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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lakers' Lackluster Performance, Destroyed In Game 1 (5.14.12)

That was hard to watch.

The Oklahoma City Thunder destroyed the Lakers.

The Thunder scored 119 points, and it would have been more if the starters had played the fourth quarter. The Thunder blew the game open in the third quarter, pouring in 39 points. 39 points! Some teams only score that in a half. Since the game was so out of reach, the benches cleared to start the fourth and the Thunder put a 29 point beat down on the Lakers. OKC dropped 30 in the first, 29 in the second, 39 in the third, and 21 in the fourth. That's just way too many points.

The Lakers looked like a drained team. Coming off of an exhausting seven game series against the Nuggets, including a high energy, intense game seven, the Lakers seemed out of sorts for game one. All of the extra effort that was shown in game seven disappeared to start this series. The offensive and defensive execution of the Lakers failed miserably. The young studs of the Thunder had a full nine days of rest. During that time they got to scout the Lakers and prepare a game plan that worked extremely well. The Thunder saw how Ty Lawson killed the Lakers with the pick and roll. Russell Westbrook is a bigger, stronger, and (possibly) faster version of Lawson. He ran the pick and roll very well, and he nailed jumper after jumper from the elbows. The Lakers had no answer for the pick and roll, and believe me, they tried.

At first, the bigs sagged and let Westbrook shoot the jumper. This is a pretty good idea, however, Westbrook got hot. Westbrook is not the same guy that the Lakers eliminated in the first round of '10. This season Westbrook jumped his midrange 10-15ft jumper percentage up to 40.6%, far higher than his career average of 35.7% before this season. His new percentage is not spectacular, but it is decent enough to make him a threat, and Westbrook loves to shoot the pull up jumper from the elbows. Even more impressive, Westbrook is hitting 44.6% from 16ft to just inside the 3-point line. Before the season started, Westbrook shot just 37.8% from that distance for his career. Westbrook has clearly improved his shooting this year. The Lakers then decided to hedge the picks. Bynum and Pau would step out, but that didn't work either. Westbrook still hit the jumpers. If he decided not to pull up, he would drive by the bigs and finish at the rim. If he didn't do that, he would hit the screen man for the pick and pop jumper. For his final option, he would kick it out, and that guy would hit the rolling screen man in the lane for a layup. The Lakers even went to a 3-2 zone, something they showed for the first time during the last game of the regular season against the Sacramento Kings. This did not work either. The Thunder bigs would set a pick on the middle top guy, and Westbrook would explode from the wing and into the lane. Once in the lane, he could kick to the open man or finish at the rim. Everything the Lakers did failed. Then, in the third quarter, Westbrook decided to just punish Sessions and Blake. On three straight possessions he posted them up, and on all three he finished with a score. Simply put, Westbrook was spectacular. He shot 2-4 from the midrange, and 3-4 from 16ft to just inside the 3-point line. He finished the game 10-15, 1-1 from deep, for 27 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, and just 1 turnover. He was also 6-6 from the line.

The Lakers have no one to blame but themselves. If they had taken care of business in game five versus the Nuggets, they would have had an extra day of rest and a day to prepare a game plan. Instead they let it go to seven, and in doing so, spent a lot of energy closing out the series. I wouldn't say that the Lakers didn't try. They did. But they were a step slow on everything, and they had many mental mistakes on offense and defense.

On the first play of the game, the Lakers committed an unforced turnover. I guess I should have known how the rest of the game was going to play out. When the Lakers entered halftime down by fifteen, I figured the Thunder would have to cool off, and the Lakers would get back in the game eventually. Boy was I wrong. The Thunder shot 50% in the first quarter. They followed that by shooting 60% in the second. They finished the half 24-44 for 54.5%. Then came the third quarter. The Thunder came out and sank their first 7 shots for 18 points. This blew the game wide open and put the Thunder up 77-50. The Thunder continued their onslaught and finished the quarter 10-15 for 66% shooting. The Thunder finished the third up 98-68. Most teams score 98 points in a full game. The Thunder dropped that in just three quarters. Ridiculous. The Lakers finished the game with 15 turnovers, which the Thunder turned into 22 points. The Thunder led the league in turnovers this year, yet they only committed 4 for the entire game, leading to 6 points for the Lakers. This can be attributed to Westbrook. He controlled the tempo and directed the offense with precision.

