Archives For April 2010

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We’ve been talking adjustments all series, so why stop now?  In game 5, the Lakers implemented some subtle (and quite effective) changes on offense while also switching Kobe onto Russell Westbrook as a major defensive adjustment.  These refinements on both sides of the ball (plus some good ‘ol fashion hustle) erased the memory of what transpired in the game 4 debacle and revitalized the Lakers in what turned out to be a game 5 trouncing of the Thunder.  So, at this point, in a win or go fishin’ game, the Thunder must now try to crack the updated code of the Lakers to try and force that game 7.  So, what should the Lakers be prepared for?

Honestly, I don’t think the Lakers need to be concerned about any new wrinkles from the Thunder.  When this series started, we discussed how the Thunder run some of the more simple schemes in the league.  Their main goal is to get out in transition and take advantage of their athleticism and if that’s not possible to set up in the half court and feature the league’s leading scorer.  At this point, that strategy has won them 2 games and had them close to winning a third.  Scott Brooks doesn’t come off (at least to me) as the panicky type and I don’t expect a slew of crazy new innovations.  What I do expect is him refocussing his team on the task at hand and reminding them that they have a winning strategy.  All that’s needed is exectution.

This is especially true for Russel Westbrook.  Sure, in game 5, the Lakers did a tremendous job of limiting Westbrook’s success and effectively taking him out of his game.  But now that the Thunder have seen this strategy, I think they’ll just try to conteract this with more perseverance.  As Kurt metions over at PBT, Westbrook must get back to an attacking mentality in order to have an impact in this game.  He can’t settle for jumpers and he can’t let up just because the seams aren’t there for him.  He must be relentless.  And this is what I think we’ll see. 

But there has to be more, right?  I’ve read in a few different places that the Thunder may go to a lot of P&R action for Russ in order to free him from Kobe’s tractor beam defense.  And while that’s a possibility, I don’t see that being a primary strategy.  When reviewing the game tape of Russell’s offensive plays, I saw that the Thunder ran less than 5 actual P&R’s for Russ in the last game.  And while I do see that number increasing, I don’t expect a dramatic jump in that number.  The Thunder’s main goals on offense, especially in the half court, are still focussed on getting Durant the ball in position to score.  Will Brooks sacrifice possessions for KD in order to get Westbrook going?  That seems doubtful to me.  Not when Westbrook isn’t a threat to make the outside shot consistently (making the P&R easier to defend when he’s the ball handler).  Really, what I expect is for the Thunder to go back to what has worked all series – getting the ball into Westbrook’s hands early and trying to push the pace.  Sure, we may see attempts at more open court screens to free Westbrook, but in the end, I think it will be business as usual with Russ attacking and then the sets being ran for Durant if/when nothing develops in transition.

From the Lakers perspective, I think they also understand what needs to be done and don’t expect to see many changes from game 5.  They’ll continue to attack off the dribble and look for their bigs when help comes.  I think we’ll see the Lakers look for early offense and if it’s not there look for their posting bigs and then pass, cut, and screen with purpose.  Sure, I think OKC will show different forms of help on our bigs that they didn’t display in game 5, but I don’t think we’ll see anything too different than what we’ve seen earlier in the series – dig downs from guards with the defense collapsing from the perimeter rather than helping with big on big.

This may not sound sexy, but there aren’t any more secrets in this series.  I think the last major adjustments that we saw were the switch of Kobe onto Westbrook and Phil re-epmphasizing to Bynum and Gasol that getting back is imperitave (with the threat of playing time being reduced if this was not accomplished).  Sure, we may quicker hooks for ineffective players (Thabo, Green, Krstic) or longer runs for guys like Harden or Ibaka if they are making an impact on the game.  I mean, Scott Brooks knows that this is a must win and I think he’ll coach accordingly, but what else is there really? 

In the end, this game will come down to who plays harder and smarter; who can execute their plan better than the next guy.  As has been the case all series if the Lakers can slow the Thunder in transition, continue to limit Durant’s success, and establish a strong inside game it will go a long way towards a win and the ending of this series.  If OKC gets out in the open court, force LA into shooting jumpshots, crash the offensive boards, and get to the foul line, a game 7 is on the horizon.  And that’s basically it.  This is what you have after 5 hard fought games and both teams throwing the kitchen sink at eachother.   All that’s left is to sit back and see which team can do it better in a must win game for the Thunder.

Orange County News - April 27, 2010

On Wednesday, Darius had a fantastic post about the re-emergence of the triangle offense in their Game 5 domination over the Thunder. In that post, he mentioned that he wished that he had visual examples. While he was able to paint the proverbial picture for those of us who are avid hoop fans, there are some of you who have mentioned that you are just learning the game or don’t have a firm grasp of the X’s and O’s aspect of the game. So, with the help of Darius’ descriptions and a couple of commenters, I hope that these following videos give you, visually, what Darius was able to do for some of us with the written word.

Darius’ post was broken up into three different parts, with the first being Spacing and Timing. I’ll let Darius introduce these first two videos. From his Wednesday post:

Last night, though, we saw a return of better spacing and much improved timing.  Why?  Several reasons, really, but mostly because of a better use of the dribble.  In game five, the Lakers wings used their dribble with purpose.  Nearly every time Kobe or Fisher or Ron put the ball on the floor it was get into a seam and make the defense react.  This action with the ball caused defenders to shift and slide with the result being better passing angles to the open perimeter players and post players that slid into the gaps when their defenders moved over to show help.  These open passing angles jump started ball movement.  Which in turn made the player movement that much more meaningful.

