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Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Game 1's two-faced second unit

By Brian Kamenetzky

The second unit took a ton of heat following L.A.'s Game 1 win over the Jazz Sunday afternoon at Staples after allowing a fourth quarter lead to evaporate. As we noted in the postgame report, however, it wasn't an Evening of Unmitigated Disaster for the reserves. In the second quarter, they pushed a seven point lead to 12 before Phil Jackson went back to his starters.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
After Game 1, Lamar Odom said the reserves lack "unity," something he hopes to help solve before Tuesday's Game 2.

So what happened? How could the same group of guys seem so effective early then fold like origami late?

Just like the pros- that's how I roll- I went back and looked at the tape. Or the DVR, as it were.

Here's how it broke down...


The Lakers open with Andrew Bynum, Shannon Brown, Odom, Luke Walton, and Jordan Farmar. Utah takes the floor with Ronnie Price, Kosta Koufos, Kyle Korver, C.J. Miles, and Paul Millsap.

On the opening possession of the quarter, the Lakers get an early entry pass to Bynum in the right mid- post. Bynum draws a double (near triple, really) team from Miles and kicks to Brown at the top of the key. Brown fakes right on Korver, then drives hard into traffic. He's met by Millsap near the bucket. Lots of contact, but no call. Probably a good spot for a pull up jumper.

11:40- The Jazz do a great job with interior player movement, causing a little confusion in the Lakers defense. As Koufos pops out of the post and receives a pass high on the wing, Bynum lays back, and Brown provides ball pressure. When the ball swings to Price in the right corner, Bynum shades towards him, with a stance meant to funnel him baseline on any penetration. Unfortunately, it also opens an easy passing lane inside to Millsap, now being guarded by... Farmar. Uh oh. Mismatch. Utah bucket. (Reserves -2 for the quarter)

11:20-The ball swings from the left wing to Odom on the right. As traffic clears out of the lane, Odom makes an aggressive move, driving right on Millsap, then pulling up and spinning niftily into the lane. His baby hook doesn't fall, but it's the sort of thing everyone would love to see Odom try more often. Bynum fights for and gets the offensive board, but misses an off-balance putback attempt.

11:00-Utah works the ball up the right side to Koufos in the corner. He puts up a quick baseline jumper over a closing Bynum that doesn't fall. Inside Jerry Sloan's right eye, tiny blood vessels explode in anger. Odom rebounds...

10:55-...and quickly pushes up the right side, where he's picked up by Millsap. Odom kicks to Walton. Farmar, cutting from the left corner, through the paint, and to the top of the arc receives a bounce pass from Walton. Price misses on a steal attempt and is pulled out of position by his momentum. Farmar drives, kicks to Brown on the left wing. He makes a couple aggressive dribbles, pushes to back to Odom on the right wing, who hits Walton in the right corner for a three. Great ball and player movement earns them three points. (+1)

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Luke Walton scored seven points in just under 10 minutes, but was on the floor when L.A.'s fourth quarter lead evaporated.

10:30- Miles gives to Millsap at the top of the key, who moves the ball to Price at the left wing. Price drives, then leaves the ball for Millsap, who looks to drive but sees the Lakers close the paint immediately. Instead, Millsap pulls up from the left elbow and misses. He's a 34-percent shooter from 10-15 feet, so while the shot is open, the location is one the Lakers can live with.

10:13-Brown rebounds and scoots up the right side, feeding Odom at the top of the key. LO waits for Bynum, behind the play, to get into the paint against Koufos, then flips to Walton on the left wing, who makes the entry to Bynum. Walton, guarded by Korver, cuts through the paint on Bynum's high side. When Korver stops to double Bynum, Walton is left alone underneath. Bynum delivers the ball, Price fouls Walton on the shot. He makes one of two. Again, patience, ball movement, and cutting pay off. (+2)

9:53- Price works the ball up the right wing against Farmar, then dumps to Miles on the block, trying to post Brown. As soon as he puts the ball on the floor, Farmar doubles, and forces a TO as Miles tries to pass out of it. Good defense.

