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).