This first video gives an example of how the usage of dribble penetration, or dribbling with purpose, set up a wide open three-pointer. It begins with Kobe dribbling with no purpose whatsoever. He has the ball on the left wing, and dribbles between his legs six times, going nowhere. He gives the ball to Gasol at the top of the arch, and when he gets it back, he has a much more effective dribble. He drives to the middle forcing the whole Thunder team to collapse on him. When the ball is kicked out to the corner, pay attention to how many Thunder defenders are on the right side of the floor. It’s everyone except for James Harden, and he’s right near the middle of the floor. The ball is swung to Shannon Brown at the top of the arch. He brings a closing out defender to him, takes a dribble toward the defense, forcing them to commit to him, and makes the extra pass to a wide open Ron Artest.

This second video, we see Pau Gasol operating at what some of you guys called the pinch post. For this one, I’ll let commenter Burgundy take the podium:

Pau setting up at the pinch post completely screwed up the OKC spacing. For four games, it seemed like Pau was always operating in a sea of arms, but setting up where he did, he had time to scan and make smart/quick decisions – he completely picked the Thunder apart. It will be interesting to see how the Thunder adjust on Friday (my guess is they’ll try to double Pau immediately, rather than giving him space to operate – a tactic the Lakers need to be prepared for).

This video gives a beautiful example of what Burgundy wrote about. Gasol caught the ball on the right elbow, turned and faced and found a back cutting Kobe Bryant, who was able to get the bucket and the foul. What I can appreciate most about this play is it illustrates how well Gasol can pass (as you’ll see more of later). As soon as he saw that Kobe was shoulder-to-shoulder with Kevin Durant, he knew that Durant was beat and threw the pass. There are a lot of NFL quarterbacks who wouldn’t have the confidence to make that pass, or the ability to throw it exactly where it needed to be. I’m not saying that Gasol can start for the Raiders next season more than I’m trying to say that his confidence as a passer is a huge reason why he’s so affective passing the ball.

In Darius’ second section, he talked about Early Offense. Again, I’ll let Darius kick things off:

As I mentioned in the recap to game 5, the Lakers only allowed 14 offensive rebounds on the 53 missed shots of the Thunder.  On those possessions where the Lakers secured the ball, they pushed the ball up court and looked inside as early as possible.  And because the Lakers bigs were running the floor, this set up early offense opportunities for easier post entries and finishes at the basket.  After several successful possessions using this tactic, the Thunder were forced to collapse on defense and protect the paint even more than normal.  This then set up our second big man running in a trail position to receive passes on dives at the free throw line because once our first big had the ball all of the attention was on him.

This first video shows two clips that are a beautiful illustration on what Darius was talking about. The video shows two clips of the ball getting into Gasol early and Andrew Bynum directly benefiting because of it (and a couple more great passes from Gasol). The first of the two clips shows the bigs running the floor, in which I’ll use pictures to show why it works so well when you have bigs who can run the floor.

This first picture shows the location of where the bigs are right before Derek Fisher makes an entry pass to Gasol. And as commenter Ryan mentioned:

I thought the early offense played a huge role in last night game. The Lakers got into their offensive sets before OKC could pack it into the paint and front our bigs. As you mentioned this made entry passes so much easier, and this is what I felt lead to a lot of the better ball and player movement.

The Thunder, up until Game 5, had done a great job of fronting the Laker bigs, but when you get into offense this early (just three seconds into the 24), it’s hard to front the bigs. Gasol is getting position in the middle of the key and Bynum is trailing.

Bigs01

This second picture shows where Bynum is when Gasol receives the pass from Fisher. Gasol has great position to begin with. When he has the ball there, one-on-one, there really isn’t anything he can’t do. As you can see, his head is turned toward the middle of the floor and sees the cutting Bynum, who literally has no one in front of him. Look at how open the paint is. This shows exactly what Darius wrote on Wednesday: the trailing big man receiving the pass from the first one. Gasol drops a lovely pass to Bynum for an easy two. It happened so fast, I thought Fisher threw the pass the first time I saw it.

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This final video gives us a glimpse of Ron Artest in the post, but also features one of the times Kobe moved into the post.

The video starts out with Artest catching the pall on the pinch post with James Harden on him. The reason this works so well is because, although a good player, Harden just isn’t strong enough to handle a guy like Ron Artest in the post yet. After Artest catches the ball, he turns, faces, and immediately attacks the rim. This time, Nick Collison comes over to help leaving Gasol wide open under the hoop. Again, we see great interior passing lead to easy shots.

The second clip in this video, we see Kobe catch the ball on the other side with Kevin Durant on him, and again, the defender just isn’t strong enough to handle him in the post. You see how well Kobe works in the post in this clip. When he receives the entry pass, he takes one strong dribble, backing up Durant. He steps back exactly the same way he takes his fall away jumpers knowing Durant would bite. After the pump fake, he steps through and takes an uncontested layup. Even 14 years later, I still get caught off guard when Kobe shows off this kind of footwork. It’s truly unparalleled by any other wing player in the NBA right now.

Game 6 is tonight. Both the Spurs and Suns were able to close out in their Game 6 matchups last night, I’m hoping the same can happen with the Lakers. As you’ve seen in the above video, and read from Darius on Wednesday, the Lakers really do have the ability to go into Oklahoma City and completely take over, but it’s a matter of proving they can do it on consecutive nights. I hope they have it in them.

-Phillip

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  April 29, 2010

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With two days off inbetween games for the Lakrs, it’s again time to take a look around the rest of the league.

