Lakers vow to improve rebounding efforts in Game 5 against Oklahoma City
All day, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson spent his Sunday afternoon and evening dissecting all that went wrong in the team's 110-89 Game 4 loss Saturday to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He compiled a detailed list for what would entail a long film study during Monday's practice, with several areas including the team's poor transition defense, the team's poor effort on loose balls, the team's poor shot selection, the free-throw disparity and the team's poor rebounding. Yet, with so many problems to fix with so little time, he insisted that very little should be taken away from the Game 4 loss.
""You have to let that one go down the drain, flush it down the toilet and let it go," Jackson said. "You don't have to bring it back up again and analyze it."
Nonetheless, those aforementioned problems aren't foreign to the Lakers. The Lakers are shooting 41.3% from the field and 29.2% from three-point range in their 2-2 series against the Thunder. OKC, led by guard Russell Westbrook, has overwhelmed the Lakers with a 72-17 edge in fast-break points. The Thunder has won the free-throw battle, 139-94, not because of favorable treatment but because it has played more aggressively on offense. And the Thunder has out-rebounded the Lakers 103-82 in the last two games.
Though the Lakers pledge to improve in all those areas Tuesday night in Game 5, the most egregious statistic involves the rebounding, namely because the Lakers have the size in Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to control the glass. It also seems astounding considering the Lakers outrebounded OKC in the first two games, 90-73. I took Jackson's advice in not dissecting Game 4 because some of the rebounding lapses (and any lapse for that matter) pointed to the Lakers giving up early than poor execution. Game 3 was a different story, and below the jump is a breakdown of all the missed offensive rebounds that resulted in the Thunder scoring in transition.
First quarter, 4:52 - 4:37
Oklahoma City played the Lakers in a box-and-1, with Oklahoma City forward Jeff Green marking Bryant on the far side, while OKC guard James Harden, guard Thabo Sefolosha, center Nick Collison and forward Kevin Durant manned the lane. As soon as Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drove along the far baseline, Collison doubled Bryant in traffic. OKlahoma City broke out of its junk defense after Bryant passed the ball to Lakers forward Ron Artest on the near corner. Harden confronted Artest, forced him to his left before he quickly picked up his dribble. With three seconds left on the shot clock, Artest heaved a three-point, but it hit off the front rim. Bynum didn't attempt to box out Collison inside, but he still had the ability to grab the ball over him. But Bynum couldn't get a firm hold on the ball as Durant grabbed the rebound. OKC then ran a two-on-one fast break with Durant passing to Harden on the near end. Harden one-timed the pass to Thunder guard Russell Westbrook on the far end. With Lakers guard Derek Fisher the only player bacj on D, Westbrook easily drove in for the two-handed dunk, cutting the Lakers' lead to 20-11.
First quarter, 3:56 - 3:49
After Artest passed the ball to Bryant in the far corner, he curled left and pulled up for a jumper over Green. The shot hit off the front rim, and Durant grabbed the rebound with Gasol making zero effort to box out and grab the rebound. To make matters worse, Gasol saunters back on defense. Artest tried confronting Durant at the top of the key, but he connected to Harden, who stood wide open on the far corner. Harden's three pointer reduced the Lakers' lead to 22-16.
Second quarter, :42 - :32
With Bryant manning the point at the top of the key, Bynum set a high screen on Westbrook. Oklahoma City Thunder Nenad Krstic switched, while Westbrook fought through the screen. That left Lakers forward Luke Walton wide open at the top of the key. Bryant kicked the ball out to Walton, whose attempted three-pointer hit off the front rim. Neither Bynum, Gasol nor Bryant boxed out in the paint, allowing Westbrook to grab the board with ease on the far end. Westbrook pushed the ball up the court and drives through the lane past Walton for the left-handed layup, cutting the Lakers' lead to 50-43. That marked Westbrook's 10th point in 10 shots.
Third quarter, 11:26 - 11:16
Fisher looked to throw an entry pass to Bynum inside, but he couldn't get good positioning on Krstic. So Fisher drove the lane, drawing a double team from Westbrook and Krstic along the baseline. That left Bryant open at the top of the key, but Fisher forced a pass inside to Bynum. OKC guard Thabo Sefolosha batted the ball away, which went to Bryant at the top of the key. Sefolosha immediately picked Bryant up, but he enough time and space to drive past him and through the lane for the left-handed leaner. The shot rimmed out, and Durant grabbed the board, thanks to a Westbrook tip out. This play showcased the Thunder's tendency to clog the paint -- front and backcourt included -- to grab the rebound and start run outs. Durant immediately passed the ball upcourt to Green, who sped past Artest for the reverse layup, reducing the Lakers' lead to 50-47.
