Lakers/Thunder: The Performance We’ve Been Looking For

Darius Soriano —  April 28, 2010

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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.

Darius Soriano

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