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.