If you’ve ever played a lick of organized hoops, you’ve had at least one coach who stressed the importance of hitting free throws. Tonight, the age old adage of free throws winning games came to fruition as the Lakers connected on 41 of 42 from the charity stripe to cut the Thunder series lead to 2-1. Through three games, we’ve seen the Lakers get blown out, take a gut-wretching loss and gut out a three-point win. The following are what I felt were a few keys to tonight’s win.
- Ramon Sessions finally got off to a good start tonight. He spent a lot of time in the paint, hitting on a few floaters in the lane and got a few layups. And when he didn’t score, his penetration freed up open shots for others, including the three-pointer that Ron hit at the end of the half. During the half, Darius tweeted that Sessions only recorded eight points and five assists in his previous three games combined; tonight, he had 10 points and four assists at the half. Although he didn’t see the floor much in the second half, and when he did he wasn’t much of a factor, it was nice to finally see his presence felt in a positive manner.
- Continuing with our PG theme, after Blake missed the game winner in Game 2, he responded tonight with a decent game off the bench and helped to close out the game tonight with some solid defense on Russell Westbrook and James Harden down the stretch. He hit two jumpers about midway through the fourth and shot 4/5 from the field for 12 points. He even had eight rebounds (!).
- Andrew Bynum didn’t have the greatest shooting night tonight, just two-for-13 from the field, but he physically punished the Thunder bigs when he caught the ball with deep position. It was interesting watching him fight for position with Kendrick Perkins, who is no push over. Both bigs won individual battles on various possessions, but Drew was able to draw several fouls on the Thunder bigs to get to the free throw line, where he hit 11 of 12 (the Lakers only miss from the line). As the game progressed, Bynum seemed to lose interest in fighting and calling for the ball and the Lakers as a unit seemed disinterested in trying to get him the ball, which led to a few forced possessions down the stretch.
- Kobe also didn’t have the greatest shooting night (nine-for-25 for the second straight game), but he found a way to get to the line 18 times — without a miss. There was a stretch in the third quarter where the Lakers did nothing but run a mid-post isolation on the wing for Kobe against Thabo Sefolosha which resulted in a few empty possessions. They switched things up with a couple of high P&Rs, once with Gasol, once with Bynum, and he was able to take a couple of uncontested mid-range jumpers, which he knocked down. In the fourth quarter he took advantage of match-ups and switches, including two straight jump shots over Fish and a drawn foul on the smaller Russell Westbrook.
- Despite the Laker win, Kevin Durant continued to play out of his mind. He had 31 points on 23 shots which included a monster jam over Jordan Hill; an awkward, off balanced shot that kissed off the glass after bouncing off Ron Artest; and another wild shot that he flipped in while falling down. At some point, KD is going to fall back to earth, but if he continues to shoot as well as he has all series, the Lakers are just going to have to focus their defensive efforts to stopping everyone else. He’s been absolutely incredible.
Tomorrow, the series picks up again as tonight was the first of a rare post-season back-to-back. Lets hope the guys get much rest, tomorrow will be another dog fight with the young guns of the Thunder.