The Lakers are 48 minutes away from losing their second NBA Finals in three years. They’re also 48 minutes away from forcing a game seven in their building. Their backs are against the wall at the current moment, but this is a 57-win team who has only lost one home game in these playoffs. And they have the best player on the floor. How can the Lakers shake off what’s been plaguing them over the course of the last two games and put themselves a game away from a championship? Here are a few possibilities:
Get Pau Gasol going:
Sometimes Pau Gasol looks like the best big man in basketball. Sometimes he looks invisible. When Gasol and Bynum have owned the paint in these playoffs, the Lakers have been invincible. The Lakers can’t count on Bynum and his bad knee giving them good minutes in game six, so the onus is on Pau to fight KG and Big Baby for low-post position and on the Lakers to get him the ball when he does. Pau has looked dominant at times in this series. He needs to get back to what he was doing earlier in the series if the Lakers don’t want Tuesday night’s game to be their last.
The Celtics are not a great half-court offensive team, but you wouldn’t have known that if you watched game five. Ron Artest needs to get on the same page as everybody else and get back to locking down Paul Pierce. He should make Paul Pierce wear him. Gasol needs to get tough with Garnett. Fisher needs to keep giving the same kind of effort that he’s been giving on Ray Allen. The Lakers have to swarm, play with energy, and play with passion on the defensive end. Pack the paint, play physical, and make the Celtics earn everything they get.
Get Kobe going early:
Traditionally, Phil Jackson likes Kobe to distribute early and try and take over late. In game six, he may be well served by flipping the script. Kobe doesn’t need to try and throw in bombs early; he can attack off the drive, post guys up, or get into the middle of the lane and drive-and-kick. It’ll get the crowd into it, it’ll give the role players the confidence they need, and it will keep the Boston defense from settling in and demoralizing the Lakers and their crowd. The Lakers are comfortable playing from behind and know they can make a run at any time; Boston has trouble responding when they get put on their heels early.
Confidence From The Role Players:
The Celtics are up 3-2 because they have more rotation players playing with extreme confidence on both ends of the floor. When the Laker role players have the ball, they alternate between looking scared to do anything and forcing something because they panicked. The Boston defense is hard enough to score on when five players are attacking it; if only one or two players are making an honest effort to get it done, there’s no way to score on them.
Artest needs to play with confidence, move the ball quickly, and work for garbage baskets. Fisher needs to get the Lakers into their offense, knock down open shots, and keep the Celtics off balance by driving the lane when they don’t pay attention to him. Odom has to be aggressive, especially on the glass and in transition.
If the Lakers want to win these next two games, everyone from Kobe to Sasha Vujacic has to believe they can make the right play if they have to. That doesn’t mean everyone should be looking to jack up shots or force passes, but they have to have the confidence to make quick, decisive moves on the fly with all the pressure on them. The Staples crowd will help with that, but ultimately it’s going to be up to the players to find that confidence within themselves and turn this series around.