NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 2: Where did the Laker offense go wrong?

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bryant_game2.pngAll things considered, the Lakers’ Game 2 offense was not a failure. Their free throw rate was off the charts, their offensive rebound rate was stellar, and the turnovers were completely manageable. It was L.A.’s drop-off combined with Boston’s improved offensive execution that tipped the balance, which makes assigning specific blame a bit tricky.

Sure, you can look at Ron Artest’s 1-for-10 night and say that he failed spectacularly or point out Derek Fisher’s weak defensive strategy against Ray Allen, but there was no singular force — not even the sweet-shooting Jesus Shuttlesworth — that earned Boston a Game 2 victory.

That leaves us all looking beyond the obvious, and in doing so likely attributing too much influence to minor factors. It’s not easy to diagnose a loss like this one for L.A. (at least in terms of their offense), but we can start small and work our way back up. However, maintaining an understanding that no individual element of the Lakers’ offense can be marked as the goat is crucial. As such, it was a combination of somewhat minor differences between Game 1 and 2 that gave the Celtics the opportunity to take a game at STAPLES.

For example, we can look to the Lakers’ execution on the pick-and-roll. The screen game is an essential element of any NBA offense (even the triangle), and L.A. was far more successful coming off screens in Game 1 than they were in Game 2. According to Synergy Sports, the Laker ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations scored 1.43 points per possession in Game 1 (scoring on 64.3% of such possessions), the model of efficiency.

In Game 2? Not only did the ball-handlers in pick-and-roll situations finish plays only about half as often, but L.A.’s ball-handlers only scored 0.75 points per possession. That’s a substantial difference, not only in the plays directly accounted for, but in the way those plays influenced the Celtics’ coverage of the pick-and-roll. Boston was able to negate the impact of L.A.’s ball-handlers coming off of screens with calculated pressure, rather than having to respond to the Laker guards’ success in those scenarios with a scrambling last line of defense.

Don’t underestimate the difference between the two, as when and how a defense elects to apply pressure matters a great deal. When the Celtics are dictating when they help on pick-and-rolls (or more importantly, who they help off of), they’re a defensive force. When Kobe Bryant, Jordan Farmar, and Shannon Brown are forcing Boston to adapt to their assertiveness, it’s a different game.