Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Rapid Reaction, Game 2: Thunder 77, Lakers 75
By Brian Kamenetzky
This. Is. A. Killer.
If I were to tell Mike Brown -- or Vegas for that matter -- before Game 2 the Thunder would have 76 points with .3 seconds remaining on the clock, both would have happily made the Lakers a giant favorite. Instead, the Lakers head back to Los Angeles down 0-2, after giving away a seven-point lead with two minutes to play. By now, most Lakers fans know the math when it comes to this scenario. It isn't good. The Lakers showed they can hang with OKC, get physical with them, and disrupt their juggernaut of an offense. They forced turnovers, they established Andrew Bynum inside, they kept a lid on Russell Westbrook.
And they still lost. In a playoff series, the lesser team -- and make no mistake, the Lakers are just that -- can't afford to give away games they ought to win.
Here are five takeaways ...
1. Kobe Bryant struggled with his shot all night, then struggled with everything down the stretch.
Shooting has been a chore for Kobe against the Thunder all season long, and it was again tonight. He kept the pressure on Oklahoma City, drawing doubles and recording all three of L.A.'s first half assists. He got his hands on balls defensively, and generally made himself useful. Enough to set the low percentage aside. But in the fourth quarter, he was inefficient and mistake prone, and the results were painful for the Lakers. He missed his last five shots in the final period, too many of them forced, and committed a crucial turnover with 1:45 left, springing Kevin Durant for a dunk.
Then, in a critical sequence with under 20 seconds left, Kobe allowed a ton of time to tick off the clock, with almost 13 second passing between him getting the ball and absorbing a foul-to-give from Thabo Sefolosha on the wing. That left L.A. with little time to do anything but run one more play. No chance to extend the game with fouls, or anything, making it the worst of all possible outcomes. Kobe didn't get a shot up early, or force OKC to take the foul faster.
The finish was an ugly one for Bryant, no question.
2. The defense improved dramatically.
The Lakers were destroyed in just about every facet in Game 1, defensively. The pick and roll coverages were inconsistent and confused. OKC was able to get from point A to point B on the floor with little resistance, and the Lakers didn't get any hands on the ball. Wednesday, all of that changed. Andrew Bynum moved higher on the floor to disturb Thunder ball handlers, sometimes with well-executed traps, and those 15 footers from Russell Westbrook were better contested. He finished 8-of-19 from the floor. There were breakdowns -- this will happen against a team running 15 zillion P and R's with that kind of talent -- but overall the Lakers did better work. Combined with a natural regression in OKC's marksmanship from the perimeter, and the Thunder attack was muted.
More importantly, the Lakers clutched and grabbed, and got their hands in passing lanes, and harassed the dribble. Throughout the season, L.A. didn't pile up a ton of steals, but tonight they finished with nine. Metta World Peace, something of a train wreck offensively in his best moments, did a good job keeping the ball out of Durant's hands and finished with three. Kobe was very active in the passing lanes, with four of his own. Overall, the Lakers helped crank up the turnover total for the Thunder, who only had four in Game 1, but 13 tonight.
As a team, the Lakers held Oklahoma City to 42 percent shooting, only 16 free throws, and were particularly good in the second half. Or 23 of the 24 minutes, at least.
3. Ramon Sessions continues to struggle.
His entire postseason can basically be summarized by one third quarter play. After Bryant helped create a turnover for OKC on the perimeter, Sessions raced the other way on the break, as the Lakers had numbers. Rising for the dunk ... Sessions clanged the ball off the back iron. Clearly he heard the footsteps, worrying about the chase down block, except most of the feet behind him belonged to teammates. On the rebound, the Thunder went the other way and scored. That's a four point swing, for those keeping score at home.
It was fitting, too, on a night where Sessions, as he did in Game 1, struggled on both sides of the floor. He was tentative with his shot, passing up open perimeter looks on multiple occasions, and didn't manage to generate an assist in 24 minutes of burn.
4. Outside shooting was again a problem.
The Lakers took 13 3-pointers. They made two. Kobe, 0-for-6. Steve Blake, 1-of-5, including the miss from the right corner that would (almost surely) have given the Lakers the win. Matt Barnes missed his only attempt, while World Peace was, relative to the rest of the group, a Steve Kerr-esque 1-of-3. On a night where the last few minutes will get the attention, L.A.'s 13.3 percent mark from downtown won't get as much attention, but it should, because horrendous marksmanship from beyond the arc has been a killer all year.
5. The supporting cast did little offensively.
I mentioned Sessions already, and the terrible play of World Peace offensively. Blake didn't exactly kick in, making only one field goal and getting to the line for a pair, not off his penetration but a foul after OKC was over the limit. Jordan Hill was very aggressive on the glass, scoring six points, four of which came on ORB/second chances. With six points and six rebounds in 16 minutes, he did what he could, foul problems (four PF's) notwithstanding. Barnes, as he's been for a while, was an invisible man.