Third quarter, 4:16 - 4:00
Gasol set a high screen on Westbrook, and Krstic doubled up on Bryant as he drove near the right block. Though Gasol was left open in the paint, he didn't get a look. Bryant kicked the ball out to Artest at the top of the key. He dribbled left and settled for a pull-up jumper with only three seconds remaining on the shot clock. Both Gasol and Odom were boxed out, and Sefolosha batted the ball out of Gasol's hands. The Lakers all got back on defense, but Durant managed to drive past Kobe off a simple entry pass from Sefolosha. Durant's shot rimmed out, but Collisson grabbed the board, despite Gasol, Odom and Bynum standing in the paint. Collison's putback cut the Lakers' lead to 66-62.
Third quarter, 1:34 - 1:21
Lakers guard Shannon Brown set up Gasol on the right block, but immediately drew a double team from Harden and Krstic. Gasol kicked the ball out to Brown, who air-balled his three-point attempt. Krstic boxed Gasol out, allowing Durant to grab the board without a problem. He then ran the break, stopped at the top of the key and passed the ball to Harden on the near side of the perimeter. His three-pointer reduced cut the Lakers' advantage to 74-71.
Third quarter 1:03 - :53
The Lakers did little to stave off the crowd's electric energy. Brown fed Gasol at the left block and El Spaniard had a one-on-one advantage against Krstic. Instead, Gasol passed the ball to Fisher on the near-side perimeter. Fisher's three pointer came with 10 seconds left on the shot clock against a contested Westbrook, and the shot hit off the rim. Krstic boxed out Gasol and Ibaka boxed out Odom without a fight, allowing Durant to grab the rebound unguarded. He ran out on the far end of the court and pulled up for a transition three-pointer, tying the game up at 74-74
Fourth quarter, 6:05 - 5:49
After Gasol received an entry pass from Artest, Gasol dribbled in and then kicked the ball out to Fisher on the far corner. He pump faked Westbrook, but then dished the ball to Bryant on the far perimeter. Though Durant closely guarded Bryant, he fired a three-pointer that ultimately hit off the back iron. Artest leaned in for the rebound, but couldn't get a firm hold on the ball. Westbrook grabbed the loose ball and the pull up for a corner jumper, increasing the Thunder's lead to 86-82.
Fourth quarter, 5:30 - 5:11
Bryant drove left, dribbled behind his back and slashed right toward the free-throw line. Durant slid back, Bryant dribbled the ball between his legs and drove left since Durant gave him space. After cutting past the left elbow, Bryant pulled up for a jumper outside of the paint, but Durant swatted the ball away, raising the crowd's decibel level to deafening proportions. The play marked Durant's valiant defensive effort on Bryant where he only went two of 10 from the field in the fourth quarter. It resulted in Durant nailing a nine-foot jumper in transition on the following play, giving OKC an 88-82 lead.
What this means
After rewatching the tape, I actually found it most disturbing that players seemed to stress the need to get back more than actually trying to fight for the rebound. I'm not saying the Lakers should trot back on D, which in many cases they have. But they have to consider the competitive advantage they have. The Thunder is simply a faster and quicker team, and while an effort to get back early can be helpful, it can also negate your game plan.
Bynum's contention that it may be necessary to give up rebounds in order to get back on transition defense is ridiculous. The Lakers have a much better chance, given their size, to win against Oklahoma City in cleaning windows than in winning in a foot race just because they got a head start on transition defense. The plays above demonstrate two things. The Lakers are either impatient with their shot selection or are so slow in running the triangle that they don't have much time other than mustering up a forced shot. But the Lakers should have a dependable insurance policy in the big men grabbing the boards, a quality the team lacked mostly due to the frontline's unwillingness to hustle and box out.
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Photo: Lakers' Pau Gasol loses control of the ball in front of the Thunders' Serge Ibaka in Game Three of the Western Conference playoffs in Oklahoma City. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times