*Fear the Deer.  And if you don’t, at this point the Hawks probably should.  Kurt penned a very good piece on the Hawks (and their coach’s lack of innovation in the closing minutes), but at this point I just want to give all the credit in the world to the Bucks.  They’re playing hard (what Scott Skiles teams do) and are executing down the stretch of games.  And, again, how about that Brandon Jennings.  He’s getting into the lane and running his team, but have you seen the ice water in his veins FT’s that he’s made in the last couple of wins?  Sure I named Curry my ROY, and Tyreke is a beast, but only Jennings is still playing.  This kid can play.

*Speaking of the Hawks, they’re the only top seed from the east that is still trying to win a series.  Orlando swept, Boston handled the Heat, and Cleveland took care of Chicago.  This is in stark contrast from the Western playoffs where the higher seeded Lakers and Suns both lead 3-2, but Dallas and Denver look like they may not advance as they trail 3-2 in their series.  So you know, if the series hold their form and every team that leads their series advances, the Lakers would face Utah in the next round and either San Antonio or Phoenix in the conference finals (should the Lakers beat Utah).  This getting way ahead of things, but if there was a poll taken on what teams the Lakers would like to face on their way to a Finals berth, I would bet that Utah and Phoenix were  near the top of that list.  Again, I don’t want to put the cart before the horse (game 6 vs. OKC is a very important game for the Lakers), but things may yet break well for LA on their path to advance in these western playoffs.

*I love Ron Artest just for quotes like “My defense is so unbelievable, I don’t really care about offense right now.”  I know the timing seems a bit awkward for some healthy patting oneself on the back, but I don’t care.  This is classic Artest.  Plus, it’s true.  His defense is unbelievable right now.  One more game against the league’s best scorer though, Ron.  One more game.  (linked by Phillip this morning.)

*What is next for Dwyane Wade?  Will he stay in South Beach?  If he does stay who will join him?  Amare?  Bosh?  Boozer?  Do you realize that even if Miami singns Wade and another max guy, that they’d still have (an estimated) $10 million to fill out their roster?  How does a Wade, Bosh, Haywood, Felton nucleus sound?  What if Wade decides to leave?  Can you imagine him in a backcourt with Rose with Noah and Deng flanking them?  Lets just say I’ll be watching what happens with Wade this summer with keen interest.  Lebron may be the big fish, but Wade can change the balance of power in the East depending on how his situation plays out.

*I know that the Lakers have been guilty of complaining after referees calls go against them.  We’ve all seen Kobe, Bynum and Pau do their fair share of staring, yelling, and gesticulating after fouls.  And while I always thought that Duncan (as much as I love him) was one of the worst complainers, I think Dwight Howard had him beat in Orlando’s series against the Bobcats.  Go check out the Dwight Howard “foulumentary” that Eddy Rivera put together over at MagicBasketball.net.  Honestly, if I were Howard, I’d be frustrated at some of those calls too.  But, he was complaining after a lot of those – even the obvious ones.  I really dont’ think it helps your cause with the refs when you never just raise your hand and say “that one was on me”.  I’m just saying.

*Interesting stat that commenter jodial mentioned in the comments yesterday:  After the Lakers win over the Thunder on Tuesday, they’ve improved their record to 8-0 in the last three years in game 5’s.  Sure, it helps to have a lot of those games 5’s at home, but I also think that it’s pretty impressive that the Lakers have been able to win all of those games.  I mean, the Lakers closed out Orlando on the road in the Finals of their last game 5.  I don’t think it’s a fluke that in a very important game (either a series clincher or a chance to go up 3-2) that the Lakers have really played well.

*Lastly, and this has nothing to do with hoops, there any boxing fans out there?  Who do you have in the Mosely/Mayweather fight on Saturday?  Personally, until Mayweather loses, I’ve got a hard time seeing him go down.  But, I think Shane has enough speed and more than enough power to make things hard on Floyd.  Let me know what you think on this one.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Oklahoma Thunder Game 1 NBA Western Conference playoffs in Los Angeles

Practice report (with video) from NBA.com: The buzz word heading into L.A.’s impressive 111-87 Game 5 victory on Tuesday night was “transition,” which the Lakers certainly heeded in not just holding Oklahoma City to a series-low seven fast break points but in scoring 12 FB points themselves. Perhaps just as key as curtailing the Thunder break was a terrific display of ball movement that produced 27 assists, five more than L.A.’s previous high* in the series despite most of the starters sitting out for the fourth quarter after building a 28-point lead.

Practice report (with video) From Land O’ Lakers: Pithy commentary to follow (time permitting and where applicable), but in the meantime here’s some video from Wednesday’s practice in El Segundo. First, Derek Fisher answers my question about whether Tuesday’s impressive Game 5 win can be chalked up simply to effort and activation (i.e. they paid attention/flipped the switch/gave a hoot) or if it’s more complicated. It’s a little from Column A, he said- they certainly played with a spring in their collective step- but a lot more from Column B:

From The OC Register: The son played while his parents watched from the stands. Except it was Kobe Bryant’s mom and dad, sitting right at the end of the Lakers’ bench, and it put everything in a new, old perspective. There was Joe Bryant early in the game, sitting with a half-cocked head tilt and his chin tucked pensively in his hand. Same exact pose that Kobe presents much of the time.

From the OC Register: It’s too bad that Ron Artest said he doesn’t plan to resume his prolific Twitter transmission any time soon. “Summertime,” Artest said Wednesday. Artest often says confusing things that sometimes contradict his own words, but he keeps it interesting, no doubt. On Wednesday, when asked about his improved passing and five assists in Game 5 Tuesday night, Artest said: “I don’t know how they came.” Artest shrugged off the idea that he should take fewer corner 3-point shots — as mentioned by Phil Jackson — because it results in defensive imbalance for the team.