The one thing the Lakers did well was score in the paint. In the first half, the Lakers efficiently dominated the paint on the offensive end. Once the game started slipping away, the Lakers abandoned the paint and began forcing jumpers.

Let's get to the recap. The Lakers won the tip, Sessions brought the ball up just past half court, and he tried to hit Kobe at the far wing. Westbrook played 5ft off of Sessions, noticed Sessions in autopilot, and jumped the gap. Westbrook finished with a layup in transition. Metta World Peace followed with a 3 from the top. I thought this was a pretty good sign, considering the hostility towards Metta following the Harden incident. However, Durant came right back. He curled to the top of the key, caught the pass, took one dribble to his left, turned the corner, and threw down a thunderous lefty slam in Metta's face. Metta came right back at Durant. Pau held the ball at the far elbow as Metta sealed Durant under the rim. Pau hit Metta right at the rim, Perkins rotated to help, and Metta hit Bynum at the near block for the easy dunk. Ibaka countered with a tip in on the next possession. Kobe followed with a trip to the line and sank his free throws. The Lakers then showed some promise on the pick and roll. Durant used a screen from Ibaka at the near wing, but Pau hedged very well. Durant hit the popping Ibaka at the far top of the key, and Ibaka bricked it. The Lakers came down, Pau set a pick for Metta in the far corner, and Metta hit a 3 from the far side. Durant missed a fade, and Bynum utilized an iso on the far block to get a trip to the line. Bynum sank both and the Lakers held the lead 6-12 with 9:06 remaining. Westbrook followed with a pull up 17ft jumper from the far top key. Kobe sagged and Westbrook nailed it. The next possession, Westbrook used a pick from Perkins at the near top key. Westbrook stepped back to his left and nailed the open 18ft jumper. At this point, the Lakers should have decided to hedge hard on every pick and roll to get the ball out of Westbrook's hands. This did not happen. A minute later, Westbrook ran the pick and roll from the near wing. He attacked middle, got in the lane, and got fouled on the shot by Kobe. He sank the free throws, making the score 14-16. Bynum followed with a nice baseline turn and reverse dunk.

Then it started getting ugly. The next LA possession, Sessions pounded the ball to the far corner. Kobe called for the ball, but Sessions decided to dribble out to the top. Sessions used a pick from Pau at the far top key, took the double, and hit Pau in the lane. Pau's momentum took him away from the basket to the near block, and Pau air balled the fading contested jumper. Instead of hitting Kobe in his sweet spot, Sessions decided to run his own play, which failed miserably. Sessions had an awful game. He made many mental mistakes, and he was even yelled at by Kobe in the second quarter for failing to perform a dribble handoff. Sessions finished the game 1-7 for 2 points, 3 assists, and 1 turnover in his 26 minutes of play. Westbrook followed the air ball with a 9ft pull up jumper in transition at the far mid block. The next play, Sessions hit Bynum at the far block. For some reason, Sessions cut from the far side 3 straight into the block where Bynum was. Bynum made his move and dribbled straight into a double. Sessions immediately popped back out to the far side and Bynum hit him. Sessions jacked up a 3 to beat the clock. It came nowhere close. The next play, Sessions brought the ball up and hit Bynum at the far top key. Sessions cut, and Bynum looked to give him the handoff. Sessions was unaware, and the ball bounced off of his head. Sessions gathered the loose ball, dribbled to the far corner, and tried to hit a cutting Kobe in the lane. The ball was high and behind. Kobe reached back and got one hand on it. The ball bounced to the top, and MWP ran it down. MWP hit Bynum at the far mid block. Bynum shook middle, turned baseline, and had his hook shot blocked by Perkins. The next possession, Pau had a layup swatted at the rim by Ibaka. Pau recovered at the far corner, faced up, attacked middle, and was stripped by Ibaka in the lane. Following a Harden and one, the Thunder finished an 11-1 run to put them up 25-19.

