Game 4 Preview and Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

Darius Soriano —  May 19, 2012

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Last night the Lakers won a game at the FT line and that seems to have sparked some controversy about the nature of the calls, the refereeing, and what that meant about the game. So, before I get into anything about game 4, let me say this…

When it comes to the refereeing, I’ve always taken the same stance: players can’t control how the game is called, they must adjust to it and go from there. When I’m frustrated with the refs it’s normally because they make it difficult for the players to adjust by not calling fouls consistently on both sides of the floor or from possession to possession; that a foul on one end, isn’t a foul on the other. Last night, I didn’t think that was the case. However, what I did think was that much more contact was allowed in the paint than on the perimeter. Thus, any contact around the rim was met with a shrug while guys on the wing earned whistles for slight grabs and holds – especially when they were receiving passes or making their initial move to the rim.

For the players, I’m sure that’s frustrating but they must adjust to that and play on. Ultimately, in a 3 point game, the contest was there for either team to win. Plenty of plays could have been made by either side to claim the victory. The FT’s obviously mattered a lot. Saying otherwise would be disingenuous. But many other plays mattered too. Ignoring those would also be disingenuous. Whether the officiating evens out in the end is rarely my concern because that can’t be controlled. Complaining about it may make you feel better but it doesn’t change anything. I say this when the Lakers win or when they lose.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The quick turnaround between games means that there’s really no time to dwell on last night’s events. In a way, that favors the Thunder with their frustration fueling them and their younger legs able to carry them. They’ll surely be ready to play tonight; with their youth, they’d probably have been ready to play a double-header last night. This isn’t to say they won’t have any fatigue, but I anticipate it being more mental than physical. These close, hard fought playoff games blunt the brain and that takes time to recover -time neither team will have.

From the Lakers side, they’ll have both mental and physical fatigue to battle. They too have been through the ringer mentally. Only ¬†a few days ago they literally gave away a game and last night pulled out a similar contest. The roller coaster ride of those events would be taxing on any team, even a veteran one like the Lakers. Physically, they’ll have to deal with heavy legs. They’re trying to play a power game that requires the battling for position on every possession. That war for real estate is one of attrition that grinds players down. Being the aged team doesn’t aid them here and bouncing back to provide the same effort tonight will prove difficult.

It’s necessary, however. For the Lakers to win, they must continue to ugly up the game. The Thunder continue to be the favorite as the deeper, younger team. But if the series remains a slugfest, the gap lessens between both squads. A back alley brawl favors the bigger, more physical team. And as Mike Brown has said, he wants his group to carry that label. If the Lakers can force this type of action on the Thunder, they can get the them to play on their turf both figuratively and literally tonight.

That said, expect more adjustments from the Thunder tonight to counter L.A.’s gameplan. The Lakers are daring the Thunder big men to beat them, gambling more and more as these games (and possessions) progress. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are leaving their men with reckless abandon to help on screen actions. Off the ball they’re stepping out – sometimes as far as the three point line – to help with ball denials to obstruct passing angles. Sooner or later the Thunder are going to recognize this and simply pass the ball to their big men who are setting screens and test the Lakers rotations underneath. I mean, if Kevin Durant is going to draw his man and the man guarding the screener, that screen man is the one that’s open. If the Lakers weak side ¬†rotations (especially the backside big) isn’t quick to rotate, this action will start to produce layups. They must be ready to help the helper and thwart these counters.

The Thunder also showed a nice offensive wrinkle where they ran Durant off a pin-down screen and then used him as a screener on the ball in the P&R for Westbrook. Durant darting to the top of the circle got Ron trailing and in poor position to help on the ball handler as he turned the corner off KD’s screen. This action freed Westbrook on at least two occasions and set him up with clean mid-range jumpers at the foul line. This is a creative play and the Lakers must be ready for it, and other actions that involve a man coming off a screen only to set another. These types of actions can work with any of OKC’s three main perimeter threats handling the ball or setting the screen so the Lakers must be ready to help – especially the back line bigs who become primary rotators when the perimeter D breaks down.