9:40-Odom isolates on the left mid-post against Millsap, with the other four guys stacked on the other side of the floor. Brown flashes from the opposite corner to the left wing, using a Walton screen to try and lose Miles, but he can't. He moves the ball to Farmar at the top of the arc. Farmar dumps to Bynum above the right elbow, then gets the handoff. Price cuts off the penetration, but because he and Koufos are so concerned about Bynum rolling to the bucket, Price can't recover fast enough on Farmar as he rises for a jumper, which he makes. 21-footers aren't exactly ideal, but it's a clean shot and it falls. (+4)

9:17-Korver holds on the left wing while the Jazz work hard off the ball. Price sets a back screen on Odom to spring Millsap underneath while Farmar, quite frankly, shows absolutely no recognition of what's happening. Korver whips the ball inside, but fortunately Millsap mishandles the pass as Odom recovers, tipping the ball out of bounds. On the restart, the Jazz run a nifty play to spring Korver, who airmails a three from the right corner. The ball ends up with Price, who has to force another triple with the clock running down. Brick.

It goes as an empty trip, but the Lakers were lucky, dodging two bullets. If Millsap doesn't mishandle the entry, Utah probably scores, and Korver doesn't ordinarily airball three-pointers.

8:54- Brown feeds Odom on the left wing, who gives back to Shannon. Brown dribbles right to gain a clean angle for an entry to Bynum. Drew waits to see if the double is coming, but his path to the bucket is impeded by Brown, who decides to try and post Price about four feet away. By the time Brown clears, the double comes on Bynum, who throws an awkward kick out to Odom on the right wing. With the shot clock running down, Odom hits a three over Millsap. (+7)

An example of the Lakers getting points without having a good possession.

8:20- Korver sets up on the right wing, then runs the baseline and uses a Millsap screen to lose Walton. He catches near the elbow and fires a quick jumper over a closing Odom. (+5)

All told, the Lakers did some good things. The possession leading to Walton's three was outstanding, for example, but also got lucky a few times. Odom's long three came off an ineffective possession, as did Farmar's long two. Meanwhile, the Lakers benefited from Millsap's fumble/Korver's airball. If a couple things bounce a little differently- Farmar's shot is a little long, Millsap's jumper a little shorter, and so on- instead of a plus-five over nearly four minutes of play, the second unit could have been much closer to even.

Don't get me wrong: Holding the lead steady is a reasonable goal for the second unit, given how inconsistent the bench has been, but maintaining and building leads are seen as very different accomplishments.


Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo
Worst thing of all? The poor fourth quarter performance of the reserves made the Maroon 5 guy sad.

The Lakers begin the quarter up eight.

The lineups are the same to open the fourth as they were in the second. Walton, Odom, Brown, Bynum, and Farmar for L.A., Miles, Price, Millsap, Korver, and Koufos for the Jazz, who start with the ball.

First, a foul away from the ball on Walton. On the restart, Korver hits Koufos in the post, who kicks out to Price. He drives, but Odom stays with him, and Bynum's help underneath forces Price to work all the way across the baseline before he throws out to Miles on the right wing. He also tries to make a move, but Brown gets the steal, stripping Miles. Great start defensively.

11:30-Brown brings the ball up the floor in a hurry, initiating the offense along the right wing in front of the Lakers' bench. He passes back to Odom trailing the play at the top of the arc, and LO launches a three, which barely scrapes the front iron. Wide open, yes, but is this the best shot the Lakers will get with 17 seconds still left on the shot clock?

11:20- Price swings to Korver on the left wing, who again uses a baseline screen (from Millsap) to get space. Millsap cuts quickly from the right block to the left as Miles tries to screen off Odom. LO slips it nicely, and is right there when Millsap gets the entry from Korver. Millsap takes and makes a tough mid-range fade-away along the left baseline. Good D, better O. (-2)

11:00- Farmar uses an Odom screen at the top of the arc, and drives right. Utah defends the P and R well. Odom comes back to set another pick, but again Utah doesn't give room for either to make anything happen. The ball instead goes to Brown on the left wing. With six or so seconds left on the shot clock, he tries to make something happen against Miles. The resulting stepback J is long.

10:40-The Lakers keep Utah on the perimeter, cutting off avenues of penetration. Miles comes off a Millsap screen and misses a jumper from the elbow. In the scramble for the rebound, Odom fouls Price, who is on the floor covering the ball. Off the inbound, Price penetrates as Korver gets a weakside pick from Koufos and pops to the arc. The pass isn't great and Walton's close is decent. Miss. Odom grabs the rebound...

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Ronnie Price was a major spark for the Jazz in the fourth quarter.

