Looks Like Another Perfect Day

April 21, 2010 4:21 AM

Not Pretty, But Lakers Protect Home Court

Gasol Kobe.jpgIt wasn't pretty but the Lakers protected their home court. They beat the Thunder 95-92 to take a 2-0 lead in the series. But on the offensive end, the Lakers are still having all of the same problems they did when they faltered down the stretch of the regular season. Don't let the 2-0 lead fool you - the Lakers are nowhere near a championship caliber team right now.

In Game 1, Kevin Durant struggled offensively. He was hounded all night by Ron Artest and managed just 24 points on 24 shots. The Thunder made the adjustments to try and get Durant going. Instead of taking Ron Artest one-on-one, Durant worked off of screens and got the ball on the move. But Artest still played phenomenal defense and frustrated him. By my count, Durant only took 11 shots while he was being covered solely by Artest whereas in Game 1, the majority of his shots were with Artest guarding him. He made five of those 11 but what's important is Durant passed up on many more shots because of Artest's defense. Durant did a good job of picking those 11 shots when he was able to create some space. He turned the ball over 8 times mainly because of Artest's defense. Durant finished with 32 points on 26 shots. It was a better performance than Game 1 but nowhere near what is expected from him.

Russell Westbrook didn't have quite the impact he had in Game 1. He picked up two early fouls and was never able to get into any rhythm. He still finished with 19 points but had just 3 assists and contributed 3 turnovers.

So, Durant didn't have a stellar game and Westbrook wasn't nearly the impact he was on Sunday and the Lakers only won by three? The Thunder shot under 40 percent and just over 25 percent from three-point range and almost took home court advantage away from the defending champs?

What Kept the Thunder in the Game
It was the Thunder's defense that kept them in the game. Well, it's also the Lakers inability to make the Thunder pay for their defense. The Thunder were dominated on the inside by Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on Sunday and were determined to not let that happen again. When the Lakers got the ball into the paint, the Thunder would send two to three defenders to collapse and the Lakers don't have the perimeter shooters to make them pay. Artest was 1 of 6 from three and the Lakers hit just 6 of 22.

By filling the lane, the Thunder contested every layup. They blocked 17 shots including 7 from Sege Ibaka and 4 from Durant.

They were also finally able to get out in transition a bit in the second quarter. This is what fueled their 21-8 run to end the half and give them a 47-45 lead.

How the Lakers Prevailed
In the third Gasol got going. Sometimes the Lakers don't look to Gasol enough. Other times he doesn't demand the ball enough. This was one of the times they didn't look to him enough. So, Gasol took matters into his own hands. He had 8 points in the third with just one of those buckets coming from him getting the ball in the post. He got 4 off offensive rebounds, 2 off a jumper, 1 in transition, and 2 off a feed from Bynum.

In the fourth it was Kobe Bryant's turn (because it's not like the Lakers have anyone else to step up - more on that in a moment). Bryant had struggled shooting in the first half but hit 4 of 8 in the fourth and scored 15 of the Lakers 22 points. He hadn't been getting the calls earlier in the game but got them when it mattered most as he shot nine free throws in the final 12 minutes.

Here are some of the key plays in the final few minutes:
1:48 - (90-88 Lakers) -Durant called for an offensive foul after shoving Gasol (more on this below).
1:21 - (92-88) - Durant goes past Artest but Artest manages to get a piece on the ball as he goes by and gets the steal.
:22 - (93-90) - Jeff Green hits a mid-range floater and looks to be fouled on the play. The foul wasn't called and the Thunder trail by one - 93-92.
:15 - (93-92) - Bryant is fouled but hits just one of two free throws. Lakers lead - 94-92.
:07 - (94-92) Durant gets the ball off a screen but Artest fights through and contests the three-pointer.
:07 - (94-92) Gasol is fouled but hits just one of two free throws. Lakers lead 95-92.
:01 - (95-92) The Thunder draw up a great play to free up Jeff Green for the three-pointer but the shot comes up short.

About that offensive foul call on Durant at 1:48. On TNT, Charles Barkley said it was a bad call. Basically, he said it shouldn't be called at that point in the game. But the thing is it wasn't the first time Durant had shoved someone. Artest is known as the bully in this match - the one who initiates contact and has his hands all over Durant - but it was Durant who was being too physical. There were at least three times where Durant extended both arms to shove Artest away and create separation. I swear it should be Artest whose nickname is the Zen Master. Aside from never complaining about Durant's physical play, he also broke up a stare down between Lamar Odom and Serge Ibaka in the first that resulted in the double-technical copout.

What the Thunder Need to Do to Win
-Thabo Sefalosha needs to make Bryant pay for roaming on defense. Sefalosha missed three wide-open three-pointers. With him not being a threat on offense, the Lakers have an extra defender. They're basically playing four on five.
-It's going to be loud in Oklahoma City and they're going to need to feed off that energy to get off to a better start. In the first two games they've been outscored in the first quarter by a combined 53-31. If you eliminate those first quarters they've outscored the Lakers by 10.
-Jeff Green has to break out of his funk. He's 6 of 23 in the series including 1 of 9 from three-point range. The Thunder need a little more from their third leading scorer.

What the Lakers Should Be Worried About
-Could someone other than Gasol and Bryant score? They scored 64 of the Lakers 95 and were the only two in double-digits.
-Where is Lamar Odom? He's scored 11 points in the series and aside from an aggressive drive to the bucket in the fourth quarter he's been practically invisible.
-Derek Fisher is still struggling mightily. He's a combined 6 for 20 and can't defend Westbrook. I'd like to see Shannon Brown get more playing time. His shot looks much better than it did at the end of the season and he can do a much better job defending Westbrook.

Game 3 will be on Thursday in Oklahoma City. The schedule-makers did the Lakers no favors with such a quick turnaround. They rely so heavily on their starting five and are playing the youngest team in the NBA. The Lakers could really show their championship mettle with a win on the road against a hungry Thunder team.

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