Dissecting the Thunder's points in transition in Lakers' 87-79 Game 1 victory over Oklahoma City
Following the Lakers' 87-79 Game 1 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers were left with many theories on why Oklahoma City manufactured 14 fast-break points with relative ease. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant simply believes the Lakers don't have the speed to match the Thunder. Lakers forward Pau Gasol thought the team, including himself, should've displayed better effort. And Lakers forward Ron Artest still searched for answers.
It should come as no surprise the speed Russell Westbrook burned the Lakers' defense, most notably Derek Fisher for 23 points on 10 of 16 shooting. It should also come as no surprise the Thunder's speed overwhelmed the aging Lakers.
Yet, the Lakers remained conflicted on how to best stop Oklahoma City in transition moving forward. After all, the Lakers nearly took care of everything else with a dominating post presence, led by Andrew Bynum and Gasol combining for 32 points. Meanwhile, Artest frustrated Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant to a seven of 24 performance. But the Thunder largely stayed in the game because of those 14 fast-break points. The verdict is out on whether the Thunder can properly adjust to the Lakers' post presence and Artest's defense. But the verdict is also still out on whether Bryant's shooting stroke will come back to full form soon, and whether the Lakers can limit the Thunder's speed.
This much is clear. The Lakers lacked consensus on how to correct the problem.
Said Bryant: "Have a little bit of a cushion. They’re really fast. They all run like deer. To get a step on us, I’m not catching Westbrook. You have to have a couple steps on them."
Said Gasol: "That’s something we need to control. Long shots and long rebounds that leads to run outs. Turnovers lead to runouts. They’re an up tempo high style team so we have to make sure we limit those and the more shots we make the better off we’ll be. At the same time we have to sprint back and realize where we are on the floor."
Said Artest: "As a team, we'll figure it out tomorrow, watch the tape and figure out tomorrow see if we can do a better job. [Westbrook's] a great player. But there has to be a way we can minimize something."
Phil Jackson's observations are more detailed and insightful, and the team likely has already gone over the film. But in case anyone dozed off or just forgot to take notes, below is a breakdown of the Cliffs notes version of what the Lakers did wrong on transition defense.
First quarter, 6:46 - 6:35
Fisher drove through traffic into the lane, and forced a runner that hit off the front rim. Thunder OKC center Nenad Krstic easily grabbed the board after boxing out Bynum and then threw an outlet pass on the near side to Westbrook. Oklahoma City has a 3-on-2 break with Artest and Bryant the only ones getting back on D. Fisher showed effort in catching up, but his lack of speed showed, while Gasol and Bynum trudged back. Bryant and Artest denied Westbrook a drive to the basket by closing in the paint. But without their teammates back to help, no one was there to mark Durant on the near baseline or Thunder forward Jeff Green on the left block. Westbrook fired a pass to Green on the left block and he drove in for the easy score to close the Lakers' lead to 10-8.
Second quarter, 10:18 - 10:11
Artest drove from the nearside perimeter past Durant, but he quickly caught up and OKC reserve center Nick Collison doubled down low to help Durant deny Artest the baseline. Instead of immediately feeding Bynum inside, Artest picked up his dribble, pump faked and then passed the ball to Bynum. But Collison swiped the pass away. Thunder reserve guard Eric Maynor runs the break, as Lakers reserve guard Jordan Farmar picked him u p at the top of the key. Lakers forward Lamar Odom and Lakers guard Shannon Brown stayed in the paint, but had to worry about Durant on the near wing, Serge Ibaka inside and James Harden on the far perimeter. As Maynor approached the free-throw line, Brown stepped up to give Harden less space on the perimeter, but that left Ibaka open backdoor for the easy dunk, cutting the Lakers' lead to 29-19. Odom and Brown were dealt a bad hand, but it's more risky for Brown to leave someone open inside than to leave someone open on the perimeter. Artest and Bynum were also slow to get back with Artest appearing confused with his turnover and Bynum's lack of speed limiting him.
