Lakers/Rockets Game 3 Chat

Kurt —  May 8, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets NBA Game 2 Western Conference semifinals in Los Angeles
I wanted to get away from the emotion of the last game and talk a lot of Xs and Os, but in an email Reed makes a very good point that emotions may well determine this series:

I think that is an often overlooked, but important, subplot in any series — which team allows some emotional/mental/psychological weakness to disrupt their desired execution. This is a real driving force in the playoffs. Often the talent difference is razor thin and the determining factor becomes which team can gain the mental edge and thereby force the other team to play with doubt, fear, or some level of discomfort. By “emotion” or “mental edge” or “psyche” I am referring broadly to any kind of emotion that affects play — doubt, fear, confidence, trust, courage, etc. Those feelings can drive execution — if a team believes in their system, teammates, and personal abilities, then they will execute with real precision and commitment; if they do not believe in themselves or others — or fear their opponent in some way, then that will cause execution to break down as they compensate for perceived weaknesses. This is what happened in the Boston series last year. They were not more talented than us, but they gained the clear mental edge and forced us to abandon what was working. Instead of running the triangle, we reverted to Kobe-ball…. The issue was not that we didn’t care or stopped trying, it was that we let Boston intimidate us — both in terms of gameplan and physical play — and thereby lost the disciplined execution that had worked for us.

It’s a good thing to watch for tonight — do the Lakers get away from what they do best? Does a fired up Ron-Ron try to take over the game single-handedly? Those things will determine a winner as much or more than anything else.

Tonight with the Lakers we get a peak into the point guard of the future discussion, and hopefully we are not left screaming, “Free Agents, we need Free Agents” by the end of the night.

Jordan Farmar could do it, if he plays a little smarter. The man used to just run into the pick in the high pick and roll and become lost, but against Brooks he is went under it. The problem last game was he went so far under it that Brooks could still turn the corner and get up some speed before Farmar was there to try to cut him off (and it was too late). Or, Brooks would just hit the three. If Brooks is cold again (he’s streaky) then the Lakers go under, if not Farmar has to fight over the top. If Jordan can make a couple little adjustments like that, he could have a good night.

Otherwise, more ShanWOW and maybe some Sasha at the point.

The Lakers had a good defensive game in a lot of ways against the Rockets in game two — they fronted Yao and had backside help there early, taking him out of the game. I liked the turnovers that created (allowing a faster pace), while Darius breaks down how he thought just keeping Yao out of the flow was key.

However, I think this game was won based off the work that we did on Yao. We fronted him, pushed him further out to make catches, and then doubled him hard which forced him to pass. Houston’s wing players helped us out a great deal by not looking for Yao on the re-post (as Dwyer explained so well over at BDL), but often times those wing players were up against the clock and went into a bit of panic by forcing jumpers and driving into traffic (and all because of the work we had done throughout the possession). As I mentioned in the last thread, if we can continue to make Yao a passer and limit his shot attempts, we’ll put the game on the shoulders of Artest, Brooks, Battier, Landry, Scola, Wafer, and Lowry. And while Artest has shown how good he can really be, he’s always one play away from making himself disappear (as we saw last night). And in the end, I’m more than happy to take my chances against those other guys than to allow Yao to dictate to us. Plus our fronting strategy put our bigs in much better position to help on Guard penetration. If Fish/Farmar/Brown got beat, Gasol/Bynum were in position to help as they were already in front of Yao (most of time at least) and did not allow themselves to get sealed off by his giant frame. This made Guards reverse course and burn more clock. If we can find ways to continue using this tactic even as the Rockets make adjustments, we’ll be in good shape the rest of this series.

The Rockets are going to make adjustments, as the (wait for it) Leg-en-dary David Thorpe pointed out at ESPN.

The Lakers defended Yao much better in Game 2, fronting him more in the low post and sending Lamar Odom into the ball-side box near Yao whenever the ball handler crossed below the free throw line (which is normally where they’ll feed Yao). It effectively bottled up Yao. Houston can try passing down to Yao from above the line, before Odom comes over, if Yao can keep Gasol behind him. If not, Houston could put Luis Scola in more threatening spots on the weak side, hoping to keep Odom closer to home. Or they can pop Yao out to run side pick-and-pops, possibly opening up driving lanes for Brooks.

I love Trevor Ariza but he is not strong enough to cover Ron Artest, so look for more Luke Walton tonight. As Darius pointed out in the comments, Luke is strong enough to absorb the contact when Artest drives and is too slow of foot to react to his fakes, he just stays between Artest and the basket. And that works.

As I have done recently, I’ll let Kwame a. have the final word:

Keep Landry out of the paint: In game 2 Landry was able to bring the Rockets back with a big 2nd quarter. He made seven (7) baskets at basically point blank range and also took thirteen (13) free-throws. He did this from a combination of out-hustling the Lakers for offensive rebounds and from being left open when the Lakers continued to double Ron Artest. We must put a body on Landry and not double off him. I’d rather let Ron shoot himself out of his hot-streak.

Keep Brooks from collapsing the defense: In Game 1 Brooks had 19 points and was a +11. In Game 2 it took him 15 shots to get 13 points. What was the difference? The Lakers did a better job of keeping Brooks from attacking the hole and collapsing the defense. The Laker bigs did a better job of dissuading Brooks from attacking for lay-ups and forced him to dribble through to the other side. This allowed Fish (or the other PG’s) to recover back to Brooks. Keeping Brooks from getting off is key to the Lakers defensive success.

Keep Yao from getting shots: In Game 1 Yao took seventeen (17) shots and played forty (40) minutes. In game 2 he took four (4) shots and played twenty-six (26) minutes. Most of this was due to foul trouble, but with Pau due to start the rest of the series, foul trouble will be something Yao must avoid going forward. Also, the Lakers fronted Yao a lot more. There were a few things in play here: 1) our guards did a good job of pressuring the entry passer and this dissuaded the Rockets from throwing the ball into Yao often, 2) our weak-side defenders (kudos Luke) did a good job sneaking over and swiping at the ball and doubling Yao on the catch, while still recovering, 3) Yao was not making quick enough decisions when he caught the ball. The Rockets will find ways to get Yao the ball more, but the Lakers need to maintain the strategies they employed in Game 2.

For a Rockets perspective, check out Rockets Buzz (they have a live chat going on game nights).

Also, if you are watching online tonight, ESPN360 has the feed, just follow this link at game time.