We've heard plenty of talk this season about the importance of the Lakers dictating tempo. Typically, the reasons center around execution. The preferred slower pace theoretically equals more mindfulness of the triangle offense. Pushing the ball inside to showcase the Lakers' size. Creating better shots preventing transition defense situations where the purple and gold are often at their worst. And, as it pertains to the Thunder, this tempo means forcing them into a half court game, where they've struggled even more than the Lakers to score during this defensively-oriented series.
And if I may offer another reason to keep tonight's game at a crawl whenever possible: Oklahoma City's crowd.
Ford Center patrons already have reputation for creating a bananas atmosphere during regular season games. Just imagine the postseason buzz we'll be hearing, considering it'll be the city's first taste of NBA playoff action. I expect a din capable of making the people of Salt Lake City sit up and say, "Day-um!" Regardless of whether this amplitude actually bothers a veteran Laker team -I'd like to think they're capable of turning it into white noise- it'll hype the hell out of the Thunderian youngsters seeking the comforts of home.
"I'm sure it'll be crazy with energy and noise," said Derek Fisher after Tuesday's win at Staples. "We're definitely gonna have to weather that initial storm."
Obviously, one method of surviving the storm is just beating the daylights out of their hosts from the jump. But should that prove easier said than done, I offer Plan B. Slow the possessions down. Remove any and all electricity. The Thunder will be looking to feed off their crowd's energy. The Lakers need to do everything they can to leave OKC's bellies empty.
"They're gonna be rocking out there," warned Luke Walton in the Laker locker room. "We have to come with a difference mindset in that game. We can't try to run up and down. We gotta walk the ball up. We gotta play our own pace. We gotta feed the ball down low all game long and control the tempo of the game."
Mind you, this can be tough, and not just because the Thunder are a young, athletic, exciting team looking for track meet chances off busted plays. Running is fun for NBA players (more so than running the often effective but comparatively boring triangle) and similar to fried food, cigarettes and reality TV, just because you know something isn't good for you doesn't always mean you shun it. Run n' gun can be very seductive, particularly while entertaining fans.
I asked Fisher about the difficulty of maintaining a half court pace when you feel the fan energy created by each fast break. Can the enemy egg you into bad things, even while aware they've got your worst interests at heart?
"You just have to be mindful of those things," Fisher explained. "You have to play the type of game that it's a road tempo, and the decisions that you have to make that are specifically related to this being a road game in front of a crazy crowd."
Occasionally that means passing up specific opportunities for the sake of the game's bigger picture.
"They'll be some opportunities where maybe you pass up on a shot, maybe you slow some things down where you could maybe take advantage of a fast break situation, just to keep the pace of the game where you want it to."
Fisher's point about passing up a break opportunity makes sense, and not just because game two featured a series of botched sequences making me question if the Lakers are even capable of running a break to begin with. (Check out the fine work from Forum Blue and Gold lowlighting four particularly dubious examples.) Obviously, I don't mean L.A. should literally avoid a convertible fast break simply for the sake of it, no questions asked. If a doable opportunity organically emerges, take it. You want easy points, especially while the offense is largely struggling. But I wouldn't look to create ease, if that makes sense. The bigger goal should be maintaining the proper pace more likely to pay dividends in the long run.
All in all, if this game were a movie, the Lakers want the basketball equivalent of an art house film. The more "Michael Bay" they allow the game to become, the more they're doing the Thunder a service. OKC needs whatever power the crowd can provide, so the Lakers need to render it as relatively powerless as possible.
When Lamar Odom was asked Tuesday about the unsuccessful breaks, he deemed them acceptable and insisted this team can/will do better. Still, he stressed their game plan isn't reliant on success up and down the court.
"We'll win this series by winning the half court game. (Up and down) is their game. We're not gonna play their game."
Hopefully, LO and his teammates remain true to that word.