Last night’s loss still stings and will for some time, I imagine. When the team you root for collapses down the stretch, the ‘what ifs’ and ‘should have dones’ live in the front of your mind and sit there, sourly marinating. But that rotting feeling is really about the final two minutes of turnovers, poor transition defense, and poor half court execution. Durant’s steal, Kobe’s three pointer when the offense broke down, Harden’s baskets against a retreating defense were what lost the game.
What did not lose the game was the last inbounds play where Steve Blake got a good shot off, only to miss it just long. That play was designed to get Kobe a shot flaring to the opposite corner. The Lakers have actually used this play at least once this year, against the Hornets (h/t to Sebastian Pruiti for the clip):
As you can see in this clip, Kobe comes off a double down screen from Pau and Bynum looking to get a shot at the top of the key. However, that action is really a misdirection to force the defense to overplay. When the defense rushes to try and deny that option, Kobe then flares to the weak side off a back screen from Bynum to receive a pass and take the shot. While Kobe missed this shot against the Hornets, this is a well designed play (though with a difficult pass) and falls in line with the type of misdirection screen actions that the Lakers have used before this season to try and get a good shot against a defense that is primed to slow the initial flash to the ball.
Last night, however, the Thunder seemed ready to defend this type of action. When the play initially starts, the Thunder are in the type of defensive position that you’d expect. Because they’re only up by a point and a two pointer beats them, their bigs are in position to protect the rim from the Lakers’ bigs diving hard. Kobe’s man is on his inside shoulder to try and stay in between him and the ball. But, once the action starts, everyone clamps down even harder. Perkins bodies Bynum so he doesn’t get a clean pick on Sefalosha who also does a good job of fighting through the screen. Kobe then releases just a hair early in flaring to the corner and Ibaka does a good job of being below the screen so he can cover Kobe as he peels off Pau’s back pick. When you add this to Durant’s long arms disrupting Ron’s view, it’s easy to see why this action got bottled up (h/t to DJ ReMark for the video clip):
Ultimately, Blake got a good shot. Out of all the options coming out of that play – Kobe’s jumper from the deep corner, Pau making a catch at the top of the key and then working to get his own shot, or Blake shooting a wide open corner three – I’m perfectly happy with the look the Lakers’ got. Ron made the right read by passing to Blake, Blake got his feet set and took a shot he’s very capable of hitting, and the Lakers still had a chance to get an offensive rebound because the shot was taken immediately.
I do understand that we can criticize the play design (as Tim Legler did in the clip) as it’s primary option is running to the opposite corner some 45+ feet from the inbounder. That’s a risky pass in any scenario and with the athletes OKC had on the floor plus the recovery time that type of a pass allows, a lot of bad things could have happened had Ron made that pass (including Ibaka shadowing Kobe as Legler implied). Also, the play is seemingly setting up a very difficult shot from Kobe – one where he’d be fading from the basket and likely very close to the three point line and the baseline out of bounds.
All that said, the real criticism still lies in the Lakers’ play down the stretch and how the play preceding the inbound play by Ron unfolded. In that set Kobe started with 18 seconds on the shot clock but dribbled down the clock even though the Thunder had a foul to give. Watching it live, I was wondering when Kobe was going to initiate his move but it was obvious he was eying the right short corner for his final shot. That’s a jumper he’s hit countless times before and is the epitome of a muscle memory play for him. The fact that he’d want to take that shot isn’t a shock but the way the play unfolded certainly could have been handled better.
In the end, though, none of it went right. And today we all must live with it. Tomorrow offers another chance, one I can only hope offers as good an opportunity to get a win.