Lakers/Thunder Game 1: Boot To The Neck

Darius Soriano —  May 14, 2012

Well, that went about as bad as it could have, huh?

The Lakers were out-everythinged by the Thunder in the opening contest of round two, having their hats handed to them in a 29 point drubbing with final count 119-90.

There’s really not much to say here so I’ll keep it brief.

The Thunder, outside of a handful of plays that didn’t work out that you might expect, got everything going their way tonight. And while they deserve all the credit in the world for playing as well as they did, for being prepared to play after an extended lay off, and for executing their game plan, I also look at a lot of the little mistakes the Lakers made and wonder if this game could have been different had they made any of a myriad of adjustments in game. Not necessarily if the Lakers could have won this game, but rather if they wouldn’t have looked so bad in losing.

In my series previews, I rattled off a bunch of keys that would need to go the Lakers way if they were to win. Imagine them as a checklist:

  • Don’t let Westbrook find a rhythm as a shooter.
  • Ball security is a must, as OKC will turn turnovers into the easy points in transition.
  • Find a way to slow Harden as he’s the key to their second unit and their most natural playmaker. Who guards him is an open question, but whoever does must be effective.
  • Mark the wings not named KD/Russ/Harden. They’re only in the game to shoot the open three pointers that their big three create for them.
  • Get creative on offense by using screen actions – especially for Kobe.
  • Try to utilize Sessions going to the basket and let him loose more to help him find a rhythm.
  • Make three point shots to loosen up the D

There were more variables, but this is a good place to end because none of these things went the Lakers way:

  • Westbrook found open space coming off screens, got into a groove on his mid-range jumper, and punished the Lakers with shots that you may want him taking but when he gets hot he’s more than capable of burying. Bynum and the other Lakers’ bigs played below the screen or allowed Russ to split the double off the pick and that set him free to take shots in a flow.
  • In the 1st half the Lakers had 8 turnovers which the Thunder converted into 16 points. For the game they had 21 points off 15 Lakers’ TO’s.
  • Harden, though only shooting 4-11 from the floor was still able to score 17 points mostly off the strength of getting to the FT line 10 times (making 9). When he first checked into the game he was flanked by both Westbrook and KD and that led to Mike Brown assigning Steve Blake to guard Harden. That led to Harden going into full attack mode, working the P&R and in isolation to get to the basket and compromise the Laker D. His final numbers don’t pop, but when he came into the game his impact was definitely felt.
  • Daeqan Cook was the main OKC wing player that saw early minutes and he hit 3 quick shots (including a buzzer beater at the end of the 1st quarter) to score 8 points. Those would be the only 8 points he scored but that’s besides the point. His early game production sparked his team and helped them go on the run that gave the Thunder their first cushion.
  • The last three bullet points all reference the Lakers offensive attack and none of those things went the way the Lakers would have hoped. Kobe worked in isolation most of the night, never able to shake free from Sefolosha’s defense. Too often Kobe worked from 20 feet and out and tried to create his own offense off the dribble against one of the elite wing defenders in the league. As for Sessions, he still hasn’t been able to escape the funk he’s been in. He’s being asked to run a slow down offensive game to the benefit of his teammates but in the process his own production is suffering. Sure, he was able to attack off the dribble a handful of times but it’s obvious his rhythm is non-existent. He only hit one of his seven attempts from the floor, didn’t go to the foul line, and was mostly a spectator. Also, while the Lakers hit 7 of their 15 three point attempts, none really came into play as difference making shots. Yes, Ron’s early bombs kept the Lakers afloat but over the course of the game, those shots meant little as the Thunder D ground the Lakers down in other ways to make their overall offense sputter.

And that was basically the game. The Thunder showed their class, the Lakers looked a bit tired but also lost focus as the game progressed and were never able to recapture that early aggressiveness that kept them in the game. Bynum did show he could score well on Perkins and Pau showed that he could be an impact on the offensive glass but those positives were outweighed by the Thunder’s ability to impose their will on the Lakers and run away with the game.

At this point, the Lakers can tweak some things but the original game plan is still one that needs to be executed to give them their best shot. In a way, tonight’s game reminds me of game 1 from the first round but from the Nuggets’ perspective. If you recall, in that game George Karl told his team that they needed to go out and execute the plan because he had no clue if it could work or not because they weren’t doing it. Tonight, the same could be said of the Lakers. They didn’t show hard on P&R’s, didn’t screen well or get Kobe open, and were too careless with the ball. These are execution issues that need to be resolved. Even if these things are done better the Thunder may still win the game, but until they are we can’t know for sure.

Hopefully in game two, we see better.

Darius Soriano

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