Yesterday’s game 4 win gave the Lakers the road win they sought and put them only a single win away from advancing to round two. The game was hard fought, but like the Lakers have done all season, they made several key plays down the stretch to helped seal a game that could have gone either way. Both star and role players had their hand in the win and as Steve Blake said in a rare trip to the podium post game, game 4 was a total team win.
And since today is a day off and we’ll be right back at it tomorrow for what could be the clinching game, here are some leftover thoughts from yesterday’s thriller:
*In order to win a game there are individual factors and team factors that must go a team’s way. A list of the former include things like Bynum’s intensity and effort on defense or Kobe’s ability to score efficiently. These things matter a great deal and I think it’s fair to say that should several of those variables go the Lakers’ way, they have an excellent chance of winning. However, it’s the team factors that often mean the most over the course of an entire series.
Against the Nuggets, the pace/tempo/flow of the game has been the #1 variable the Lakers need to mark on their side of the ledger. In game 4 there were only 85 possessions (averaged) for both teams and that’s about 11 possessions fewer than the Nuggets averaged during the regular season. That number is skewed somewhat by the Lakers grabbing so many offensive rebounds (more on that later) but the fact remains, the Nuggets didn’t get as many possessions as they’d like and that’s a big win for the Lakers.
However, what I also noticed is that one of the key ways the Lakers attempt to slow down the game is by dragging out their own offensive possessions. They walk the ball up. They make multiple passes into the post, back to the wing, and around the perimeter. They’re not stalling, but they are searching for good shots all while using up the shot clock. The problem is, by using the shot clock, the Lakers put themselves behind the proverbial 8 ball on countless possessions because they find themselves searching for a good look against the ticking time bomb of the 24 second clock staring at them. Kobe took 25 FG’s yesterday and 7 of them were with 5 seconds are less on the shot clock. He made only 2 of them.
My point in all this is that the Lakers must find a way to not only slow the game down, but also work their offense to produce quality looks at the same time. Striking this balance can be a difficult one and it’s why I don’t always put a lot of stock into pure shooting percentages. Sometimes executing the game plan means lower quality looks are the ones that will be available.
*Jordan Hill’s emergence as the 3rd big has been fantastic for the Lakers in a variety of ways. He has the ability to play good defense (especially in the P&R) and his work on the offensive glass has been stellar. I went back and watched all 7 of his offensive rebounds from yesterday’s game and a common them came up: he simply knows how to position himself in the paint and is not scared to go out of area to grab a loose ball. On one rebound in particular he positioned himself on the left side of the basket waiting for the ball to come off the rim to that side. However, when ball came off the rim it bounce to the right side. At that point Hill took his two steps towards the ball, batted it against the hands of the Nugget trying to secure it, then vacuumed the ball up into his own mitts to secure the ball.
It was a relatively minor play in the scheme of things but at the end of the night it counted as one of his team high 11 rebounds. And that’s the thing with Hill when you watch him on tape. He’s consistently doing the little things and at the end of the day they all add up to a strong contribution. For the playoffs his offensive rebound percentage (the % of Oreb’s he’s grabbing while on the floor) is 20.7%. Said another way, one out of every five Laker misses ends up in his hands when he’s on the floor. The Lakers don’t win yesterday’s game without him.
*Fans (myself included) have bemoaned the Sessions/Blake back court duo for as long as Brown has gone to it. Advanced metrics tell us this pairing isn’t that effective – especially on the defensive end as one of the PG’s is often forced to guard a bigger, stronger player. However, yesterday this pairing held their own. In the 20 minutes they shared the court the Lakers had a plus/minus of +1 and their efficiency differential was a +3.9. These aren’t world beater numbers by any means but they’re the type of numbers the team needs to put up when Brown goes to this pairing.
Of note here is that the main reason Brown has (seemingly) gone to this lineup as often has he has is because the Lakers aren’t getting much production from wing players not named Kobe. Matt Barnes has had a bad shooting series and Devin Ebanks, while having some good moments, has had minimal impact adding little to the table while also taking little off it. Not having a clearly better option means that Blake will be in the mix for those spare minutes at shooting guard. Some nights it won’t pay off, but last night it did. Until Ron gets back, however, this is the roller coaster we ride.
*Speaking of Blake, there’s probably not a player I feel better for when he plays well. He’s probably the Laker that fans like to point to first as the guy that doesn’t play up to standard and is often labeled as the weak link on the team. And while on many nights that’s true, it’s never due to lack of effort. He works hard on D and consistently tries to make the right play on O. He’s scrappy and isn’t scared of the big moments. That doesn’t always translate to good play, but when it does I’m happy for him because he’s one player that can never be chided for lack of trying. For me, those types of players have always been easiest to root for.
*I’m not big on commenting about the refereeing but yesterday’s was…interesting, to say the least. I thought the refs called a fairly uneven game that made it difficult for players from both teams to adjust. In the first half contact in the paint was allowed to the point where shoves in the back went largely unpunished only for weaker contact on the perimeter to be whistled. In the 2nd half, the whistles got tighter on paint contact but almost served to overcompensate as several touch calls were made early in the 3rd period. I’m usually of the mind that it’s on the players to adjust to the way that a game is being called but yesterday was one example where I wasn’t (too) mad with either side complaining about the calls made/not made because it wasn’t nearly as consistent as you’d hope it would be in a playoff game.