as the Lakers close out well, so he puts it on the floor then passes to Boozer in the middle of the key. Boozer now needs to collect the ball, take a dribble and… three seconds on Millsap. This highlights two things the Lakers did well in the first half — close out on shooters and use their length to bother the Jazz. The long arms had Jazz players thinking not reacting.
3: 20 (Lakers up 6): The Jazz run the stagger screen for D-Will that Kwame a. laid out in our previews, but the Lakers play it like they had seen it a million times, they anticipate and switch on picks, the result is there are no good shots, so Williams goes back out top for a reset of the offense. Williams is in isolation straight away and when he decides to drive he blows past Shannon Brown into the lane, but Lamar Odom slides over to protect the paint and that causes Williams to hesitate, and he loses control of the ball. Fast break basket for the Lakers going the other way.
I want to say this — Farmar (and Fisher) took a lot of heat here last year for their defense on Williams in the playoffs. But he can blow right by our new hero Shannon Brown too. The difference Sunday was the Lakers helped behind their guards a lot better. At least in the first half.
2:52 (Lakers up 8): Williams out on the wing just blows past ShamWOW again, but again LO is there with the help defense and going for the block causes the missed layup. Millsap grabs the board and goes up, but the length of Lamar Odom causes miss. Then “lather, rinse repeat” — Millsap grabs the board and goes up, but the length of Lamar Odom causes miss. Again the offensive board and the ball goes back out to D-Will for the reset. On the reset everyone loses Millsap who scores a layup on a cut back to the basket and a beautiful pass from Williams.
2:05 (Lakers up 8): Sasha is chasing Korver around picks off the ball and Boozer decides to help his teammate with a rather obvious elbow to the neck. While that is effective, it also is illegal.
1:31 (Lakers up 8): The ball goes to Millsap on the block against the bigger Gasol, and he does a nice job with the fake then the under and up, and while he misses he draws the non-shooting foul. On the inbounds reset the Jazz go to a mismatch, Matt Harpring is too strong for Odom on the low block, and he backs him down then hits the six a fade away. See, he can do more than foul.
:51 (Lakers up 9): D-Will is up high surveying the situation and then decides to drive again but this time takes just a few steps before passing out to CJ Miles for the three. Great closeout by Sasha means a terrible miss. If there was one key difference in the first half, it was shooter close outs — the Jazz left Ariza and Brown to take wide open, feet set looks. The Lakers allowed nobody to do that.
:28 (Lakers up 9): D-will looks like he is going to move but he instead passes to Harpring coming off a baseline down screen and he gets the ball at the elbow, turns and passes to CJ Miles who is cutting out of the corner to the basket. Miles goes around the first help in Gasol but Odom recovers to help and blocks the shot. The Lakers again anticipated the offense from the Jazz and were almost playing a zone on this one.
That is a big problem the Jazz face in this series — only Williams and sometimes CJ Miles can create their own shots. There are limited fallbacks when the offensive sets don’t work. That makes it easier for the Lakers to defend.