There’s an eerie familiarity to what’s currently happening in the NBA Finals. Much like the 2008 match up between the Lakers and the Celtics, the Lakers look a bit befuddled on offense while their defense is coming up short at inopportune times. Meanwhile, Boston’s defense is as smothering as ever and their offense is finding the cracks in the Lakers defensive schemes to score just enough points to keep the Lakers at arms length over the course of a game. Things are not looking good for the Lakers and it’s now time for them to play their best game or suffer another Finals defeat at the hand of the Celtics.
Everywhere I look, people are searching for answers. They want to know what adjustments can be made. They want to know what secret play can be run. They’re looking for that tweak to the Lakers’ schemes that will turn the series back in favor of the Lakers. Well, everyone can stop looking – those things don’t exist.
The Lakers are not going to change what they do. They’re a Triangle team on offense and funnel you to the paint (to contest with their bigs) team on defense . That’s what they’ve been all season and expecting them to come up with some sort of X’s and O’s elixir at this point in the season - when at the brink of elimination or on the verge of forcing a deciding game 7 – is not the way that basketball works. At this point in the season, you go back to the fundamentals of your game and you do them better.
There is your answer.
The Lakers must get back to playing their brand of basketball; they must get back to the style that got them this far in the playoffs where they won 2 of the first 3 games of the Finals.
That means going back to the post and working the ball inside out. This is easier said than done because of the way that the Celtics are muscling Gasol from the low block. My answer to that is to fight harder for position and be patient when making post entries. Work better passing angles and allow Gasol to get open. And then after making the catch, Pau needs to play his game by attacking the rim when players crowd him and shooting his face up jumper when the defense plays off him.
The Lakers must also get back to cutting and screening off the ball after initial passes are made. Too often in the past two games the Lakers have been jogging in their movements. There has not been enough urgency in the Lakers movement off the ball and it’s led to the stagnant sets we’ve all witnessed in the past few games. This has led to Kobe needing to have the ball in his hand entirely too often for the Lakers to end up with an even halfway decent look. If the Lakers move better off the ball and create the separation need to make catches so they can either shoot or move the ball on again, the crispness to this offense will return. This will help Kobe and Pau who all to often have been asked to create one on (more than) one and take to the teeth of a waiting Celtic defense. If players are moving better off the ball, those help defenders are then occupied by the men they’re guarding or caught in a position of helping with not enough time to recover.
Defensively, the Lakers need to get back to pressuring the ball more. The only Celtic that’s really feeling any sort of pressure when he’s handling the ball is Ray Allen. The Lakers are chasing, bumping, and running at Ray every single time he even sees a sliver of daylight. I can understand not using this approach on Rondo, but everyone else needs a defender glued to him. That extra pressure will force turnovers and generate some open court opportunities. Who here thinks Tony Allen is comfortable facing heavy ball pressure? And if Artest is going to be guarding Pierce, he needs to stop respecting his first step as much, trust his help, and force Pierce to blow by him. There can be no more uncontested shots and every player should be put in a position where they are looking to give the ball up because the pressure is so severe.
But in the end, everything must be done smarter and with that extra bit of effort. Despite what some folks have said, the Lakers are playing hard. What they have not been is effective. And if they hope to become effective, they must continue to work hard but give that little bit more of themselves both physically and mentally. This series is not over. And if the Lakers hope to be able to say the same thing on Wednesday morning, they’ll have to understand that they only thing they can do is look in the mirror and bring everything they’ve got.
So, this is a call to arms. All hands on deck as the season lies in the balance. There are no more excuses and no more games to fall back on. And you know what? I’m confident that this team will get it done. In the darkest moments, this team has responded. They are the defending champion with a core of players that knows what it takes to get the job done. In every instance over the past two seasons, this team has met these challenges with the victory that’s needed. Tomorrow night is another one of those moments and I see them bringing their best.