Offensively, the Lakers must simply do what they’ve done the past two games. Last night Andrew Bynum didn’t shoot well but he got the exact looks the team wants him to get. When he battled for position he was able to work 10 feet and in, where a power dribble set him up for any one of his hooks or counters. He was visibly frustrated that some of these shots weren’t falling but his perseverance led to him earning FT’s while also contributing to the overall gameplan of bully ball through power post ups. This is the approach that he needs to take again tonight, with the hope that some of those bunnies he missed start to fall.

Kobe too must build on his approach from last night. As I mentioned in the preview and Jeff Van Gundy mentioned during the telecast, Kobe’s economy of dribbles and quick strike attack are what will work best against this team. One dribble pull up jumpers, two dribble attacks to the rim, and movement off the ball that gets him paint touches are how he can score best. Sefolosha is one of the better defenders around but even he can have trouble dealing with a decisive Kobe who isn’t looking to fake his way into baskets.

Ultimately, though, the two players who really need to bring their ‘A’ offensive games are Ramon Sessions and Pau Gasol. Sessions’ first half was a sight for sore eyes, as he worked well on and off the ball attacking the seams of the defense to either score or set up teammates. Tonight he’ll likely need to take and make a couple of jumpers to keep the defense honest but it’s his overall mindset needs to carry over from last night. He must be assertive and inject himself into the action, the Lakers are a much better offensive team when this happens.

As for Pau, he must move from supporting actor to lead role tonight. Last night’s game gave him the opportunity to mostly facilitate and work the glass but he’ll need to be more aggressive looking for his own shots in game 4. He can shoot his jumper over Ibaka when given space but, like Kobe, can make quick drives to the rim when he’s crowded on the perimeter. Last night he tried to create off the dribble but settled for pull up jumpers but tonight he must try to get all the way to the rim to get baskets and/or earn trips to the foul line. Also, he must find a way to beat the fronting defense he faces when matched up with Nick Collison. He must continue to try and root Collison up the the lane line, something his teammates must recognize and then throw the ball over the top off ball reversals and high-low actions.

The difference between a 2-2 series and 3-1 series is huge. If tonight ends with the latter, the Lakers may be able to fight off OKC (much like Denver did the Lakers last round) for a game or two more but the inevitability of ultimate defeat will loom large. However if it’s the former, the Lakers are right back in the series with both teams needing to take 2 of 3 to advance. Even as an underdog, that’s where the Lakers would like to be. Tonight will require all their fortitude, discipline, and guile. But the plan is in place for them to follow. They just have to go get it.

Darius Soriano

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218 responses to Game 4 Preview and Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

  1. The two 7-footers only work if they have knock down outside shooters!

    The Lakers lost by three but I don’t count Durant’s three I count the three that Fisher hit late in the 4th as the one that beat us!

    Sessions and Jordan should have gotten back in the game, Westbrook and Durant adjusted to what the Lakers were doing in the 4th because the Lakers fed them a steady diet of the same thing.

    In a shortened season the teams that have the same coach and stays healthy are the ones that are standing at the end.

    The Lakers were screwed when Jackson retired before the lockout. The Lakers were in this exact same position during the last lockout, they hired Tomjanovich and he was fired half way through the season. Consequently, the Spurs won their first championship that year with the foundation of this years team.

    OKC only had to incorporate Fisher into their team chemistry.

  2. The fatigue factor reared it’s ugly head. The Show was outscored 32-20 in the 4th. Durant and Westbrook were terrific. The Lakers simply ran out of gas. They went with a 7 man rotation for the most part as Barnes played less than 5 minutes. But the one play I will second guess is the late turnover by Pau. Kobe set him up nicely…Pau was in perfect position to take it strong to the hole. He’s got to be aggressive there. The saddest words of tongue and pen are these, my friend: “It might have been.”

  3. @183 Could be worse, could have DelNegro instead of MB……

  4. #201.

    Yeah, the series isn’t *literally* over…but c’mon…it’s over.

  5. Funky Chicken May 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    The way you beat a defense that fronts the low post is to swing the ball, with purpose, around the perimeter, and attack that defender from the back side. For some inexplicable reason, the Lakers don’t seem to understand this.

  6. Thunder deserved the victory. It takes only few seconds for them to score while the Lakers get on this standing around and looking for Kobe. Nobody wants to shoot and wait for the last second to Kobe.

