For a while now, the mantra of FB&G is that the Lakers will go as far as their defense takes them. When the Lakers are dialed in on defense, they’ll always have a chance to win and more often than not will pull out the victories they need. Against the Suns, the defense has been lacking of late and we’ve all witnessed the results.
So, as we go into game 5, the onus is on the Lakers D to get the necessary stops in order to prevail. We’ve already discussed some of the defensive principles that the Lakers need to get back to, so I won’t expand on those now. But I will say that much (if not all) of tonight’s result will depend on effort, desire, and how those charateristics mix with smart play and execution.
Much like we called for before game 4, the Lakers need to play smart and poised. The need to play with desire, but they can’t let that desire overwhelm them into making rash decisions that don’t serve the greater purpose. The Lakers need to trust in eachother to make the right play as a member of the team, and then follow through to prove that the trust given is warranted.
Really, this has little to do with X’s and O’s. Sure, the Lakers will need to attack the Suns’ zone in different ways. By making quicker decisions with the ball and forcing the Suns weakest defenders to match up in isolation on our better offensive players, the Lakers can better infiltrate the Suns defense. By being more selective with the shots that are taken from the outside and making the Suns’ zone move in ways that it’s not accustomed to, the Lakers can score the points they’ll need to get the win.
But, none of those adjustments on offense will mean much if the Lakers are still giving up 115+ points and letting the Suns offense get the shots that they want. If the Suns are able to execute their P&R exactly how they’ve diagrammed it or beat their individual defenders off the dribble or grab nearly as many offensive rebounds as the Lakers grab defensive ones, this game will look much like the last two when final clock shows 0.0 seconds. If the Lakers don’t close out on shooters or contest shots or mark the Suns’ shooters in transition, frustration will reign supreme again.
So, while I do look for better execution on offense (as that will help the Lakers transition to the defensive side of the ball), I’m really looking for that extra effort and the will that’s needed to win. And, really, I think we’ll all see it. As I’ve mentioned before, the Lakers find themselves in a familiar position. As was the case against OKC, Houston, and Denver in recent playoff series, the Lakers are facing a game 5 at home with the series knotted at two games a piece. In all those games the Lakers won by playing the caliber of basketball that they’ve shown capable in their recent runs to the Finals. They won by stepping up to the challenge that was in front of them.
All that said, relying on experience will not be enough. The Lakers just can’t show up and expect that because they’ve done this exact thing before that it will just happen again for them tonight. The Lakers will have to put in the required work if they expect to achieve what they’re setting out to do. As Phil Jackson has said, if the Lakers can’t step up to this moment, why even advance to the Finals? The test is in front of this team and it’s time to pass it with flying colors. I’ve said this in the past, but if put in a position where a team has its backs against the wall and need to get a win to salvage its season, there’s no other group of guys I’d rather have than this team; the team led by Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, and Pau Gasol. This is a group I trust in times like this. Six o’clock tonight can’t come soon enough. It’s time to get that win.