10:17-...and goes full court to Walton, who released as soon as Korver shot and is fouled by Korver, struggling to recover. Great pass, but this wasn't the fastest of fast breaks, thanks to the guy at the receiving end. Walton makes one of two. (-1)

The Lakers earn an extra possession off Walton's missed freebie thanks to a great ORB from Odom. He kicks out from the right corner to the left wing to Farmar, who tries to penetrate against Price but can't. Farmar to Walton, Walton to Odom as the ball switches sides. Odom feeds Bynum, who is immediately triple-teamed on the right block. He loses the ball trying to make a move.

9:50-Miles on the left wing against Brown, looking to pass. Price sets a back pick on Bynum to spring Koufos, but Miles can't make the pass, instead dishing to Price who pops out to the top of the arc. With Farmar wisely giving him plenty of space- the dude shot 28.6 percent from downtown this year- Price obliges and rises for the latish-in-clock, out-of-rhythm triple. Predictably, it clangs. Another good stand.

9:30-Off the Bynum rebound, Odom comes up the right side, giving to Farmar at the top of the arc. Farmar hands to Bynum at the left elbow, who gives to Brown coming over the top. Shannon dives into the lane against Korver, then stops and takes what is becoming a favorite of his- the stepback jumper. Too long, as Korver does a decent job contesting.

Almost three minutes into the quarter, the teams have combined for three points, but the Lakers are still up seven. They'll take it. So far, so good, right?

9:15- Price hits Korver on the right wing, and Ashton immediately makes the entry to Millsap on the block. Brown harasses him a little as Korver moves past along the baseline, but doesn't stick with it. Millsap faces up on the block, makes a great move into the lane, then spins baseline to beat Odom. Not sure if LO thought Brown was still there or not. Either way, good stuff from Millsap. (-3)

8:55-Brown, in the right corner, gets a screen from Bynum and makes the pass as Bynum rolls to the bucket. Bynum is contested by Koufos and Millsap, and misses the lay in. He thought he was fouled, and may have been. After the game, Bynum talked about moments where he couldn't get off the ground thanks to the knee. I think this was one. Healthy, it's a dunk.

8:5o-Price gets the board and goes coast to coast for the layup, weaving around Farmar and Brown. Nobody stops the ball. (-5)

8:30- Walton to Bynum in the right mid-post. With no double coming, Bynum goes for a righty hook over Koufos, after a little shimmy into the lane and a spin back to the baseline. I had a great angle on this shot from my seat Sunday afternoon, and thought it was a good look. Still, it didn't fall.

8:15-Price moves the ball to Korver on the left wing. Millsap quickly moves to receive a pass, but Odom stays on his hip, overplays, and denies the ball. Undeterred, Millsap spins and cuts right back to the basket then goes back door, totally losing Odom. Korver makes the feed, but Millsap misses the layup, perhaps distracted by Brown's attempt to contest. Despite Shannon's effort, Millsap should have converted.

8:00- Odom comes up the right wing, isolating on Koufos, who picked him up in transition. He dishes to Walton in the corner, then cuts to the right block where he gets the entry. LO spins into the lane, but as soon as he puts the ball on the floor Price comes with the double and bats it away.

7:43-In transition, the Lakers lose Millsap, who takes the pass and throws down the dunk. (-7)

The eight-point lead down to one, Jackson calls timeout and gets the starters back on the floor.

It was a great example of how quickly things can turn in the NBA. Of the 4:28 the reserves spent on the floor, the first three minutes were fine. It was only over the last 90 seconds or so when things came off the rails. A couple missed shots, a turnover, untimely defensive breakdowns.

The moral of the story may be how little margin for error this particular lineup has. Most teams have more trouble generating offense with their reserves on the floor, but for the Lakers it's particularly tough. There is no "instant offense" on the bench, no Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson. In the first half, they maintained the lead by generating some good looks with quality ball movement, but extended it by hitting some shots percentages say they'll generally miss, and more importantly kept Utah's opportunities to a minimum.

In the fourth, good looks were harder to come by, and in scoring only one point the reserves put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to perform defensively. It worked for a few minutes, but ultimately they were burned. But as Kobe and Odom said later, it just can't happen, particularly at home. The bench, at worst, needs to hold serve.

I'm confident L.A.'s starters (plus or minus Odom) can handle Utah's, but if the reserves dig too many holes, that job gets tougher.