NBA Playoffs: Thunder and Lakers Show You How Not To Play The 1-8 Matchup

This was one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever watched and I’m not even a fan of either team. So I can only imagine what it was like for Lakers and Thunder fans.

For a while, it looked like the Lakers were going to do what we all expected them to do. They were punishing the Thunder inside. They were trying to teach them a lesson. The lesson was “we’re happy for you that such a young team was able to make huge improvements, win 50 games, get Matt Moore cake and be one of the most surprising defensive teams in the league but we’d like to show you that none of that means anything unless you’ve got size and power and we’re going to show you that we have size and power.”

Here is essentially the first quarter reenacted by our friends from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – Mac and Dee.

(NSFW – language)

The Thunder were just getting abused inside by Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and there was nothing OKC could do about it. Sure, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka were able to do decent jobs on the Lakers’ bigs in stretches during this game but when the Lakers concentrated on pounding the ball inside, it was complete domination.

But the Lakers weren’t content on their steady dose of playoff basketball they kept giving to the Thunder. They were intent on trying to knock down bad shots. Derek Fisher took A LOT of shots early and it almost seemed like it was by design. I felt like they were messing with OKC by saying, “we know we can beat you so we’re going to let this guy shoot for a while.” And this has been my problem with the Lakers all season long. We know they can dominate and we think they should dominate. But they keep making things harder for themselves. They keep taking bad shots instead of going out and getting much easier shots.

They had 14 points in the paint in the first quarter. The Thunder had 13 points total. And yet, the Lakers finished with just 34 points in the paint. They had 20 points in the paint at halftime. However, they just wanted to shoot jumpers, make threes and show off their skills. Sometimes, all the skill in the world doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have power.

The Thunder on the other hand must have seen the Lakers interior presence on offense and had it scare them away when they were trying to score because all they did early on was take bad jumpers. It wasn’t until Russell Westbrook realized that he had a corpse in a Derek Fisher jersey guarding him that the Thunder really started attacking the basket. At a certain point, it looked like Westbrook was intent on having some layup practice because he was relentless in attacking the hoop.

With this Lakers team, that’s what you have to do. Slap them in the face and let them know you’re probably going to be here for a while so they might as well take you seriously. Yes, Andrew Bynum is too big for the Thunder. Yes, Pau Gasol is too skilled for the Thunder. Yes, Kobe and Odom can get inside seemingly whenever they want. So what?

The Thunder needed to realize much earlier they should attack the basket. Perhaps it was first playoff game jitters for this team. I’m not quite sure what the problem was. But you could tell Westbrook was often the only guy who wasn’t afraid to mix it up a little.

Sadly, the most intimidated person on the court seemed to be Kevin Durant. I don’t know if Ron Artest was whispering disturbingly illegal things into his ear when they were standing next to each other but something rattled Durant. He tried to persevere through it by getting himself to the free throw line. After all, he got there 11 times. However, Ron’s defense was pretty spectacular in taking away Durant’s strengths on the court.

Durant was almost always out of rhythm on his jumper and having to take a contested shot. Artest was physical. He was rough. He hounded him constantly and always made contact with Durant whether he had the ball or not. A couple of times, it backfired with the way Durant gets you to get your arms in the way of his so he can go up for a jumper and initiate a foul on his defender. When he wasn’t doing that, Ron made life difficult. I don’t really blame Durant for it either. He was too passive for his team’s good but he didn’t necessarily shy away from taking shots. He just wasn’t in rhythm. He settled for a lot of much deeper shots than you’d like. He needed to get things going towards the basket and instead was forced into settling.

The weird thing about this game is you’d look at the low score from two decent offensive teams and expect it to be a sloppy affair. I think it was just poorly executed and a little lazy in the efforts by both teams. Both teams actually took good care of the ball. There were not a lot of poor dribbling displays or bad passes. Just rushed shots that were far more difficult than they needed to be. You should never have a Lakers game in which Ron Artest and Derek Fisher combine for 23 shots (7/23 overall).

I’m just disappointed that it took so long for the Thunder to see they belonged on the court with the Lakers. You’d like Russell Westbrook to take control early from what we saw and prove to his team that they can hang. He’s that type of player with a strong personality. He’s not afraid of anybody. Unfortunately for him, he was being too much of a point guard and not assertive enough. I’d expect him to go on a tear for the rest of the season in a similar way to what we saw when the Thunder were playing well.

And I’m disappointed in the Lakers for not sticking to what was working and just letting Bynum and Gasol dominate. Bynum was fierce. He realized he was the biggest and strongest guy on the court early and stepped up to the challenge of breaking the will of the opponent. But the Lakers wouldn’t let him continue his feats of strength. Andrew only took ten shots in the game and only had four attempts in the second half. Bynum and Gasol combined for 32 points, 25 rebounds, and seven blocks.

In the next game, some things need to change:

– First, the Thunder need to get Kevin Durant in motion. He’s essentially a wide receiver who is getting jammed at the line and needs to find a way to get some room to operate. For the first half of next game, I’d put him in motion and treat him like Reggie Miller running off of screens. With his jumper, he can be deadly coming off of curls and double screens along the baseline. He’ll square up his jumper and use his height to make it virtually indefensible. This will get Artest off his back and allow him plenty of breathing room. If the Lakers jump out on the screen, it can leave a slip to the basket by the screener and get some easy scoring opportunities for Green, Ibaka, etc.

Once you can get Durant in a rhythm with his jumper, the rest of the talent will take care of itself. The Lakers will either have to double team and deal with a disadvantage in the middle of the floor or keep the single coverage and let Durant carve up the perimeter. I think the more attention that has to be shown to Durant, the more likely you can find scoring space for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic for mid-range jumpers. I doubt the Thunder shooters will continue to struggle with wide-open looks.

– Second, the Lakers need to get Kobe on the low block and allow him to dissect the defense more. I’m talking more cutters, more screens away from the ball and more patient post moves like the first one he put on Russell Westbrook in this game. He was so patient and just waited. He faked the fadeaway jumper a couple of times before going into the deep post, pump-faking again and then scoring over Green. Kobe can do that whenever he wants. I’d like to see it more.

– I want Jeff Green to see what Lamar Odom does and try to copy him. Green should be driving and dishing a lot more. He’s so versatile. I don’t think he should be settling for jumpers quite as much.

– The Lakers need to push the tempo off the long jumpers they’re forcing the Thunder to miss. Two fast break points is a horribly low numbers, especially since the Thunder are so bad at transition defense. Lakers need to look for easier points.

Overall, both teams can’t really be proud of this game. The Lakers held their serve at home so they get to take the win but they can’t be happy with the way they played and the way they couldn’t put the Thunder away. The Thunder should be of the mindset that the playoff jitters are out and now it’s time to play some basketball.

Seth Carstens