To close the quarter, Daequan Cook hit a jumper to beat the buzzer, allowing the Thunder to close the quarter on a 16-5 run and head into the second up 30-23. Kobe finished 1-3 for 5 points, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers. Bynum went 4-5 for 10 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 turnover. Pau went 1-3 for 2 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 turnover. The Lakers will need to review this first quarter on film and figure out how to utilize Bynum consistently. Bynum had his way with Perkins, Collison, and Ibaka to start the game.

Pau opened the second with a putback finish, further emphasizing the advantage the Lakers have in the paint. Pau then hit Metta on a cut to the rim for an easy layup. Then Pau attacked from the far elbow into the middle. Pau missed the floating jumper in the lane, but the Lakers crashed the glass. Barnes missed the tip, Hill battled for the offensive rebound and gathered it at the far block. Hill hit Pau in the lane, Pau sent a behind the back pass to Barnes at the near block, and Barnes went strong to the rim. Barnes missed, but Pau followed it with a tip in, making the score 35-29, Thunder lead. Following a timeout, the Lakers came out in a 3-2 zone for the first time. Fisher hit Westbrook at the near side 3. Hill closed out, and Westbrook blew by him and attacked middle. Hill actually fell over as he tried to recover on the drive. However, Pau rotated well and forced Westbrook to miss a tough layup.

However, the miscues continued. The Lakers came down, and Pau surveyed the floor from the far top key. Kobe began to curl to the top key, but he noticed Harden overplaying him. Kobe popped back to the wing, but Pau misread the play and sent the pass. Harden jumped the gap and easily finished the dunk on the break. Then Pau missed an open jumper from the top, and Harden finished an and one floater in the lane, swelling the lead to 44-31. The next play, Metta threw an errant pass, Kobe ran it down, and nailed a deep 26ft 3 to beat the shot clock. Westbrook came down and hit a contested 17ft jumper over Bynum on the pick and roll. Bynum did a good job contesting, but it didn't matter. Then Ramon Sessions pounded the ball, missed an opportunity to perform a dribble handoff with Kobe, and instead tried to hit Metta at the near mid block. When Sessions missed Kobe, Kobe actually yelled at him, "Come on!" With Metta fronted, Sessions decided to dump the ball off to Kobe about 6ft back from the near top 3. Kobe took a dribble in and fired up a 27ft brick to beat the clock.

Kobe followed with a nice attack to the rim, a pump to get KD to fly by, and a finish over Perkins. KD then used a Perkins pick to attack middle, shake Bynum, and hit an open 15ft jumper at the free throw line. Kobe then set up Sessions for a dive to the rim, but Sessions bobbled the ball in the lane and threw up an air ball. Fortunately, Bynum finished the putback. Westbrook followed with a pick from Perkins at the far wing. Westbrook dribbled to the far elbow and hit the pull up 15ft jumper. Bynum gave him way too much room, but it probably would have went in anyways. Sessions followed with his only positive play of the game. He dribbled to the near top, used a MWP pick at the near mid wing to attack the baseline, and finished a layup. The next possession the Lakers ran a nice set to take advantage of their size. Sessions hit Pau at the top 3. Metta and Bynum both stood at the elbows. Westbrook fronted Metta at the far elbow, so Pau hit Bynum at the near mid block, and Bynum sent the entry to Metta in the lane. With Westbrook on his back, Metta easily finished at the rim, making the score 50-42 with 3:21 to go.

