Lakers move the ball to great effect

May, 7, 2012
5/07/12
1:50
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Raptors coach Dwane Casey says of Kobe Bryant: "In the flow of the game, he's a willing passer. But in crunch time, he is looking to get his. He's not looking to pass, and I tell my team that."

Watch Ty Lawson in the clip above, on the play that ends with a Steve Blake 3-pointer. It starts at about the 55-second mark. Bryant makes Lawson look entirely foolish for having left Blake so open in the reckless pursuit of Bryant.

But Lawson is playing from the playbook lots of teams use against the Lakers, and it often works.

Check out this photograph or this video.

The recipe was pretty simple and abnormally effective: Just send all kinds of defense at Kobe Bryant.

The remedy for Bryant, however, was always simple too. Pass. Just pass the ball to the open man. It hasn't happened much.

But it worked like crazy for the Lakers in Sunday's Game 4 which put the Lakers in the driver's seat against the Nuggets -- and not just on that play. A great crunch-time performance turned what could have been a 2-2 series into a deep 3-1 hole for the Nuggets, and it points to how the Lakers could be a bigger threat than they would seem to be.

Statistics show all kinds of ways that in crunch time the Lakers have generally underperformed. Over the past decade, they have won plenty of close games, titles and a reputation in crunch time.

In 2011-12, the Lakers have been near the top of team performance in crunch time, by most analyses. But they bounce around from season to season. Over the decade, the Lakers have had the NBA's best offense all game long, but only the 12th-best effective field goal percentage in the last three minutes in which they trail by three points or fewer or are tied. Over the same sample, the Lakers' total performance at both ends -- by the simple measure of who has outscored opponents -- has ranked 10th.

Middling crunch-time performance isn't a crisis, but you'd expect better from the team that has been essentially the best in the NBA generally over the period.

And Synergy Sports technology play-type analysis suggests one problem area was a heavy reliance on an inefficient play -- isolating Kobe Bryant. It's the Lakers' go-to late-game play, and it is just about their worst play, because it forces the Lakers to attack where the defense is strongest. Amazing as Bryant is, that's a tall order.

If Bryant is going to continue to hit the open man, however, like in the video above, opposing coaches will have plenty to worry about.

One of the most likely solutions: Opponents will stop sending such big crowds at Bryant. Perhaps he'll have some room to create high-percentage shots. Paradoxically, the passing he did in Game 4 might be the very thing to turn him into the crunch-time killer he has long been said to be.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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