From NBA.com: The everyday-ness of the Lakers is that there is no every day, no typical and orderly. So Tuesday night was just one moment. It could all come crashing down around them again Friday in the frenzy of Oklahoma’s Loud City. BYO Earplugs. But this was a very, very good moment, and that’s noteworthy. Tuesday night at Staples Center was the best half of the Lakers’ postseason, easily the most complete showing they have had in five postseason games and pretty far back into the regular season as well. They showed a focus they have lacked and combined it with the killer instinct they have missed. This step toward the end of the series was actually a start.

From the Press Enterprise: In the aftermath of the Lakers’ head-snapping turnaround victory in Game 5, it was easy to explain what had happened. Easy because every Laker you asked had an answer. All different answers, of course, because these are the Lakers. One thing you can say about the NBA’s most out-front and compelling franchise, they aren’t short on opinions. No one hands out organizational talking points each morning. Going off-script has been a Lakers trademark for decades. Did I say off-script? What script? Since Day One, Phil said tomato, Kobe said to-mah-to.

From Laker Noise: We owe so much to that daggone Tex Winter. Take, for example, the use of the word “facilitator.” In Winter’s complex triangle offense, you have to have someone who sort of pilots the machine, who gets the group into the offense, makes the key passes, helps the group through its reads and changes. Someone who sets things up. That’s the “facilitator.”

From Land O’ Lakers: After last night’s dismantling of the Thunder, a game controlled from start to finish and every point between by the Lakers, the defending champs were barraged by the media with “So why can’t you guys do this every game? questions. A legit query, considering the Lakers have spent much of the postseason’s first round playing against their strengths — and often logic. The puzzling list: 1-The Lakers’ interior play often took a backseat to perimeter shots (despite a terrible percentage from downtown).

From the Los Angeles Times: I guess you can hold the toast. For those who suggested that doom awaited the Lakers in the absence of a healthy Kobe Bryant — OK, for me — Game 5 against the Thunder was an eye-opener, and that’s after 13 years of eye-openers, one more amazing than the next one. After pulling all those rabbits out of hats, Bryant came up with the all-timer in Tuesday’s Game 5: He reached into his hat and pulled out Kobe Bryant.

From the Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant has long been accustomed to the phrase “Kobe-stopper,” with plenty of defenders across NBA cities lining up for the challenge of shutting him down, game after game, season after season. It was time for a new twist in Game 5: Bryant became the Westbrook-stopper. The 31-year-old shooting guard bumped and ran with the 21-year-old Oklahoma City point guard, turning a problem spot into a 3-2 series lead for the Lakers.

From Ball Don’t Lie: According to an Oklahoma City radio show, Los Angeles Lakers point guard — and pre-eminent playoff beard grower — Derek Fisher got into it with an enemy fan at a local Waffle House. Fisher has since disputed the claim, but there is evidence that has yet to be submitted to the court of public opinion. We got our hands on the surveillance tape and transcribed what “happened.”

From NBA Fanhouse: Ron Artest has never won an NBA title, but he knows championship- level basketball when he sees it. And that, the Lakers small forward said on Wednesday, is precisely what he saw in his team’s dominating Game 5 win over Oklahoma City at the Staples Center. But before the Lakers headed back to the Ford Center for tonight’s chance to close out their first round series, the 11-year veteran who so desperately wants his first ring wondered why that sort of performance has been the exception and not the rule.

From Kurt at Pro Basketball Talk: Forget The Real Housewives of Orange County. Heck, forget the South Fork Ranch and Dallas. The Buss family soap opera is far more delicious and entertaining. In our latest episode, Jeanie Buss — the daughter with the business mind and the posed-for-Playboy body, who is dating the head coach of daddy’s franchise — told ESPNLosAngeles that Phil Jackson is going to coach next season. Whether that’s with the Lakers….

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Somewhat lost in the shuffle of Kobe guarding Westbrook, the Lakers bigs coming up even larger than their combined 14 feet of height, and the overall dominance of a nearly 30 point victory, was the return of the Lakers actually running the Triangle Offense.  Over in his behind the box score, Kelly Dwyer said exactly what I was thinking:

What made it watchable for me was the return of what the kids call the “triangle offense,” and what the fogeys like me call “the triple post offense.”

The ball went inside, first. There were cutters off the ball, off the apex, and there were screens and then curls off those cutters. My sinuses are getting sneezy just thinking about it. It was glorious to see. There’s a reason we thought this team could win 70 games this year, and the ball movement we saw on Tuesday night is the reason why. It was gorgeous.

Gorgeous indeed.  I wish I had some visual examples to share, but since I don’t the written word will have to do.  In a way, what I saw in game 5 reminded me of the adjustments of what we saw from game 5 of the Denver series in last seasons’ post season run.  Not the same adjustments, mind you, but subtle changes that led to much better execution of the Lakers’ offensive sets.  Changes that when executed with the precision and focus that the Lakers did last night can be overwhelming to even a stingy defense like OKC’s.  Below are a few of the things that were markedly different from the previous games in this series:

1).  Spacing and Timing.  The Triangle is an offense that, at it’s heart, is built off of two distinct principles – spacing and timing.  Against the Thunder, both have been disrupted all too frequently.  The Lakers spacing has been thrown off by the Thunder’s bigs fronting the post and their sagging perimeter defenders that have subsequently cut down the passing angles that LA’s wings have to make their entries into the bigs.  The timing of the Lakers offense has also been thrown off for these reasons.  Too often the Lakers wings have been holding the ball and looking for the post entry.  They’ve been wasting their dribble and moving without purpose when they’re handling the ball.  This has made the Lakers pressure releases non-existent and crippled the other players’ off the ball movement in a manner that rendered the weak side cuts and motions nearly useless.  Last night, though, we saw a return of better spacing and much improved timing.  Why?  Several reasons, really, but mostly because of a better use of the dribble.  In game five, the Lakers wings used their dribble with purpose.  Nearly every time Kobe or Fisher or Ron put the ball on the floor it was get into a seam and make the defense react.  This action with the ball caused defenders to shift and slide with the result being better passing angles to the open perimeter players and post players that slid into the gaps when their defenders moved over to show help.  These open passing angles jump started ball movement.  Which in turn made the player movement that much more meaningful.  This all came together and added up to a return of crispness to the Lakers offense where the choreagraphed nature of the Triangle displayed itself in all its beauty.  On one play in particular, a play that started with a dribble drive led to an open (and converted) Artest three pointer that saw four Lakers touch the ball in less than a 5 second span.  We honestly have not seen that type of ball movement since the Utah game where Kobe sat out with his ankle injury.  That was February 10th.  Today is April 28th.  Yeah, it’s been a while.

2).  Early offense.  During the regular season the Lakers played at the 13th fastest pace in the league (middle of the pack).  Last year, when they were one of the best offenses in the league, the Lakers played at the 5th fastest pace.  I’m not chalking up the Lakers decline in offensive efficiency this season solely to this factor, but I do believe it made a difference.  I think it also contributed to the improvements we saw on offense last night.  And it started with our bigs getting up the floor.  Though we haven’t seen much of this lately, the Lakers have two of the better running 7 footers in the league.  They’re not Karl Malone’s out there, but both Bynum and Gasol can get up court relatively quickly and get into the post for quick set ups on the block.  And last night, that was exactly what happened.  As I mentioned in the recap to game 5, the Lakers only allowed 14 offensive rebounds on the 53 missed shots of the Thunder.  On those possessions where the Lakers secured the ball, they pushed the ball up court and looked inside as early as possible.  And because the Lakers bigs were running the floor, this set up early offense opportunities for easier post entries and finishes at the basket.  After several successful possessions using this tactic, the Thunder were forced to collapse on defense and protect the paint even more than normal.  This then set up our second big man running in a trail position to recieve passes on dives at the free throw line because once our first big had the ball all of the attention was on him.  How many dunks did our bigs get on plays just like this (or on variations of them)?  Five?  Six?  I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that it was a welcome sight to see our bigs get some easy buckets on the secondary break just becasue they were getting up the floor quickly.

3).  Ron Artest in the post.  Doug Collins may refer to his coaching of Michael Jordan a lot, but he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to analyzing some of the finer points/X’s and O’s of the game.  And last night he mentioned several times that Artest got several post touches and said that this was an adjustment for the Lakers.  I couldn’t agree more with him on this point.   For a lot of this series, Ron has been relegated to a spot up shooter.  You’d see him, typically on the weak side wing, just standing there waiting to receive a pass so he could fire up a long jumper.  However, when a guy is shooting less than 20% from behind the arc, it may be time to change up his role a bit.  The beauty of the Triangle is that it’s an offense where every player is nearly interchangeable.  So, just like you see Pau sometimes making post entries from the extended wing, you also see our guards get post up chances (mostly Kobe).  So, it was nice to see Ron get some chances on the block that allowed him to create for himself, but also for his teammates.  Ron tied for second on the team with 5 assists last night and he looked much more comfortable operating from the post on the chances that he got.  Remember what Phil has said many times before about the Triangle – it’s the post players roles that are easiest to learn and it often takes more time for the perimeter players to find their comfort level.  Well, then doesn’t it make sense to get Ron (a player that has experienced a bit of a steep learning curve in this offense) some touches in a place where less reading and reacting is going on?  I think it does and it paid off last night.

And besides these three points, everything was just done a bit better than it has been recently.  The screens were better, the cuts were harder, the passes were more precise, and the catches were made cleaner.  Every Laker player seemed focussed and intent on executing the offense in a manner that maximized his personal and the team’s success.  That said, one game does not a season make.  If the Lakers expect to win game 6 on Friday, they’ll need a recommitment to this same level of execution and attention to detail.  Sure, they’ll need their defense to be as strong as it has all series (they’ll also need to plan for whatever adjustments the Thunder make to Kobe guarding Westbrook), but if they hope to pull out the win, they’ll also need to score the ball.  They’ll need to run the offense.  So, this can’t be a one time thing; it can’t be a fleeting effort.  Because if the Lakers can play with the urgency and desire to run its sets, they’ll be moving on to the next round after Friday’s game.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Oklahoma Thunder Game 1 NBA Western Conference playoffs in Los Angeles

From Hardwood Paroxysm: We knew they had it in them. It’s been pretty obvious the last couple of months that if the Lakers wanted to play basketball the intelligent way then they would have a lot more games like this. Instead, the Lakers have been all over the place. They’ve been blaming their struggles on injuries and a lack of rhythm instead of showing some heart and fortitude on defense to go along with smarter shot selection on offense. We’ve been waiting to see them take advantage of the length that nobody else can match, rather than chucking up 20-footers because it’s the easy way out.

From Silver Screen and Roll: Watching the Los Angeles Lakers for the past two months has been an unpleasant experience.  Their performance has left much to be desired, but the symptoms have been even more troubling than the results.  For a champion to fall to pieces down the stretch, through injuries, a lack of energy, and due to finally being punished for not correcting flaws and mistakes that have been around all season, the whole situation has smacked of the slow decline of an empire, like the fall of Rome.

