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Monday, May 21, 2012

Lakers Throw Away Game Four (5.19.12)

The Lakers just threw away their title chances.

After game three, I was pretty excited to see OKC finally lose a close game. The Thunder have been great at finishing games this year. Game four would bring more of the same.

Pau Gasol shrunk from the moment in the closing minute. Following a pick and roll with Kobe, Pau had two great options, either shoot the shot from the near mid block, or hit Bynum for a lob at the far block. Instead, Pau decided to try to kick the ball out to Metta World Peace at the far wing. Kevin Durant jumped the gap and brought the ball up the court with less than 30 seconds to go. With the score tied at 98, KD ran down the clock as he dribbled at the far top about 6ft behind the line. KD calmly took a dribble in toward the line, forcing MWP to back up below the line, and fired up the 3. Durantula sank it and provided the go ahead basket with 13 seconds to go. Kobe couldn't respond with a 3 of his own, and the Lakers dropped another close one, losing 98-101.

Up 91-78 with just eight minutes remaining, the Lakers gave up another lead and let another win slip away. Instead of being down 3-1 in the series, the Lakers could easily be up 3-1. With a trip to OKC on Monday, the Lakers will look to avoid another early second round exit. Overcoming such devastating losses will surely be difficult.

Although Kevin Durant hit the game winner, the game ball belongs to Russell Westbrook. Westbrook dominated the game. He scored 31 of his 37 points on either isolation plays or the pick and roll. 14 points came off of isolation, and 17 off of the pick and roll. He routinely hit pull up jumpers. Westbrook only shot 2-8 from 18ft and beyond, but he nailed 7-8 shots from 10ft to 17ft. The Lakers did a great job containing Westbrook in games two and three, but in game four, the Lakers did not hedge well and they allowed Westbrook to get off good looks.

The Lakers dominated the paint to begin the game, but Russell Westbrook kept the Thunder within striking distance. Westbrook scored the first basket of the game by nailing a pull up 18ft jumper. Kobe responded with some free throws and some nice body control due to a slip on the court. There would be about six slips throughout the game. At one point it looked like Westbrook may have pulled his groin due to slipping while trying to cut back to the ball for an inbound pass. With Staples Center overloaded due to the Lakers, Clippers, and Kings all playing in the postseason, the conditions of the ice under the court may have been to blame. Although Staples Center officials claimed that the floor was fine, I cannot recall a game with so many slips, let alone a first quarter. Anyways, Kobe dribbled at the near wing, attacked middle, slipped in the lane, maintained his pivot with his back to the basket, ball faked, and turned toward the rim for the two handed dunk. Bynum followed with a dunk of his own due to a setup from Sessions. A minute after Kobe's slip, Ramon Sessions slipped while trying to dribble at the far wing. This led to a shot clock violation.

Bynum responded by stealing a Durant pass in the lane, out hustling the bigs of the Thunder up the court, and finishing a dunk in transition. I can't recall the last time Bynum beat other bigs down the court for a dunk. Bynum gets some dunks by leaking out after contesting jumpers, but he rarely beats someone when they start at the same position and begin to run. Pau followed with a nice putback dunk following a Bynum miss. Westbrook responded with another pull up jumper due to a pick and roll. Bynum didn't hedge and Westbrook easily sank the open look, which led to some great analysis by Steve Kerr. Bynum responded by hitting a diving Sessions in the lane for a layup, and then finishing a turnaround lefty bank shot from the near mid block.

