One of my favorite things about the playoffs are the adjustments that teams make. The playoffs are like a drawn out chess match where coaches study the film, look at what both sides did to be successful, and then try to replicate that for their own team and put schemes into place to slow down the opposition. Every game, every detail is looked at meticulously in order to try and gain an advantage. This series will be no different and tonight we get to see which coaching staffs make the appropriate adjustments to give their players the edge. As someone that loves the X’s and O’s of the game, this punch/counterpunch exchange that is drawn up by the coaches and acted out by the players is one of the best parts of the second season.
For the Thunder they need to try and find a way to continue the success that Russell Westbrook had in game one while also having some of their other players join the party. First and foremost, that means getting Kevin Durant on track. In the last game, KD struggled mightily when trying to shake free from Ron Artest’s smothering defense. Over at Pro Basketball Talk, Kurt explained what the Thunder did to try and free Durant and how Artest combatted it:
To help Durant out, the Thunder ran some simple plays right out of every NBA playbook — some cross screens, some pindowns — trying to free Durant up on the strong side. Artest just blew those up and was in Durant’s grill the whole time. Two reasons for that. First, Artest has been seeing those since he entered the league. Artest is a smart player, a savvy one. If he knows it’s coming, you’re not going to succeed with it very often. You have to do better than the basics to catch him off guard.
Second, there isn’t a player strong enough on the Thunder to set a pick Artest can’t run through, especially on the screen-and-roll. Much like Durant himself, this is a young and lanky team. That serves them well in transition, not as well in a game of physical half-court sets.
The Lakers bigs also defended the picks well, they showed out on Durant enough until Artest arrived, which was not long. The Lakers were well prepared for this part of the Thunder playbook.
Brooks and his staff have to figure out ways to get Durant free. That may be better putting Durant on the weakside then using quick ball rotation to get him the ball in isolation. They can’t keep running basic sets and keep Durant on the strong side.
The Thunder will need to find a way to combat the way that the Lakers played these screen actions. As Kurt suggests isolating Durant on the weakside and then reversing the ball to get him some touches may be a good place to start. I also think that rather than starting Durant on the low block and then running pin down actions for him, they may want to run more actions where KD is at the extended wing and then move him across the court or towards the basket so he can catch the ball on the move more. Artest is a demon when he can get you in his crosshairs and focus on a stationary target – something he proved again in Game 1. Needless to say, the Thunder need to try and avoid those situations tonight if they hope to get KD going.
Conversely, the Lakers must continue to find a way to keep Durant under wraps (while also anticipating some of the Thunder’s adjustments and scheming for them), but their bigger task is figuring out a way to control Westbrook. In game one, Russ was able to spring free in the open court and find creases in the Lakers half court D. Russ got almost all of his baskets in the lane off pull up jupmers and hard drives to the rim. So, the Lakers need to devise a plan to build that wall and keep Westbrook out of the paint and at a distance where he is less dangerous.
The first way they can accomplish this by being more selective on offense and not taking so many long jumpers with an unbalanced floor. Too many times in Game 1, the Lakers took jumpers from the baseline with players in motion moving towards the basket. When those rebounds went long, the Thunder were able to race up the court and create 3 on 2 or even 3 on 3 scenarios where Westbrook could play in space in one on one situations. If the Lakers can limit these opportunities, it will go a long way in containing Westbrook. This is obviously a major point of emphasis with the Lakers coaches, so we’ll see how successful they’ll be in executing their plans to hold Russ down better than in the last game.
Offensively, adjustments are also in order for the Lakers. As we discussed in the posts proceeding game 1, the Lakers struggled with the fronting of their post players. If the Lakers are to exploit their biggest advantage (their size inside), they need to find a way to consistently get the ball to Pau and Bynum on the block and let them work against the undersized Thunder. My first suggestion would be to start the offense on the extended wing in the standard formation for a sideline initiation (ball handler at the hash mark, another player in the corner, post man at the low block). At this point, if the post man is open, pass it to him. However, if the post man is being fronted, the Lakers should pass the ball to the corner to flatten out the passing angle to the post man. This pass to the corner not only initiates some of our offensive movement, but it should also help the post player create a natural seal to the baseline side so that receiving the pass is much easier. After the catch is made, the post player can go to work as normal. My second suggestion would be to play more high low where the weakside big man flashes to the FT line in order to recieve a pass and then allow an easier angle to make a lob pass over the top of the fronting defender. If the Lakers can find ways to use either of these tactics, I believe they’ll have success against the Thunder’s fronting schemes.
Understand, that while Game 1 set the tone for the series, Game 2 can be the first real nail in the Thunder’s coffin. OKC does not want to go home down 0-2 to the Lakers and facing the prospect of winning 4 of the next 5 games. Like any other team that starts a series on the road, the Thunder had to come into these first two games thinking that all they needed was a split in LA to then have the advantage going back to their home arena. Phoenix and Denver have already dropped games at home and lost their home court advantage. The Lakers need to take note of those games and come out today to seize complete control in this series. A win tonight can be the difference between a potential sweep (though I think 5 games is more likely) and a 6 or 7 game slugfest. Focus, defense, and offensive execution will be the usual keys to produce a win. Tonight we see if the Lakers can build on game one’s success and do what’s necessary to earn another victory.