Dissecting Ron Artest's improved shooting in Lakers' Game 5 111-87 victory over Oklahoma City
Lakers forward Ron Artest had shot the ball so poorly that it overshadowed the imposing defense he's provided. Artest had shot the ball so poorly that Lakers Coach Phil Jackson expressed uncertaintyon whether Artest would ever find his shooting stroke. And Artest had shot the ball so poorly that Jackson admitted before Game 5 of the Lakers-Oklahoma City first-round series that the coaching staff had started imposing limits on his shot selection.
"We asked him to limit his threes from the corner," Jackson said. "I think that’s one of the things he can eliminate. I know he'll take one anyway tonight, but that’s Ron."
That in fact he did, but this time the shot went in the basket, and Artest scored 14 points on six-for-11 shooting in the Lakers' 111-87 Game 5 victory Tuesday over the Thunder. This was a welcome development considering Artest had shot 12 for 40 in the first four games of the series, and continued his season-long theme of either adding little to the offensive flow or disrupting it with ill-advised shots. Artest contended he didn't change anything, but the tape shows he took a more active approach in being involved in the offense and creating opportunities by working the post. Below is a breakdown on what he did in Game 5 to become a better offensive threat.
First quarter, :25 - 12.4
On the near side of the court, Lamar Odom set a high screen on Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook for Kobe Bryant. Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha switched, marking Odom in the near post. But Odom immediately cut across the lane, prompting Artest to cut over to the near side to post up. He didn't get firm positioning, however, so Bryant passed the ball to forward Pau Gasoljust above the free-throw line. Gasol then passed it back to Bryant before setting up a screen-and-roll on Thunder forward Kevin Durant. As Bryant drove the lane, Gasol flashed to the post and Artest cut out to the perimeter on the near side. Bryant passed the ball to Odom in the far corner. Odom immediately passed the ball at the top of the key to guard Shannon Brown, who pump faked, drove above the free-throw line and then passed to Artest. He nailed the open three-pointer, giving the Lakers a 31-16 lead. This play wasn't simply a product of Artest's making a shot he normally misses. He had gotten in rhythm by trying to run through the post, and the team allowed the opportunities to open up by running the triangle offense.
Second quarter, 4:53 - 4:40
Odom pushed the ball up the floor after rebounding Westbrook's missed free throw. After feeding an entry pass to Gasol, Odom cut across the lane and set a screen on Thunder forward Jeff Green. Artest curled off the screen and received a pass in the paint from Gasol. Artest immediately went up for the left-handed layup, giving the Lakers a 41-23 lead.
Second quarter, 3:51 - 3:46
Artest received a pass from Derek Fisher at the near side of the court just above the free-throw line. In triple-threat position, Artest dribbled left and looked to Gasol posting inside. But Thunder center Nenad Krstic played Gasol up too high, effectively creating an open lane along the baseline. Artest drove through the lane and then posterized Sefolosha with the one-handed dunk, increasing the Lakers' cushion to 45-27.
Third quarter, 9:22 - 9:17
Bryant drove past Sefolosha but met some heavy traffic in the lane. In midair, Bryant kicked the ball out to Artest in the corner. He made a three-pointer, giving the Lakers a 65-39 lead. This wasn't anything extraordinary that the Lakers did, just Bryant showing his great court vision and Artest knocking down an open shot.
Third quarter, 4:34 - 4:27
With Odom directing the offense at the top of the key, Artest cut across the baseline and flashed to the near side on the perimeter. Sefolosha slid to him, but Artest drove right and pulled up to make a 21-footer, giving the Lakers a 79-47 advantage.
Third quarter, 3:25 - 3:16
After passing the ball to Odom in the far post, Artest cut across the lane and set a down screen for Gasol, who immediately received a pass from Odom inside. Gasol pulled up for a short jumper, but his lift and release were off, resulting in an airball. But Artest grabbed the ball and converted a layup, widening the gap to 81-53.
What this means
This isn't a matter of Artest suddenly finding his shooting stroke. Sure, he went two of four from three-point range, but Artest's improved shooting numbers in Game 5 had more to do with the fact that he appeared more involved with the offense. There were a lot of times Artest would stand in the corner, perhaps afraid that any movement he'd perform would disrupt the offense. And the defenses gave him that space, knowing he wouldn't often make the shot. All of Artest's field goals happened after penetration, showing he took a more active role in helping the offense run its course. It's perhaps another argument for why the Lakers should put heavy emphasis on ball movement and penetration because it elevates everyone's offensive capabilities, including Artest's.
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Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest makes it difficult for Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant to drive in Game 5 on Tuesday night. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.