I think we all have a sense of nervousness tonight. There’s just an anxiousness in the air. Realistically, there are 20 (or more, even) different scenarios that can play out that determine who wins this game. Running through some of them in my mind has been exhausting as I’ve been thinking of plays and counters and everything else…it’s been like 20 games of chess going on in my mind at the same time.
But in the end, this is what it’s all about. With the season on the line, the Lakers have the talent and they have the coaching. They’re playing a top notch opponent that is seeking to reclaim the title that the Lakers currently own. As a fan, these are the moments that I live for and I wouldn’t want it any other way than what we’ve got tonight: a home game for the Lakers to decide if their season stays alive.
Typically at this site we try to give you some X’s and O’s (and we still will a bit later), but I hope that through all the nervousness and anxiousness you find a way to enjoy tonight. I understand it will be a lot easier with a strong Lakers performance that leads to a win and that fateful 7th game, but we’re now 100+ games into the season and through all the ups and downs they have their shot. I know many fans ask for the title every year, but that’s unrealistic. I think all we can really ask for is a chance. Tonight the Lakers have it and I think it’s going to inspire them to play some very good basketball.
And good basketball for the Lakers starts on defense. The Lakers need to play the stifling brand of defense that their opponent has been employing on them. Game 5 was as good of an offensive game as the Celtics could have played as a group (individually they may have better efforts, but not as a group) and if the Lakers want to ensure there is not a repeat performance, they must step up their effort on that side of the ball and work harder. Every rotation must be precise and every shot must be contested. Every Laker should be looking to help and recover so as to not give up even a single open look. Screens must be fought through and ball handlers must be pressured. I wouldn’t mind seeing some traps, deflections, and some turnovers being forced either. And as usual, defensive possessions don’t end with out rebounds. Secure the ball and push it back the other way.
Offensively, we’ve discussed the Lakers switching up their attack in a way that they can find easier shots for themselves. And I think there’s merit in trying some different things to try and accomplish that task. But, whether it’s more P&R or better execution and commitment to the Triangle, the Lakers need to do every thing full speed but with a keen eye on executing every nuance of their attack. If the Lakers go to a more P&R heavy attack, I’d like to see more weak side flashing that is synced up with the ball handler’s initial attempt to turn the corner. And if the P&R is relied upon, I want to see the ball handler attack off the action and force the C’s big man to defend in space (something we have not seen since game 1). If the Lakers rely on a more Triangle heavy attack, then they need to explore more options within their sets and go more to the actions that are initiated at the elbow with Gasol and Kobe and then work hard off the ball to occupy Celtic defenders. By operating from the elbow (and with the weak side spacing in tact), Kobe and Pau can play some isolation ball and then more easily pick out teammates when the help arrives. But, in whatever attack the Lakers employ, Kobe and Pau’s brilliance will need to be on display. The Lakers will need their stars tonight.
And overall, the Lakers just need to play as hard and as smart as possible for the full 48 minutes. Everything must be left on the floor. Whether it’s securing that loose ball, taking that charge, or sprinting hard to fill a lane on offense or to get back on defense, the Lakers must do the little things tonight. In essence, they need to make their own luck. Every 50/50 ball must be theirs because they’ve willed themselves to it. Every bounce that they need to go their way should break their way because they’ve fought to put themselves in position to get it. Boston is the opponent that will try to make this moment be theirs, but the Lakers must take it for themselves. The Lakers backs are against the wall and they’ve got to fight like it is. There’s no other way tonight.
Lastly, we all understand that the Lakers are on the brink of elimination; that the season can end tonight. But, I’m not even thinking of that right now. I’m 100% focussed on the win and the task at hand. We’ll have plenty of time after the season is over to focus on the year as a whole and what was or was not accomplished. But now is not that time. To quote my favorite Laker ever, right now is winning time. Go get it, Lakers. Game on.