In Sunday night’s game 2, you saw one team get back to the fundamentals of their style of play – the Celtics. Their defensive game plan led to cut off passing angles, which forced ball handlers to extend their dribble, which led to too many forced jumpers that ultimately missed. And then the Celtics took those misses the other direction and used their transition game and semi-fast break to get themselves good looks at the basket and behind the arc and 103 points in a winning effort. This has been the Celtics winning formula for three seasons now; they got back to basics and it led to a victory.
Now, it’s the Lakers turn to do the same thing. They too must get back to playing their game and executing their schemes at a level that got them to the point where they are now. And for me that means doing these things (among others):
1). Running an “offense” and not relying on “plays”. In game 1, the Lakers executed the high P&R to near perfection. They consistently compromised the C’s help schemes where either Kobe or one of the Lakers bigs got a good shot at the basket. It was a great “play” that the Lakers milked to great success. However, when that play was taken away (by a great P&R defensive team, btw – how do you think they dispatched Cleveland and Orlando?) the Lakers settled too often on penetration (which was rarely open) and jump shooting (which was rarely successful). The part of their game that was not explored frequently enough was the post game that opens up all of their offensive options in the Triangle. In game 3, the Lakers must get back to initiating their sets through the post and letting Gasol work against Garnett. After the ball goes into the post they then need to cut and screen with purpose in order to get the Celtics defense moving and shifting. It’s these motions that will open up the court for Gasol and also free up players on the weak side to get good shots for themselves. Also, if the post entry is not there, the Lakers must do a better job of reading the defense and making quick decisions with the ball. Too often the Lakers held the ball for that extra second, throwing off the timing of their sets and making it so the Celtics were able to recover and contest passing and penetration lanes. In one of the Lakers timeouts, Phil Jackson implored his team to “move the ball around and then penetrate against the closing out defender”, but too often the Lakers tried to penetrate first. This process needs to be inversed if they’re to be successful in game 3. This leads us too…
2). Do not settle for the outside jumper. This has been an ongoing theme these playoffs, but the Lakers still fall back on this bad habit. Every post-season opponent has wanted the Lakers to take outside jumpers, rebound the missed shots, and then get the ball to a dynamic point guard that could then push the ball back against a scrambling transition defense. Rondo is now the 4th straight PG that has enjoyed executing this defensive plan (joining Westbrook, Williams, and Nash) and reaped the benefits from how it has translated to offensive success for his team. If the Lakers are to slow down the C’s transition and early offense opportunities, they’ll need to show more discipline in their shot selection and not settle for the jumps hot nor put themselves in a position where a jumps hot against the shot clock is their only offensive option. I understand that the Lakers can’t properly play offense without taking some outside shots. But those shots should be the byproduct of good ball movement and, essentially, wide open shots. Because if they’re not, we’ll see the C’s transition game flourish. Making this next point even more important…
3). Maintain discipline and awareness in transition defense. As was the case in the Phoenix series, the Celtics wing players don’t run for layups, they run to the three point line. On several occasions last night, the Lakers wings lost sight of this fact and recovered to the paint and allowed shooters to get good looks from behind the arc in the open court. Some of these shots missed so the Lakers, in a sense, were lucky. When the Celtics return home, the Lakers can’t rely on those shots rimming out. So, the Lakers wings must find their man early in transition and then latch onto him so he doesn’t receive the ball for an easy shot. Meanwhile the Lakers bigs must get on their horse and sprint back to help build the wall so that Rondo doesn’t easily get into the lane. An act that allows him to get lay ups or collapse the Lakers defense. Too many times in game 2, the Lakers bigs (I’m looking at you Odom) contested outlet passes rather than busting tail back the other way. Staying behind the ball does the Lakers transition defense no good; the Lakers bigs must get back and help their wings against an advancing Rondo in the open court.
4). After stops, secure the rebound. I’m going to keep bringing this up because it’s important: no rebounds, no rings. Pat Riley knew of what he spoke. Before game 2, Phillip sent me this message in an email:
Rebounds may decide this series more than any other difference discussed between this year and ’08. In 2008, the Celtics grabbed .266 percent of their offensive rebounds and .744 percent of their defensive rebounds. A trend that I’ve noticed in the past is that, if you add up those two numbers from any team, it will give you a good idea of how well a team rebounds. If that number is above 1, that team is generally a very good rebounding team, if it’s at 1, or right around one, it’s a good rebounding team, and if it’s below 1, that team is a poor rebounding team.
If you add up the numbers for the ’08 Celtics, it’s at exactly 1. This year, however, the Celtics rebounding numbers are down significantly to .738 of defensive rebounds and .228 of offensive rebounds, giving them a number of .966. From 1 to .966 may not seem like a significant drop at face value, but you should understand that that .34 drop means a drop from the league’s second best rebounding team to the league’s second worst rebounding team. The Lakers on the other hand have gone from .997 in ’08 to 1.02 this season. While I don’t expect Pau Gasol to out rebound Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis again, I do think the Lakers will continue to out rebound the Celtics, and if they continue to out rebound them by 10+, I see the Lakers putting themselves in a great position to continue winning games.
Last night the Lakers lost the rebounding battle by 5 and subsequently the game. I understand that some of that had to do with the fact that the Lakers only shot 40%, so there were a lot of rebounds for the C’s to gather in. However, Boston only shot 42% from the field and the Lakers gave up 13 offensive rebounds, several of them late in the game where securing the ball with a chance to score was pretty important.
These are just a few of the things that the Lakers need to do better, but they’d be a great start. The Lakers are now at a point where they must strip their game plan back down and start to do the little things. As John Wooded told us “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” In game 2, the Lakers didn’t do enough of the little things and it cost them dearly. So in game 3, they must get back to the basics as doing so will reset the tone for them to play winning basketball.