Following a turnover by Pau, Westbrook ran a high pick and roll from the far wing. He attacked middle, crossed over right to left to get to the far elbow, and slipped. Westbrook was able to dump the ball off to Perkins before he fell all the way down, and Ibaka finished a putback following Perkins' missed reverse layup. Westbrook followed with another pull up jumper. Utilizing an iso at the far wing, he attacked left, got to the far mid block, and pulled up for the 13ft jumper. Kobe responded with his own jumper, and an attack to the basket that yielded free throws. Following a Durant air ball in the lane, Kobe hit a 17ft pull up jumper. Bynum followed that by hedging and contesting a Fisher far wing jumper that air balled. Bynum leaked out, and Kobe hit him for the easy layup in transition. Kobe closed the quarter on a rather embarrassing note. After drawing a foul on KD while establishing position at the top of the key, Kobe took the inbound pass at the far wing and circled to the top of the 3. Kobe danced, dribbled through his legs five times, pulled off a rock step to hesitate and fake the cross over between the legs, and then attacked to his right. Kobe went hard, but he lost his dribble as he blew by Durant. The Thunder did not capitalize, and Bynum finished the last bucket of the quarter by hitting an 8ft righty hook in the lane.

The Lakers finished the quarter up 29-24. Kobe went 3-5 for 10 points, 2 assists, and 1 turnover. Bynum went 5-5 for 10 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. Bynum was spectacular. Pau went 1-3 for 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 block, and 1 turnover. Westbrook went 4-6 for 8 points and 2 assists. KD went 3-7 for 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 turnover. Although the Lakers scored a lot of points, the pace of the game still favored them. The Lakers were able to pound the ball inside, and Bynum capitalized.

Bynum started the second with a baseline 12ft turnaround jumper. Then he swatted a Nazr Mohammed putback in the lane, raced down the court, and finished with a dunk in transition. Seeing Bynum sprint down the floor was a treat. Unfortunately, Bynum would not score for the rest of the quarter. Kobe followed by setting up MWP for a wide open 3 that put the Lakers up 43-33. The lead hovered around ten points for the rest of the quarter. Late in the quarter, Kobe made a spectacular play. Following a Pau swat on KD, Kobe pushed up the far side, got to the wing, changed pace, crossed left to right between his legs, and blew by Harden to attack the rim. Kobe went strong to the rack, absorbed the contact from Ibaka, and finished with a two handed layup. Westbrook followed with a 16ft pull up jumper following a pick and roll. Then Kobe was swatted on a dunk attempt and Westbrook finished with a dunk in transition. Kobe responded by pushing up the far side with 9 seconds to go in the half, changing his pace, and once again blowing by Harden. Kobe attacked the basket at full speed, absorbed the contact from Perkins, and finished the strong layup, and one. Kobe sank the free throw. Following the made free throw, OKC looked to inbound the ball for the final shot. Westbrook streaked up the near sideline and then tried to cut back to the ball. As he cut back, Westbrook slipped and fell to the ground. Westbrook stayed down for a good while, and it looked like he could have seriously injured himself. As he tried to plant his right foot, he missed the plant, and his right foot slid while his left knee buckled.

The Lakers finished the half up 56-46. Kobe finished the quarter 2-6 for 6 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 turnover. Bynum went 2-6 for 4 points and 1 assist, with two of his shots getting blocked at the rim. Pau went 2-4 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 blocks. Westbrook went 2-4 for 6 points and 2 assists. KD went 3-5 for 6 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block.

Fortunately for OKC, Westbrook started the third, and he played really well. The third quarter pretty much featured Kobe versus Westbrook. Kobe started the quarter with a 16ft fade from the near mid wing. Two minutes later he hit a 13ft fade from the near mid block. Westbrook followed with a pick and roll from the near wing for a 3. Then Westbrook pushed in semi transition, used a Perkins pick at the near mid wing, attacked to the elbow, and drew a foul on Bynum as he pumped and absorbed the contact. Westbrook sank both. Kobe responded with his own trip to the line. He used a Pau pick at the near top 3, attacked to the near side, took the double with him to the near mid corner, backed down, spun baseline, spun back middle, split the double, and absorbed the contact for a foul at the rim. He sank both free throws as well, making the score 66-56 with 6:54 to go. Kobe followed with another pick and roll with Pau. Kobe used it at the near top 3, attacked to the near mid wing, backed down, turned baseline, and hit the 9ft floater. Then Kobe curled to the free throw line, attacked the basket, and drew another foul to sink both free throws. Kobe followed that by backdoor cutting from the far wing to the basket. Pau hit Kobe on the cut and Kobe circled under the rim to drop off the ball to Bynum for an easy dunk in the lane.

