Many look to the 2008 Finals as being the experience the Lakers can draw on in order to have success in this series. And while I agree with that to a certain point – there’s no doubt that loss helped foster the mental and physical toughness of this current Lakers team – I think it’s much more important to draw on more recent experiences as a stepping stone to where the Lakers are now.
And that stepping stone would be the Phoenix Suns. After the Lakers lost game three of the WCF, Bill Bridges noted this in the commments:
I think the loss was the best thing that could happen to a championship-seeking Lakers team.
Crazy, no? Wouldn’t it have been better if the Sun’s rolled over, continued to play matador defense, and let the Lakers out score them once again, on route to a sweep?
Had the Lakers rolled into the finals against Boston by outscoring the Sun’s while giving up close to 50% shooting, they would have not been sufficiently prepared for the Celtic’s intensity.
The Sun’s defense was a disaster in games 1 and 2, with no consistency and focus. Luckily for the Lakers, the Sun’s zone was so effective, that we just might see 48 minutes of it in game 4.
The Sun’s zone defense is the closest facsimile that the Lakers will now face to the Thibodeau strong side zone defense. Have you seen Boston’s swarming quasi-zone against Orlando?
The Lakers have an opportunity to practice sharpening up their passing for now at least two more games in a game situtation. They are going to have to be crisp and precise to score against Boston.
But it is on defense that this “practice” will matter. Practice stopping Nash’s penetration because Rondo is twice as fast. If you can stop Amare’s slip of the screen roll, Big Baby’s slip should be easy to stop.
We are also thankful for Robin Lopez’s big body to help us practice banging against Kendrick Perkins. If Bynum can’t hold his own against Lopez, how will he fare against the dour Perkins?
The Celtic’s bread and butter sequence has Ray Allen curling around a down screen who then drops it off to a cutting big man (say KG) who then finds the other big man off a weak side cut. This play challenges your ability to fight through screens, show hard and get back, and rotate smartly.
The Sun’s don’t run this exact set but the key to defending the Celtics and the Suns is the same; fight through the pick, get back from the show, and rotate quickly.
The Lakers have not got this defense right except for a short stretch in the 4th quarter of game 2. They have a great opportunity to learn in the next 2 games.
They’d better or else the finals will be a rude awakening. And f they don’t learn, they don’t deserve to go.
And commenter Evan tells us that Bill, essentially, was right on when comparing Phoenix to Boston and how we seemed prepared for what the C’s were doing on both ends of the court:
I noticed that the some of the Laker strategy on both ends in GM1 could be attributed to their experience with Phoenix, which is odd because obviously Boston and Phoenix are so different.
For example, Boston’s defense is predicated on loading up on the strong side, which to the casual observer looks like a zone, even if it’s not exactly a traditional zone.
But attacking it is very similar to attacking the zone. Against a zone, a weakside LA big (Lamar) flashes to the high post, creating high-low mayhem. Against the Boston defense, the weakside flash is also there out of the triangle, and the big hole in the middle that is typical of a zone IS THERE against Boston’s defensive scheme. (Help comes to the big, leaving either a big-to-big pass around the basket or, ahem, offensive rebounds.)
When the Lakers run the P&R, the roller (Gasol) dives to the free throw line, filling that high-post space that the weakside dive man filled when running the triangle. Same type of effect. This is how they beat the zone in Phoenix and it seems to have have helped them get underneath or below Boston’s outstanding perimeter pressure.
Secondly, and more obviously, on the few possessions where rondo had the ball in transition, a laker was picking him up by the 3-point line. If he gets any deeper, then you get those transition threes for PP and Ray. Thank you Nash and co. for 6 games of preparation, and thank you Westbrook and co. for demonstrating the transition game in general back in April.
We’ll talk adjustments and what to look forward to in terms of changes in the lead up to game 2, but for now I think we should join Evan in thanking the Suns for helping to prepare us for a team that, at first glance no one (except Bill Bridges) would compare to Boston, but ended up doing a lot of things similarly.