    From the get go, Gasol was the weakest link together with his clueless Coach. That was a bad loss with Kobe leading the showboating. Even if they win three-in-a-row, I personally do not have any faith with this team who are poor in closing the game. I don’t think they have any iota of beating San Antonio. For the first time, we lost faith with our team. Lakers has been this kind of team ever since Brown took over. He tires his players in the 4th Q with a videographer mentality of fast forward or rewind plays but has no control of the actual game.

  7. We all know this is true: any game in which the Lakers do not get to shoot at least 15 more free throws than the opponent is blatant cheating by Stern’s henchmen. So sick of it.

  8. Yes, in some sense, Pau is being scapegoated for a moment. And it’s true that Kobe shot poorly in the 4th which led to the collapse. But if you’re willing to live by the Kobe and his 38 points, you also have to be willing to die by him and the 12-28. I’d rather have the sin of overaggression, of wanting it too much, than shrinking from the moment. Isn’t that one of the things we tout Kobe for above Lebron… and in this case, Pau?

    What I saw in last year’s playoffs was a second option who wasn’t, and this year, a third option who’s totally not worth $20 mil a year. If anything, that’s what I’m going to blame Pau for.

  9. I guess game 2 and game 4 is us getting what we deserve. For stealing game 3 vs boston and game 4 vs orlando. Those were the good times these are far from it.

    Kobe and Pau next year: $45 mil. Whooo

  10. @191

    great points!

  11. We’ll see what this Laker team is made of!!!

    One can always say that Kobe shoots too much, but one will never be able to say that Kobe was afraid to be the goat. One can never be the hero unless they are willing to be the goat.

    Let’s go Lakers!

  12. It is an incredibly odd feeling watching a Lakers team (that features Kobe) without a killer instinct.

    What a waste of a great defensive game plan by Mike Brown. Lakers offense went way too Kobe centric again in the fourth quarter.

    I have not read any posts in this thread because I’m frustrated enough. But the Lakers can and are in this series. They’ve played unbelievably well for 42 minutes in game 2 and in game 4.

  13. Reality is for the past 2 playoff years Pau has been weak, scared and acted like a guy who played his career in Memphis.

    He had 4 points and 5 rebounds today in 40 minutes! For $19 million a year?

    One guy can’t beat 5. Pau, Barnes, Blake, Sessions and Brown must go. Must!

  14. When you have guards that can’t shoot the paint gets clogged, when games get tight somebody has to make shots, we have one shot maker who happens to be old and has dead fingers on his hands….

  15. Emotions have died down and blame hat is off. Here are a few numbers.

    Lakers up 11. kobe checked in Thunder end game on 25-11 run. I’m sure the back to back had something to do with Lakers slowing down at the end.

    Kobe in 4th vs OKC 7-25 (28%). VS Den 16-39 (41%). Total 23-64 (35%).

    Sessions +11 Westbrook +9 this game.

    Lakers missed 9 FT’s (21-29) missed 1 game 3. 41-42

    Pau has been a set up guy all year. His instincts were to pass because he’s been doing it all year. Everyone deserves blame sure does suck to lose though.

  16. The only Lakers player to blame for not getting the ball down low into Drew in the 4th quarter is Drew himself. He let Perkins and Collison front him too easily. There was no effort to get in front of them. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. So don’t blame Kobe/Pau/Blake for “going away from the game plan”. Drew allowed himself to be removed from the equation late in the game.

  17. Snoopy makes good points about Okc skating by. Westbrook misses 1 or 2 shots, it might be a different story.

    That being said, you have to wonder how Pau can play that scared. But you also have to wonder how kobe still thinks, after all these years, that he can make every shot in the 4q. Yes, Okc was fronting, but Kobe was basically running the offense to the point Blake ignored mwp on a couple plays. Bynum was openly pouting when he did not get the ball (incredible when you think about it) and made no real effort to affect the game by rebounding on the offensive glass. Paus unforgiveable error was the cherry on top. It never should have got to that.

    So I see a team in crunch time (!) where no one is really working together. Mwp is probably the one guy trying to keep it together by playing hard and looking for a way to contribute.

    There is no question that if we had a dependable # 2, Kobe would not feel like he had to do all the work, but woukd Kobe ever defer to # 2? Or would # 2 have to take it from Kobe? No question it’s a fine line to walk, but you have to find a way to get your teammates involved even if they need a little help getting there.