Not to be outdone, Westbrook brought the ball up, used a Perkins pick at the far wing, attacked middle, elevated in the lane with his left shoulder launching into Pau's chest, and finished the layup with his right hand. Then Westbrook hit a pull up 13ft jumper over Bynum following a pick and roll. Kobe followed with a near top key isolation. He backed down Westbrook, got to the elbow, turned middle, stepped through to seal Westbrook on his backside, and hit the leaning scoop shot in the lane. Following an Ibaka block on Hill, Westbrook ran down the ball to the near corner, pushed up the court, noticed no one picking him up, and turned on the jets about 35ft from the basket to attack the middle and finish a layup at the rim. Kobe responded by pushing up the near side with 6 seconds on the clock. Kobe got to the near wing, crossed right to left, picked up his dribble, pumped, pumped again to get Westbrook out of position, and hit the long 22ft jumper with his foot just on the line.

Kobe barely beat the buzzer, as the ball left his hand with just 0.1 to go, and the Lakers entered the fourth up 80-71. Kobe finished 5-7 for 15 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist. Bynum went 1-2 for 2 points, 1 rebound, and 1 steal. Pau went 1-3 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 turnover. Westbrook went 5-10 for 13 points and 1 rebound. Durant went 2-3 for 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers.

The fourth quarter would feature more Kobe and Westbrook, but this time Kobe was not as successful.

Westbrook started the fourth with a trip to the line, and he made one of two. Although the box score insinuates that Kobe had a miserable quarter, and believe me, shooting 2-10 is pretty awful, the blame cannot all fall upon Kobe. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol completely disappeared in the fourth quarter. Many of Kobe's misses came as late clock buzzer beaters due to the inability of the Lakers to establish the post early in the offense. On their first offensive possession, Pau struggled to establish position at the near elbow as Durant bodied him up. Being bodied up by Durant should be an oxymoron. This forced Blake to make a different read. The ball eventually got back to Pau at the far top 3, but Durant crowded him with 8 to go on the clock. Pau skipped the ball to the near corner and Blake missed the contested 3 to beat the clock. Metta gathered the offensive rebound and reset the offense. Metta hit Pau at the near mid block for an isolation, but Pau struggled to post up KD and he eventually kicked the ball out. Pau should have dominated KD on the block and attacked the open baseline, but he passively kicked the ball out to Blake at the top 3 after Fisher softly doubled him. Blake hit Sessions at the near wing and Sessions hit MWP at the near side 3. MWP surveyed the floor and looked to send the entry to Bynum at the near block. Bynum failed to establish position, but Metta hit the contested 3 to beat the buzzer. Steve Kerr immediately called out Bynum for his inability to establish position, but Pau was no better. The next possession, Pau looked to hit Bynum on a high low, but Bynum couldn't seal well enough and Blake ended up missing a 3 to beat the buzzer. Metta responded with two great plays. Metta attacked the basket and fed Bynum a dunk. Then he used a pick from Pau to hit an open 3 at the near wing.

Jordan Hill followed with a putback hook to make the score 91-78 with 8:02 to go. Then Derek Fisher changed the momentum. Westbrook drove left from the top, got in the lane, and hit Fish at the near side 3, swish. KD followed with a pick and roll that led to made free throws. Kobe missed a Dirk shot, and Westbrook used a pick and roll to hit a fading 14ft jumper from the far elbow. Kobe then set up Blake for a layup, but Westbrook responded with another pick and roll that led to a 16ft jumper from the free throw line. Pau was late on the hedge and gave Westbrook too much space. Kobe followed with a 3 from the near wing late in the clock that went in and out. Westbrook raced up the court, pounded the ball the entire possession, and dribbled to the far side 3 with 10 on the clock. Westbrook used a Perkins back pick to attack right, and he finished an and one layup at the rim. He sank the free throw, making the score 94-90 with 4:54 to go.

