John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
The Los Angeles Lakers were thoroughly embarrassed after their two games in Oklahoma City this past weekend. It was the low point of their season, as many questioned if they had the resolve to handle this young and talented Thunder team. After Tuesday night’s Game 5 at the Staples Center, they answered all questions. They put on a dominating performance, leading by 21 at halftime and 32 later in the game. They removed all doubt of who the better team really is and who should win this series. The only question left is why the Lakers were even in this position.
On Tuesday evening in Los Angeles, they played with energy, attention to detail and passion. All of which they did not do in Oklahoma City. Maybe the Thunder provided the Lakers with a wake-up call. Maybe it was the best thing that happened to this veteran team. That is yet to be determined. If they play with the same qualities that they did in Game 5 and knock out the Thunder then we will have that answer.
The Lakers dominated the paint in Game 5, outscoring the Thunder 58-26 in points in the paint. This entire series has been about the length and power of the Lakers versus the speed and athleticism of the Thunder. Tuesday night the Lakers stuck to their gameplan and got the ball inside to Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and even Ron Artest. Gasol and Bynum combined for 46 points. This is one of the Lakers' biggest strengths and they must continue to pound the ball inside in Game 6. It serves multiple purposes -- it provides good scoring opportunities, it gets the Lakers to the foul line, and it slows down the Thunder's ability to create transition baskets.
Game 6 Adjustments
The Lakers made two adjustments in Game 6. One was huge and one was subtle. The most important adjustment was Kobe Bryant asking to guard Russell Westbrook, who had torched the Lakers in the first four games by averaging 22 points on 55 percent from the field. His speed and athleticism were too much for Derek Fisher or Jordan Farmar. Phil Jackson took a calculated gamble letting Kobe guard Westbrook because it takes a lot of energy on the defensive end of the floor to guard the talented point guard. Kobe played off Westbrook, gave him a cushion and baited him to shoot his jump shot. Kobe held Westbrook to only 15 points on 4-for-13 shooting and 8 turnovers. The question is whether Kobe can do that for one or two more games if necessary?
The second and subtle adjustment that the Lakers made was utilizing Gasol a bit more at the elbow in their pinch-post action. By having Gasol in their triangle offense play off the elbow it allowed Artest some more scoring opportunities around the paint and rim. They need to utilize Artest more in this way than letting him roam the perimeter and space the floor. His perimeter shot is not his bread and butter.
The Thunder were totally overwhelmed in Game 5. Their youth, inexperience and holes were exposed. The Lakers delivered a knockout punch early and the Thunder had no answers. Offensively in Game 6, they must slow down and display more patience. They were way too quick, and rushed on Tuesday night. They did not execute, or make the Lakers defense work hard enough. The Thunder shot only 37 percent for the game and that was a direct correlation to the impatience they showed on the court.
In addition the Thunder had dominated the Lakers with free throw attempts in Game 4. They attempted 48 free throws to the Lakers' 28. In Game 5, the Lakers outshot the Thunder from the free throw line 31-24. If the Thunder want to win Game 6 they must have a much more balanced and diverse scheme to get the ball to the rim and get fouled.
The Thunder had no transition game in Game 5. They did not defend on the perimeter or the interior. Thus they never were able to get stops and get out in transition. They had dominated fastbreak points in Games 3 and 4 by outscoring the Lakers 47-9. In Game 5 it was a completely different story, the Thunder were outscored 12-7 by the Lakers. The Thunder must come out in Game 6 and give a much better defensive effort -- create steals and turnovers, not let the ball get inside so easy, rebound and push the pace of the game. They must win the fastbreak point battle.
Prediction: Lakers win Game 6