The Thunder closed the quarter out strong, albeit with three unlikely plays. Westbrook ran another pick and roll, Bynum hedged and left Perkins, so Westbrook hit Perk for the open 16ft jumper. Perk sank it despite being a bit outside of his range. Then Metta almost stole the ball from KD. KD fell down, but Sefolosha ran down the loose ball. Sefolosha swung it to Westbrook, and Westbrook hit a contested 3 over Sessions to beat the clock. Bynum followed with a lefty turnaround hook, but the Thunder came right back. KD backed down at the near mid block, stepped back for the Dirk shot, and missed the entire rim. The ball flew off of the far side of the backboard and bounced off of Bynum. Bynum ran the ball down to the baseline and tried to save it. Bynum threw it back in, but it went right to Westbrook at the far wing. Westbrook immediately attacked the rim and earned a trip to the line. He sank both, making the score 57-44. These three unlikely plays gave the Thunder great momentum.

The next play, Andrew Bynum quit. Metta stood at the near corner and looked to hit Bynum at the near block. Bynum was being fronted by Perkins, so Metta hit Pau at the free throw line. This provided a perfect high low opportunity. Pau looked to hit Bynum, but Bynum quit on the play and didn't keep Perkins sealed while flashing into the lane. Instead, Bynum let Perkins push him farther off the block. Pau swung the ball to Blake at the far wing, and Blake hit Kobe in the far corner. Kobe hesitated, allowing his man to close, and missed the contested shot. Bynum gathered the offensive rebound at the free throw line, and he shot the jumper, brick. KD pushed down the court, used a pick from Perk at the near top, and attacked. Bynum sagged off, so KD filled the space and pulled up to hit the easy 8ft floater in the lane over Bynum. This was the final bucket of the half, and the Thunder entered up 59-44.

The game was within striking distance, but that final run killed the Lakers. Kobe finished 2-4 for 5 points and 2 rebounds. Drew went 2-4 for 4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 turnover. Pau went 2-6 for 4 points, 1-3 on tips, 5 rebounds (4 offensive), and 1 assist. The Lakers were solid in the paint, but they suffered repeated lapses in execution, both offensively and defensively. The Lakers only made four shots outside of the lane in the first half, shooting 4-15. When they went inside, they shot 10-22 in the paint, with a couple of the misses coming as tipped shots.

The Thunder finished the game in the opening minutes of the third. Durant used a pick and hit an uncontested 15ft pull up from the near elbow. Bynum sagged off and didn't close on the jumper. The next possession, Westbrook dribbled to the near top and hit KD at the far top. Perkins set a back pick on Kobe allowing Westbrook to easily cut to the rim and finish an alley oop dunk. Bynum never called out the pick, leaving Kobe out to dry, and no one rotated to pick up Westbrook. Bynum watched the play, Kobe was taken out, and the help side was late. This play provided a perfect example of the mental breakdowns the Lakers suffered. Following a Sessions brick, Westbrook pushed up the near side and dumped the ball off to the trailing KD. Durantula nailed the open 3 from the near wing in transition. Kobe missed a jumper on the next play, and Westbrook brought the ball up to the near top, about 5ft back from the 3. Bynum stayed high to double, leaving Perk wide open at the near block. Westbrook hit Perk for the easy dunk. Bynum and Pau began looking at each other and talking. My guess is that coach Brown told Bynum to double Westbrook. Bynum acted as if he expected Pau to rotate. Something definitely went wrong. There's no reason to double Westbrook 30ft from the basket, especially if he's not running a pick and roll. The next defensive possession, Bynum hedged hard but could not recover to the rolling Mohammed in the lane. Kobe rotated and fouled him, Nazr made one of two. Then Westbrook brought the ball up the far side. Kobe met him at the far wing and almost stole the ball. Westbrook backed out, reset, and used a pick from Ibake to attack right. Pau hedged hard, but Westbrook split the double. Westbrook got into the lane and hit an open Sefolosha at the near top 3. Thabo kicked it to KD at the near side 3, swish. Thabo followed this with a nice defensive play. He crowded Kobe at the far top 3, popped the ball out, and finished the layup in transition. Westbrook then hit Thabo on a drive and kick for an open 3 at the far side, swish. This blew the score up to 77-48.

