The Lakers’ Game 3 win over the Thunder on Friday was gritty, hard-fought, and earned largely at the free throw line. With the game slowed and the clock stopped is where L.A. did most of its damage offensively, scoring 41 of the team’s 99 points from the foul line on 42 attempts.
The free throw percentage of 97.6 was the second best in NBA playoff history, with a minimum of 30 attempts. It’s unlikely that the Lakers will get that many tries again in Game 4, but if nothing else, they’ll try to recreate the offensive stylings that helped get them to that point in Game 3.
“It’s two games in a row now where we’ve controlled the tempo,” said Kobe Bryant after Game 3. “We’ve done a pretty good job controlling the pace of the game being physical. But as you see, even tonight there were stretches where, (with) their explosiveness, they just go on runs quickly. In 45 seconds to a minute they can go on a 7-0, 8-0 run. So we’ve got to be careful with the ball and keep them out of transition.”
Bryant wasn’t kidding about the Thunder’s explosiveness. One such run came in a 36-second span midway through the fourth quarter, where OKC was able to score seven straight points in the blink of an eye. He was also dead-on about the turnovers.
The Lakers played excellent halfcourt defense for the second straight game, and really only struggled for extended periods when they were careless with the ball and allowed the Thunder to get out in transition for easier looks.
It truly is all about pace and tempo for the Lakers in this series, especially with such a short turnaround time between Games 3 and 4. The first back-to-back set of these playoffs will have these teams back at Staples Center for tip-off less than 24 hours after Game 3 was in the books.
That would appear to favor the youth and energy of this Thunder team, and Bryant knows if his team doesn’t play with the same discipline it has in the past two games, the Lakers will be in serious trouble.
“No, not if it’s an up-and-down game, no. We don’t have a shot,” Bryant said, when asked if the Lakers could play with a more energetic Thunder team in Game 4. “We could both be extremely well-rested and not have a shot. Just slow the game down, play our pace and play our tempo, and we’ll be fine. Whether it’s back-to-back or three nights in a row, it doesn’t matter. If we control the pace, we’ll give ourselves a great opportunity.”
The opportunity will indeed be there for the Lakers to even the series if they can execute their plan to perfection. They’ll need to take full advantage of it, too. Because as exhilarating as beating the Thunder to get back into the series was on Friday, all will be lost if they can’t repeat the performance on Saturday, and the team has to head back to Oklahoma City on the wrong end of a three-games-to-one series deficit.