From Yahoo! Sports: No matter what Kobe Bryant does, he can’t seem to win even when he does win. If he produces a high-scoring game, then he’s shooting too much. If he scores modestly, then it’s evidence his body is failing him and he’s past his prime. Bryant fell into the latter category on Tuesday, which has been a constant theme of late. He scored just 13 points and had four turnovers. More evidence he’s too old?

From NBA Fanhouse: This wasn’t supposed to be a mental challenge, a Naismith version of Rubik’s cube that could be solved with the proper amount of intellect and focus. These Oklahoma City Thunder were all about the physical gifts — the deer-like speed, the leaps and the airborne bounds. The only Lakers solution, it had seemed at this 2-2 juncture, was exploiting the deer in the headlights look that such a young team would surely succumb to.

From Talkhoops: 58 points in the paint. You can talk about all of the other little things that the Lakers did on Tuesday night (i.e. Kobe Bryant guarding Russell Westbrook, Ron Artest hitting shots etc.) but nothing means more to this series than those five words: 58 points in the paint. In the previous four meetings, the Lakers averaged only 37 points in the paint per game, and they went 2-2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. On the night that they scored 58 in the painted area, they won handedly by 24 points – a game that was never in question from the opening tip to the final seconds.

From BasketBlog: Heading into Tuesday evening’s pivotal Game 5 between the L.A. and Oklahoma City, the Lakers boasted an all-time record of 17-0 in Game 5’s at home. Make that 18-0. The Lakers looked every part the defending champions in a dominating performance that started with a 10-0 Purple and Gold burst out of the gates and finished with a 111-87 victory, the lead reaching as many as 32 late in the third quarter. “We just got beat up,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Every phase of the game.”

From Land O’ Lakers: It was a game the Lakers had to have after the Thunder buried the purple and gold Saturday night… and man alive, did they ever have it.  111-87 was the final in Tuesday’s pivotal Game 5 at Staples, and as we noted in last night’s postgame wrap, it was a positive experience on nearly every level. Start with Kobe Bryant’s management of the offense to his work on Russell Westbrook. Then there was the hyperactivity of L.A.’s big men, a rebirth of Ron Artest’s offensive production, great ball and player movement, and more.

From the Los Angeles Times: Take a big sigh of relief Los Angeles, it looks like the Lakers are back. At least for one game. In game that was never in doubt the Lakers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 111-87, in Game 5 of a first-round Western Conference series. Game 6 is Friday night in Oklahoma City. The Lakers got a lot of help from areas that have been lacking. Pau Gasol had 25 points in about 30 minutes, including five for five from the free-throw line. And Andrew Bynum came out strong in the first quarter and turned in a 21-point game. Kobe Bryant, who also played only 30 minutes, finished with 13 points but no one seemed to mind. The Lakers had good spacing on offense and aggressive defense.

From the Los Angeles Times: A season full of alibis and a week full of accusations were forcefully squeezed into one night of two words. No way. No way were the Lakers going to give up their championship like this. “Good energy, good effort,” Pau Gasol said through beads of sweat. No way were they going to lose Game 5 of a tied first-round playoff series at Staples Center to a team of toddlers. “We played extra hard,” Gasol said through 25 points and 11 rebounds.

From the Los Angeles Times: So, it wasn’t the end of Lakerdom as we know it, after all? In the good news for the Lakers, there will be a tomorrow, or at least a Sunday, that won’t be in Oklahoma City. Loath to even think about going back there for Friday’s Game 6 trailing 3-2, without their old assurance that Kobe Bryant could save the day, the Lakers made a ferocious defensive stand, turning the poised young Thunder players into toddlers up past their bedtime in a 111-87 rout.

From the OC Register: Kobe Bryant had scoffed at the idea the Lakers’ backs were to the wall. Click here to view video of post-game comments. If he’s right, then the idea that the Lakers summoned the will to put forth such a ferocious effort Tuesday night all on their own — with no help pushing off that wall — gives rise to hope that they might be championship material again this season. The Lakers steamrolled the Oklahoma City Thunder, 111-87, to take a 3-2 lead in this first-round series.

From ESPN Los Angeles: A leopard can never change its spots and the Lakers can’t reinvent themselves either, it seems. It turns out, that’s OK. A year after the Lakers ebbed and flowed through the playoffs, being dubbed a “Jekyll and Hyde” team by coach Phil Jackson and “bipolar” by their star, Kobe Bryant, the purple and gold are back on the seesaw. As the Lakers chase their repeat championship, the only way to enjoy the sequel is to embrace the highs when they come — and they will come — and stomach the lows that are sure to be interspersed along the way.

From ESPN.com: Kevin Durant couldn’t believe what he was hearing every time he turned on the TV or radio or what he was reading every time he picked up the paper or went on the Internet. Kobe Bryant was getting old, he was past his prime; he was finally breaking down. “I don’t understand why people say he’s lost a step,” Durant said outside the Thunder locker room before Game 5 on Tuesday night. “He’s the greatest player in the game. There are only a couple guys who can turn it on and off like him and get 15 in a row and also get 10 assists and get their guys involved. He’s probably the best ever. You can’t say that he’s lost a step. He’s the same Kobe from a while back, maybe he’s not dunking on a lot of guys like he was back in ’01, ’02 but he’s still the same Kobe.”