LA responded by trying to hit Bynum in the post. MWP stood at the far wing and tried to hit Bynum at the far mid block, but Bynum was side fronted by Perkins. MWP swung to Blake at the near top 3, and Blake hit Kobe at the near wing 3. Kobe backed down Harden to the near mid block, turned baseline, pumped, Harden stayed down, so Kobe elevated and hit the fading 17ft jumper from the near mid corner. Westbrook responded with another pick and roll pull up jumper from the elbow. The Lakers once again tried to establish Bynum on the block. Blake pounded the ball until 8 seconds were left as he tried to hit Bynum from a variety of angles. Blake swung it to MWP at the near side 3. MWP looked to hit Bynum, but Perkins side fronted him. Just like the first possession of the quarter, MWP fired up the 3 to beat the clock, but this time he missed. Blake gathered the offensive rebound and hit Kobe at the top. Kobe dribbled to the near wing, attacked left into the middle, elevated in the lane, and absorbed a lot of contact from Perkins. No call was made, and Kobe threw up an air ball on the layup as he hung in the air after crashing into Perkins. KD immediately pushed up the court, got into the lane, and was softly fouled by Blake. Blake stood in the lane for the charge, but KD slyly slid away from Blake and took the tiniest bit of contact to draw the foul. KD hit both free throws, making the score 96-94 with 2:58 to go.

The next possession, Blake, once again, pounded the ball while trying to set up the offense. Blake finally got the entry into Bynum at the far mid block with 7 seconds to go. Bynum backed down Perkins into the lane, turned baseline, and missed the lefty hook shot. MWP battled for the offensive rebound, but KD gathered it on the baseline. KD then lost his balance and fell out of bounds, but the refs assigned a foul on MWP. Metta didn't touch him, but the phantom foul didn't cost the Lakers as Durant surprisingly missed both free throws. The next possession may have been the ugliest one all game. Pau stood at the near top key and he hit MWP at the near mid block with 10 on the clock. MWP attacked middle and kicked it to Pau at the elbow. Pau took a dribble to his right and hit MWP at the near corner. MWP dribbled to his left, got to the near elbow and air balled a contested jumper. The spacing was awful, and Pau's insistence to kick it back to Metta was disappointing. Durant punished LA with an isolation from the near mid wing. KD backed down Kobe to the near block, Kobe gambled for a steal, and Durant swiftly turned baseline to hit the turnaround jumper and tie the game at 96 with 1:54 to go.

Following a Kobe miss from the top 3, Kendrick Perkins scored his first basket of the game. Westbrook finally missed a pull up jumper, but Perkins got away with a push in the lane and he finished the putback at the rim. The push was rather obvious. Bynum was in great position at the rim, and then he was reaching back for the ball. The reach back is usually indicative of a push in the back. Perkins got away with it, but Kobe came right back and earned a trip to the line. Kobe used a Pau pick at the near top 3 to attack right to the near block. Kobe got to the block, spun back to the middle, hesitated, and drew the foul on Ibaka in the lane. Kobe sank both shots, making the score 98-98 with 1:04 to go.

Then three pivotal plays occurred. Westbrook used a series of picks at the top to go right and left. Eventually he went left, got to the near top key, and tried to cross over to his right. Westbrook slipped, and Blake stole the ball. Then Pau hit Kobe at the near wing. Pau came over to set the pick, but he noticed Ibaka stay high to double, so he slipped the pick. Kobe hit Pau on the slip at the near mid block. With Perkins rotating over, Pau had two great options, but instead he picked option number three, the wrong option. Pau could have blown by the rotating Perkins and finished a layup. Pau could have thrown the lob to the rim for Bynum to dunk the ball. Instead Pau made the wrong read and tried to kick the ball out to Metta at the far wing. Durant shot the gap and stole the ball with 33 seconds to go. Pau's passive play truly killed the Lakers right there. Instead of going up by two and putting some pressure on OKC, Pau gave Kevin Durant the opportunity to shoot in the final minute without the added pressure of knowing a miss would probably yield a loss. KD came down and ran out the clock at the far top 3, about 6ft behind the line. With MWP giving him some space, Durant smoothly took a dribble in and hit the pull up 3 over Metta. Not wanting to give up the drive, Metta backed up below the 3-point-line as Durant filled in the space. Durant calmly sank the good look to make the score 98-101 with 13 seconds to go.

