With the Lakers stumbling a bit coming into the playoffs and the Thunder being anything but a typical eight-seed, many people believed that the Lakers-Thunder series would be a lot more competitive than #1-#8 matchups usually are.
In game 1, things didn’t work out that way; the Thunder looked completely outmatched on both ends of the floor by the Lakers. The Lakers used Bynum and Gasol to punish the Thunder on the blocks. They made timely shots whenever Oklahoma tried to get within striking distance. The Lakers completely shut down the Thunder in the half-court, holding Durant to a 7-24 shooting night. Even though they only shot 41% from the field, the Lakers looked too big, too strong, and too talented for the Thunder to deal with on Sunday afternoon.
What can the Thunder do to prevent a repeat performance on Tuesday night? Here are some adjustments that could help the Thunder steal a game on the road:
1. Get Kevin Durant Going
This is absolutely imperative for the Thunder. Durant is the Thunder’s franchise player, the league’s leading scorer, and Oklahoma City’s only consistent offensive weapon in the half-court. If Durant continues to shoot 29% from the field, the Thunder simply do not have enough firepower to score points against the Lakers.
Durant seems extremely hesitant to take the ball at Ron Artest. He almost never drove on Artest when the Thunder played the Lakers in the regular season, and he didn’t take it to the rack against Artest in game one. Artest is a great man-to-man defender, but Durant is letting Artest take him out of his game and cause him to settle for jumpers. Durant is a good shooter, and he’ll make more of his jumpers on Tuesday night than he did on Sunday, but he’s got to get some points at the rim and trips to the free throw line.
The Thunder also have to do a better job getting Durant some better catches. The baseline screens, pin-downs, and staggered screens the Thunder have used to try and get Durant free haven’t been getting him good looks. The Thunder need to try and use their other players moving with the ball to free up Durant on the weak side instead of continuing to give it to him on the strong side.
2. Make an Effort To Push The Ball
Russell Westbrook did most of his damage in transition on Sunday and shot 10-16 from the field. The rest of the Thunder shot 19-56 from the field. The Thunder out-scored the Lakers 14-2 in fast-break points; if you take each team’s fast-break points away, the Lakers outscored Oklahoma City 85-65. Getting out in transition is always easier said than done, but the Thunder need to do their best to make it a full-court game.
3. Do Everything They Can To Stop Bynum and Gasol
The Thunder played great perimeter defense against the Lakers on Sunday. In fact, Lakers not named Bynum or Gasol combined to shoot only 19-54 from the field while attempting a combined total of 14 free throws. The Thunder don’t have the size to play Bynum or Gasol straight-up, but they need to do whatever they can to front them, bring aggressive double-teams, and make the Laker perimeter players work for their points or try to win with outside shooting. The Lakers aren’t a good three-point shooting team, and more long rebounds mean more Westbrook in transition.
There’s always the chance Kobe could go off, but that can happen regardless of what kind of defense you play. The Thunder can’t allow Bynum and Gasol to run a Mikan drill if they want to have a chance.
4. Get Some Production from their two-guard spot
In 37 minutes of play, Sefolosha and Harden combined for two points on 0-7 shooting from the field on Sunday. That’s not good. Sefolosha is in there for his defense, but he needs to make a few wide-open shots from time to time. Harden is a much better offensive player, but Kobe licked his chops and went right at Harden every time he saw him on Sunday. I’m not sure how long the Thunder can get away with keeping him on the floor for.
5. Use the Bench to their advantage
The Lakers bench has been notoriously weak this season. The Thunder bring Nick Collison, Eric Manor, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden off their bench. On paper, the Thunder’s second unit should be able to get the Thunder some points, but the Lakers were actually +1 in the seven minutes Kobe sat on Sunday. If the Lakers play the Thunder even while Kobe sits, that’s a major win for them.
Well, that’s my list of adjustments. Oklahoma City definitely has their work cut out for them for the remainder of the series, but they’re 48 good minutes away from stealing a game at Staples and having all the momentum in the series.