From the Daily Dime: At the moment, after a thorough domination of the Oklahoma City Thunder that followed two days of Senate hearing-level grilling for the Lakers, the main question to ask them is … what took so long?  Why did coach Phil Jackson wait until Game 5 to defend Russell Westbrook with Kobe Bryant and slow down the point guard who was torching the Lakers? Why did Ron Artest choose now to show he still can make shots and even dunk on people? (More importantly, why did it take him a week to shave off that Easter egg hairdo?) Why did the Lakers stick with the go-inside game plan for more than just a quarter, and finally adopt the defensive principles their coaches have been preaching all series?

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In the recap to game 4, I said that the loss by the Lakers could only be described as a first class butt kicking.  Well in game 5, the Lakers returned the favor as they dominated the Thunder in every aspect of the game and won the rubber match of this series 111-87 to take a 3-2 lead in this first round match up.  For the first time in what seemed like weeks (if not months) the Lakers played a complete game from start to finish and controlled this contest from the get go.  And since the recap to game 4 is fresh on my mind, I figure that this time I should pass along some numbers that were critical to a really strong Lakers performance (rather than the woeful numbers from the stinker performance on Saturday):

90.6/46%.  This was the Thunder’s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and their true shooting percentage for this game (compare these numbers to OKC’s 105.8/54.7 in the regular season).  Essentially, this was a dominant defensive performance from the Lakers.  LA did a much better job of getting back in transition and walling off the Thunder’s penetration in the open court.  As Andrew Bynum said after yesterday’s practice, the Lakers were willing to relinquish some offensive rebounding opportunities if it meant better transition D and tonight that’s exactly what we saw as the Lakers only had 10 offensive rebounds, but held the Thunder to only 7 fastbreak points (in comparison to allowing 24 in game 4).

4-13.  These were Russell Westbrook’s shooting numbers on the evening.  After being the most effective player for the Thunder over the first four games of this series, the Lakers did a great job of slowing down Russ and making his life difficult.  And really, most of the credit needs to go to Kobe Bryant.  Apparently after game 4, Kobe asked to take over the defensive assignment against the young Thunder PG and Phil obliged.  What followed was Kobe giving Westbrook the full on Rondo treatment – backing off him to make him shoot jumpers and then using his length to contest the shots that he did take from the outside.  And while Russell was still willful in his drives to the hoop and was able to break free on a few occasions, Kobe ultimately took away what had been the Thunder’s greatest advantage on offense up to this point.  Before this series started I thought that Phil would only deploy Kobe on Russell if/when the young PG made it clear that he was the driver of the OKC offense; when he showed that he deserved to be treated the way that Phil treated Magic, Stockton, Mark Jackson, Kidd, Billups, Nash, and Rondo (with Pippen and then later, Kobe).  Well, after Russ’ tremendous game 4 it looks like that time had come and Phil responded in kind.  And Kobe responded to the challenge, yet again.  On one play in particular, the Thunder had secured the ball, Westbrook had leaked out, and was racing the ball upcourt.  However, Kobe pursued him full speed, chased him down, made him stop just a few feet outside the paint, and then turn around to regroup the offense.  Only when Westbrook turned back and reversed his dribble, Shannon Brown came from behind and tipped the ball away to force a steal.  That was one of Westbrooks eight turnovers on the night and reemphasized the notion that nothing was going to come easy in the open court for OKC’s dynamic point guard.

46/22/6/3.  These were the combined points, rebounds, assists, and blocks of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.  Just a tremendous game from the Lakers starting big men tonight.  And while these were some great numbers – especially on offense – they deserve most of their credit in doing the little things that don’t really show up in the box score.  They only had three blocks, but they contested countless other looks from the Thunder and really controlled the paint on defense (at one point late in the game the Thunder only had 10 points in the paint on 5-21 shooting).  They did a much better job of boxing out the Thunder big men (surrendering only 14 offensive rebounds on 53 misses shots).  After the Lakers secured defensive rebounds, they ran the floor hard to establish the deep post position that fueled the Lakers offense all evening.  I’d give one more credit than the other, but both were just too good to single out.  Because while Bynum was super efficient – going 8 for 10 from the field for his 21 points, Pau was as steady as could be and was a great initiator of offense by not only hitting shots (25 points), but by passing exceptionally on the interior (5 assists).  On one specific play, Pau ran the floor hard and got a nice pass while diving to the hoop.  But rather than force up an out of control shot while going full speed, he executed a beautiful drop pass to a camped on the opposite block Bynum for the easy dunk.  It was that type of teamwork that spearheaded the Lakers attack tonight and it was just fantastic to watch the Lakers finally exploit their size advantage inside.  And after a 58-26 points in the paint advantage for the Lakers on the backs of our two big men, I hope to see more of the same in the upcoming games.

27.  This is the number of assists that the Lakers had on their 42 made baskets.  And of those 27, Kobe led the team with 7 dimes.  I already mentioned his defense, but Kobe really does deserve credit for his offense this evening.  Sure he only had 13 points, but those 7 assists set the tone for his offensive game and created an atmosphere for teamwork and togetherness that was the theme for the Lakers attack.  Everyone shared the ball, everyone moved, everyone was in the right place and it was Kobe that set the tone.  He was the master tactician tonight; the conductor for the Lakers symphony on offense.  The man was in complete control of the game and he barely even shot the ball.  After the teams’ awful performance in game 4 and Kobe’s lack of shooting I told you there would be stories that spoke about Kobe’s efforts to control the game and try to turn them into controversy.  But tonight, Kobe went right back to the same game plan and it worked to perfection.  Everyone got involved and it was successful to the tune of a 115.6 offensive rating on 60.6% true shooting.