Kobe got off a good looking 3, but he missed. Kobe inbounded to Pau at the far side, took the handoff, and circled the perimeter to the near top 3. Kobe got off a clean looking 3, but he just missed it. Harden followed with two made free throws and Kobe finished with a miss, an offensive rebound, and a jumper at the end. Game over, 100-103.

Kobe finished the quarter 2-10 for 7 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist. Bynum went 1-2 for 2 points, 1 rebound, and 1 block. Pau had 1 turnover as his only stat in over 10 minutes of playing time in the fourth. Westbrook went 4-6 for 10 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. Durantula went 2-3 for 11 points and 3 rebounds. Durant did a great job of attacking the basket for free throws.

Looking at those fourth quarter numbers, it's apparent that the Lakers did not go inside. However, when analyzing the game, it became clear that the Thunder did a great job of denying the post entry. The Thunder fronted the post and always had a backside defender. When the guards would rotate the ball, the Thunder defenders would rotate accordingly, as if on a string. Their defense was great. The best counter would have been an aggressive Gasol. Pau should have killed Durant in the post, but he never even attempted a shot. Pau could have mitigated the post entry difficulty by backing down Durant from the near and far top of the key. Pau held the ball here multiple times, but he always looked to pass from this position. Obviously, it wouldn't have mattered if Kobe could have sank some more shots. Kobe fired up some difficult shots, and he only took two out of his ten shots in the lane. It would have been nice to see Kobe attack the basket.

Overall, Durant and Westbrook were just too dominant. KD finished 10-18, 3-4 from deep, for 31 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and 3 turnovers. His 46 minutes were also a game high. The Thunder needed every single minute from Durant and it's obvious that his young legs gave him a huge assist. For a guy to play 46 minutes, and play well, on the second night of a back to back, that is impressive. Assist the NBA schedule makers for that one. Obviously Durant used his skill to play well, but the fact that his young legs allowed him to log all but two minutes can only be a positive for OKC. Westbrook finished 15-26, 1-2 from deep, for 37 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. Westbrook logged 43 minutes. Kobe went 12-28, 0-2 from deep, for 38 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 turnovers in 40 minutes. Kobe attacked the basket strong and went 14-17 from the line. Bynum went 9-15 for 18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks in his Laker high of 43 minutes. Pau went 4-10 for 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 turnovers in his 39 minutes. The Lakers won the points in the paint battle, 48-34. Both teams were even on the fast break, with LA winning 15-14. LA lost the turnover battle, with 9 turnovers for 14 OKC points. OKC committed 7 turnovers for 10 LA points.

Kobe made some headlines for calling out Pau after the game. Kobe stated, "Pau has got to be more aggressive." Many critics laughed at the fact that Kobe shot 2-10 in the fourth and then called out Pau. Kobe admitted that he took tough shots, but he also insinuated that if his teammates had stepped up, he would have never been in that position to take those tough shots. Kobe is correct. Pau's bad read didn't exactly cost LA the game, but his overall passive play throughout the fourth forced Kobe to jack up shots. With Bynum negated by Perkins, and Pau nonexistent, Kobe had to take shots just to get up a shot on the possession. The old cliche, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take," applies to this situation. Kobe had to shoot, and he missed.

In the end it came down to a great shot by Kevin Durant. What can you say? A big time player hit a big time shot. After letting two games slip away, LA is now mired in a 3-1 hole. Despite playing OKC even in both losses, it will take a miracle for LA to come back and win the series. Hopefully LA can win game five and live another day to fight in LA.

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