Three minutes later, with the score at 83-52, the Thunder committed their first turnover in 19 minutes. The Lakers went into a 3-2 zone. Westbrook attacked from the near wing into the middle. Nazr set a pick at the free throw line on the middle top man. Westbrook got into the lane and kicked it out, but Harden didn't drop to the level of the ball, and the ball flew out of bounds. If it hadn't, Harden would have had an open 3 at the far side. Two minutes later, Westbrook made up for his mistake and punished Sessions with a back down at the far mid wing. Westbrook turned middle, got to just inside the elbow, and sank the jumper. Blake checked in for Sessions right after this, but it didn't matter. Westbrook backed him down at the near mid wing, lowered his shoulder, Blake flopped, and Westbrook sank the baseline turnaround jumper off the glass. Then, he ran the same exact play. He backed down at the near mid wing, turned baseline, and hit the turnaround jumper, swish. Three straight plays, three straight buckets.

The Thunder finished the quarter up 98-68. Kobe went 4-11 for 10 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 turnover. Kobe looked exasperated and exhausted. He tried to get LA back in the game, but there was nothing he could do. Bynum went 1-3 for 5 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 turnover. Pau had zero stats in 8:43 of play. Nada, zip, zilch. The Thunder went 7-7 for 18 points to start the quarter, and they finished with 39 in the quarter. Ridiculous.

Nothing notable happened in the fourth besides Devin Ebanks getting ejected. Ebanks had some words for the refs and he was tossed. Kobe finished the game 7-18, 1-3 from deep, for 20 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers. The Thunder have some great depth at the wing positions and they truly give Kobe problems. Kobe had to work for every shot, nothing came easy. Sefolosha did a great job on him. Then Harden would stick him, and sometimes even the lanky Durant. With three guys who are all long and athletic, Kobe needs to find a way to create space off of the ball. Isolations will not work against the Thunder. Kobe needs to run off picks and catch the ball on the move in order to succeed against this team. Bynum was pretty solid offensively. He went 7-12 for 20 points, 14 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, and 3 turnovers. Perkins hurt himself on that wide open dunk. Bynum may have an even better stat line in game two, but it won't matter if him and Pau can't figure out how to defend the pick and roll. Pau went 5-11 for 10 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers. Pau's impressive game seven was nowhere to be seen in game one against the Thunder. Pau needs to continue being aggressive on the glass. Ibaka is long, but Pau is thicker. Pau should be able to move Ibaka around and score on putbacks. In the first half, Bynum and Pau were very successful in the paint, but in the third, things got out of hand, and the Lakers went away from them.

Overall, game one had the perfect setup for a letdown. LA came off of a draining game seven, both physically and mentally. The team had to fly out to OKC and jump right into action without much of a game plan. I'm sure the coaches scouted OKC, but there was not much time to implement any of that prep work. With game two on Wednesday, I expect the Lakers to continue to pound away in the paint and provide a much closer game. The Thunder were on fire, sinking jumper after jumper. That's great, but it won't last. If the game is close in the fourth quarter, I will gladly watch OKC fire up jumpers while the Lakers go inside. Eventually OKC will go dry. The Lakers just need to stick with it. They need to figure out how they want to play the pick and roll and be consistent with it. Overall, I don't expect so many mental errors in game two. The game will be much closer, and hopefully LA can steal a game. The blowout indicates that the Thunder were that much better than the Lakers, but when watching the game, it was evident that the Thunder were hot. I don't expect them to shoot 53% from the field again, or 41% from deep. Plus, they didn't turn the ball over. For a team that averaged 16 turnovers per game in the regular season, committing only 4 was outstanding and gave them extra possessions. I consider this game more of an aberration than the norm.

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