Second quarter, 1:40 - 1:25
With Bryant posting up on the far wing, he meets a double team from OKC guaed Thabo Sefolosha and Durant, leaving Artest wide open at the top of the key. The Thunder all sagged back in the paint, and Artest took the bait with 10 seconds on the shot clock. You can say Artest simply took an open look, but he hasn't been dropping them lately, leaving no coincidence that the Thunder all stayed in the paint. Since Artest's shot isn't falling, he could've taken one or two steps inside and settled for a jumper. But he attempted a three-pointer and the shot hit off the back rim. Gasol showed zero effort in getting to the glass and allowed Krstic to box him out and beat him to the board. The Lakers sans Gasol are back on D, but the Thunder still beat them on transition. After Fisher tried swiping the ball from Westbrook, he drove past him into the lane. Though Odom, Bryant and Artest all tried stopping him in the paint, Westbrook weaved through, converted on the finger roll and drew a foul on Artest. Westbrook didn't convert on the free throw, but his finger roll reduced the Lakers' lead to 45-35.
Third quarter, 12:00 - 11:39
The Lakers didn't exactly open the second half with good offensive execution. Bryant drove the lane before Sefolosha denied him penetration. Instead Bryant posted up and settled for a fadeaway jumper despite the Lakers having 13 seconds on the shot clock to allow the offense to create better options. His shot hit off the rim and Krstic grabbed the rebound. Westbrook immediately pushed the ball up the floor and drives with relative ease through the lane with Fisher and Artest not giving much of a fight. Westbrook's layup reduced the Lakers' lead to 47-41.
Third quarter, 6:10 - 5:55
After Fisher fed Bynum an entry pass on the left block, Artest cut baseline, Fisher set a high screen on Sefolosha and Bryant curled around for the Bynum's dump pass. Bryant drove left, but Krstic and Sefolosha doubled up on Bryant. Bynum didn't appear open as however, as Green denied him the ability to post up. Bryant settled for a fadeaway jumper, which hit off the back rim. Krstic worked Gasol on the boards again before feeding the ball to Westbrook. In exactly five seconds, Westbrook took the ball from the timeline, drove the lane past Artest and Fisher and converted on the layup, cutting the Lakers' lead to 53-44.
Third quarter, 5:12 - 5:02
Bynum ran a high-screen-and-roll on Sefolosha for Bryant, who drove to the right block before Krstic approached Bryant on help. Bryant took the jumper on the right block, though Gasol remained open on the left. This really created a catch-22 situation for Bryant. He undoubtedly needs to shoot open shots to create a better rhythm after missing four of the last five games. But his ailing index finger also has shown these opportunities aren't always the best one. This sequence didn't reflect poor decision making in Bryant, but the play perfectly illustrated the dichotomy Bryant faces. Knowing Bryant's scoring nature and refusal to give up, he took the shot. It didn't go in, however, and Westbrook grabbed the board with no Lakers player under the basket. Westbrook drove the length of the court, beat Fisher in the lane and Bryant in the paint for the running floater, cutting the Lakers' lead to 55-46.
Fourth quarter 1:06 - :55
Gasol set a high screen on Green for Bryant before rolling inside. With Krstic denying Gasol space inside, he cut out to the near wing and Bryant drove the lane. He met a double team from Collison and Green so Bryant kicked the ball out to Gasol, whose jumper fell short. Gasol should've posted up on Collison instead of flashing out on the wing because he likely would've had a good look inside. But with Gasol's missed jumper, Collison grabbed the rebound and passed the ball out to Westbrook to run the break. Fisher cut off Westbrook's penetration, but he timed perfectly a bounce pass to Durant, who dunked over Odom, to cut the lead to 84-77.
What it means
The described plays confirm Bryant's contention that the Lakers just don't have the speed to match the Thunder's quickness, and they need to take preventive measures in limiting Oklahoma City's points in transition. There were a few plays the Lakers didn't all get back on defense, but the lapses mostly point to the team's decision making on offense. It may be tough to stomach that no matter what the Lakers do on transition defense, OKC will simply dominate them. But the Lakers are perfectly capable of indirectly controlling the Thunder's strength in youth and speed by being more deliberate on offense by working the ball inside more. The Lakers just aren't a good shooting team so there is no good reason why they would work their offense outside-in, instead of inside-out. Gasol is correct the Lakers need to show more effort on the glass. Though the Lakers won the rebounding edge 41-36, the Thunder compensated for its height disadvantage by showing more effort on the boards.
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Credit: Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook, who finished with 23 points, elevates above Lakers guards Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant for a shot in the lane on Sunday. Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Credit: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tries to disrupt the dribble of Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who begins a drive in the second half Sunday. Photo: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook splits Lakers forwards Ron Artest, top, and Lamar Odom to score the first basket of the game Sunday afternoon. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times.