Long time commenter Snoopy2006 said it well after the game ended:
When your team fights so hard the entire game – despite being overmatched, just fighting hard, uglying the game up, instigating the physicality – you become invested in every play. You start believing, you start living and dying with each play. When you’re up by 7 with the game almost over, you start to feel hope – which many of us didn’t think possible after Game 1. And when you give that up after 46 grueling, agonizing minutes – it’s heartbreaking.
Heartbreaking. Yep. That about sums it up.
The Lakers had this game won. Up 5 with two minutes left in the game, all the Lakers really had to do was milk some clock and create some points. Any points would have done – FT’s, a jumper, anything that gave them just the slightest bit of extra cushion while also draining some of those precious seconds off the game clock.
They did the opposite, however. A bad pass by Kobe was picked off by Kevin Durant and he raced the other way for a dunk. Three point game. Then Steve Blake telegraphed a pass that Russell Westbrook – Blake’s man, btw – jumped at to tip away that ultimately grazed Kobe’s arm before sailing out of bounds for another turnover. While that didn’t directly produce any OKC points, it shifted momentum a bit more in their direction. Two possessions later James Harden got a layup in transition to cut the lead to one. Then, after OKC fronted the post, deflected a pass, and turned the Lakers possession into a scramble, Kobe missed a three pointer that OKC took the other way. On that possession, Durant used a high P&R to shake free to the sideline where he hit a floater for the go-ahead basket.
With the Lakers trailing by one and only 18 seconds left they ran the clock down to 5 seconds before OKC gave their last team foul to make the Lakers inbound again. On that final possession, the Lakers ran a nice screen action to try and free Kobe going to the weak side of the floor but the D read it pretty well and Ron, in an alert move, passed to a wide open Steve Blake in the corner who fired up a three pointer that missed.
Game over. Heartbreak ensues.
What makes this loss so difficult to deal with is the fact that the Lakers forced OKC to play nearly an entire game outside of their comfort zone. They made the appropriate defensive adjustments to make their offense sputter, holding them to only 77 points on 42% shooting. The Lakers played the P&R much better, hedging higher and harder to pressure the ball handler and contest shots when he tried to pull up after turning the corner. When OKC tried to compensate for the extra help by rotating the ball out of this action, the Lakers weak side defenders read their passes perfectly, deflecting passes out of bounds and picking several off outright. On the curl plays that the Thunder run to get Durant going, the approach was the same – big men left their own man to clog the paint, make KD’s catches more difficult, and then contested shots when he did make catches that he tried to turn into the easy baskets he got in game one. This scrambling, active approach on D limited the Thunder to only 34 points in the paint while allowing them to only shoot 4-17 on shots in the 10-15 foot range.
Offensively, the Lakers also played a style that made the Thunder work. They pounded the ball inside relentlessly, playing bully ball through classic post ups and power back downs from the wing by Kobe and Ron. Thirty-nine of the Lakers seventy-eight shots came in the restricted area and fourteen more came from within 15 feet. The message was clear that the Lakers were going to play a physical, taxing game on offense and for most of the night it kept them close. The pace was what the Lakers wanted, the grinding nature of the possessions was more suited to them, and for most of the night it worked on the scoreboard even if it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing.
It needed to be for all of the night, however. And it wasn’t.
The Lakers fell short and now must re-group while understanding that what they did tonight must be repeated, even if it will be difficult to do so. The Lakers are the overmatched team and with that must come a desperation to compete even when the odds don’t favor them. Tonight was the perfect example of what needs to happen even if botched play down the stretch robbed them of seeing a winning result for their efforts.
And while this game will stay with these players – especially Kobe – for some time, there is no time to sulk over the result. They must take inspiration from the good, stew over what went wrong, and repeat their effort from this game on Friday. It’s really the only way.