+24.  This was Ron Artest’s plus/minus number on the evening.  So, let me just say this is kind of cheating.  Every Laker starter had a positive plus/minus and Ron didn’t even lead the team.  I don’t care.  I’ve been on Ron too much this series to not give him some love when he really has a good game.  14 points on 11 shots (including 2-4 from three), 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks for Ron to go along with his stellar defense on Kevin Durant.  Artest was active on both ends of the floor and truly was a difference maker for the Lakers.  He led the fast break, showed a very good post up game, and even had a monster dunk.  He really did do it all.  If Artest can have just a few more games like this on offense while still playing his trademarked bulldog defense, the Lakers will be too tough a team for most opponents to beat.

In the end, this was just a fantastic game.  As I said in the preview, this was as close to a must win that the Lakers have had in a long time and they responded with one of their best performances of the year.  The other day I asked if it was a reach to think that one day soon the Lakers would have more than one player play well in a game; if it was too much to ask to have both our bigs play well, Kobe shoot well, and have at least one of our shooters have a good night from deep.  In game 5, my wishes and hopes were answered by a Lakers team that erased fans’ frustration and replaced it with pure joy.  This was the Lakers team that we all have been wanting to see and they delivered.  They now lead the series 3-2 and have put themselves in prime position to advance to the 2nd round.  Here’s to them taking care of business on Friday.

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We’re finally here.  Game 5 is tonight and the chance to take back control of this series is now upon the Lakers.  And for what it’s worth, the Lakers players and coaches seem confident about the game.  Plus, as Kobe so graciously told us, he’s not sure “what the hell is going on around here” because the Lakers’ backs are not against the wall.  And since the series is tied, that’s kind of true.  But if this were baseball and the Lakers were an outfielder their feet would definitely be on the dirt of the warning track right now.  And with one more loss by LA (especially if it’s tonight), they’d be leaping up against the fence trying to snare a sure home run from out of the hands of the crowd.  I think at this point, the Lakers and it’s fans would rather it not get to that point.  So this game may not be “win or go home”, but it’s as close to a must win as can be. 

So, how to pull it out is the question on the mind of all involved.  Phillip had an excellent break down of the Lakers’ defensive woes this morning, so starting with shoring up some of their defensive principles will go a long way towards earning a win tonight.  It’s not that the entire structure of the Lakers defense has been bad – their half court defense remains strong as evidenced by OKC’s low shooting percentage – but there are issues that need to be resolved.  Like now.  Chief among them is transition defense and ensuring that the run outs OKC is feasting on are reduced (only something we’ve been talking about all series).  Second, (and related to point #1) is what Phillip touched on directly with his post – the Lakers need to make the Thunder sink outside shots.  Over at PBT, Kurt is making a similar argument, stating that if the Lakers are to win the game it will be because they made the Thunder play agaisnt their strenths:

For the series, the Lakers are shooting an unimpressive 35 percent from beyond 10 feet from the basket.

But the Thunder are worse — 33.3 percent. They also are not a good jump shooting team, you just haven’t noticed it because in the two games in Oklahoma City they got 61 shots at the rim. They are running, they are driving, they were getting the easy buckets that fuel their offense. In their game two loss, the Thunder had 16 shots at the rim, in the game three win it was 31.

All that leads us to the pivotal game five tonight at Staples Center — the team that makes the other team a bunch of jump shooters from the outside is going to win this game.

But, there’s obviously more to a win than just stopping the Thunder run outs and turning them into a jumpshooting team.  The Lakers also need to find a way to consistently score the ball.  Whether by making some outside shots, attacking the rim more (and either converting or earning FT’s), or executing the finer points of the Triangle better (all of the above?), this team must find a way to put the ball in the basket because shooting in the low 40% range for a series won’t get it done.

But, it won’t come easy.  We’re now at the point of the series where there aren’t any secrets.  The game plans are established.  It will come down to execution and which team follows through on their plan better than the guys wearing the other jerseys.  It will also come down to who plays harder – especially when Thunder coach Scott Brooks is preaching hard work before every game and during every time out.  All those loose balls and plays that require extra effort can’t go to the other team.  Many of the Lakers players say that this is the game where the series turns in our favor.  Here’s hoping they’re right.

A few other points to this game:

*In the interviews that Phil did after Monday’s practice, he spoke about trying to exploit the Thunder’s willingness to crash both backboards as hard as they are.  Phil noted that the Thunder are gang rebounding on defense and are extra aggressive going to offensive glass, thereby compromising their floor balance when transitioning to defense.  In games 3 & 4, the Lakers were not able to take advantage of this but will try in game 5.  If this indeed is a point of emphasis for the Lakers tonight, look for them to try and push the ball even more on offense and for the guards (especially Kobe and Artest) to attack the defensive glass harder so that our bigs can get out and run the floor to establish early post position via post lane sprints.

*In those same post practice interviews, Bynum mentioned that his goal is to be better in his transition defense.  He noted that he’s been pinned underneath the OKC backboard too easily and it’s made it difficult for him to get back to help build the wall they want to show Westbrook and co. in transition.  So, look for Drew (and Pau) to be active on the O-glass, but only to a point.  If they don’t have an angle to get to the ball, I expect them to be running hard back in the other direction.  So, don’t be surprised if the Lakers offensive rebounding numbers are down this game as it could be by design.

*I mentioned this in the recap of game 4, but I’m truly interested in seeing if Odom can carry over his success from the second half of that game into tonight.  Last season, Odom was a catalyst for our championship run (just as he was for the Lakers finals berth in ’08).  I know people are down on LO lately, but he’s a guy that can make a difference and turns this team from good to great or kind of beatable to not beatable at all depending on his performance (and if the other guys play to their averages).