Lakers vs. Spurs (WCF Game 1 5/21/08)
Utah Thwarted – 8 More To Go
The Lakers move onto the Western Conference finals, but not after some interesting games in this series and above all the Lakers might have learned more about themselves in this series.
Right from the beginning the Lakers came out with that first hard strike that has served them well all year. Sure, they’ve let teams into games, but it was so vital to dive into this game with determination to get the Jazz on their heels, the arena quieted down and the game within their pace quickly. The Lakers did just that, pushing the Jazz into a bit of a scrambled defensive mode in the 1st quarter.
Every score for the Lakers in the 1st quarter and in the 1st half in general was coming easy. It was coming easy because the Lakers learned that between Lamar pounding the ball right down the middle of the paint and Pau filling the sides of the key, the Jazz had no recourse but to let someone free for an easy shot. Watching the Lakers finally realize this inherent advantage (simply because of personnel) was a big step in the hopefully long-range success of the team. If Lamar can continue to jab into the paint with his dribble, taking a power forward along with him for the ride the court will open up real wide.
If you noticed (and I’m sure most did), the more aggressive Lamar was getting into the teeth of the Jazz’s defense, the more space Kobe, Derek and most of the Laker shooters had to operate. It wasn’t just open shots, but it was creating room for everyone to move off the ball better. That off ball movement is the absolute lifeblood of the Laker machine.
That movement had Utah looking downright confused at points. They were sent into a bit of a panic mode on defense while the Lakers continued to expand the lay-up drill that was the 1st half.
Meanwhile the Laker defense did a fantastic job of packing the middle early on. Any drive the Jazz attempted was met with early help and tons of traffic in the paint. So as the jazz tried to open up the middle of the Laker defense, they were forced to kick it out for lower percentage shots and at the very worst, even normally open drives for Utah were met with some kind of opposition.
The Lakers looked like they learned the benefit of early help on quick guards and small jabs into the side of the paint.
And again, the defensive stand-out was Derek. The defensive ability he showed this entire series was amazing to see. As he struggled with screens and picks all year, this series saw none of that. Surely some come from knowing how the Jazz like to run their offense, but the majority of Derek’s good defensive play came from smart vision. You could tell the communication was improved in this game. What Fisher really did well was attacking off the weak side of the ball. When a drive was going in, or a break got by someone, Derek swooped in really nicely a couple of times in this game (most notably the cleanest steal of the year off of Williams in the 2nd half)
There were still moments of Derek running under screens here and there, but his recovery speed came out of nowhere in this one. When he couldn’t recover the Lakers did a good job of sealing up wide-open looks in the key.
Offensively, Fisher has just been on fire this series. His percentage from beyond the arc has been great and better yet, this series saw a bit of a revival of Derek taking the ball to the rack like a point guard again.
Another thing the Lakers learned in this series was exactly how Pau can be most effective. Pau did a slightly better job in this one of keeping the ball away from the quick hands of the smaller players, but still struggled with his swing move for the hook shot or baby jumper. Mostly though, Pau was playing the low post complementary to his style. He wasn’t necessarily getting into the meat of the mix on boards, but he did a good job of waiting on the wings and swooping in from the side of the key to give some height into the middle.
What Pau lacks in physicality, he more than makes up for in intelligence and almost stealthy play at times. Pau got some confidence in running the middle back, but still has to get back to that crisp movement he had earlier in the regular season. I expect if the Lakers play a less physical team (which they will in the next round) Pau’s movement will free up quite a bit. Pau still looked tentative on a lot of shots in this one. Maybe he was afraid of being blocked, but whatever it was, Pau has got to be stronger in his conviction to finish a play he easily can.
The recurring dividend in this one (and in the series really) came on the defensive end. Pau has really done a good job being part of the help in the middle and rattling off some unforeseen blocks that shored up the inside D. He didn’t leave Lamar alone in the middle (as the Jazz did with Boozer), at almost every turn Pau was right alongside of him making easy inside scores tough for the Jazz to get.
For my money, I think Sasha played a key role not only this game, but in the whole series. When Farmar fell beyond flat, Sasha did a more than respectable job of coming in to spell the backcourt. Then when Vladi had off games, Sasha came in and filled that void as well. In this game, Sasha had some moments of ragged manic play on the offensive end, as he is apt to have. But couple with that were a couple of real nice plays, the least of which was the great drive he had in the 2nd (and later on the 3rd) quarter when he had the Jazz set up for him tossing up a 3. I like his fearlessness in shooting in this one too. Shooting 1-11 last game, a lot of players would lose confidence, but it was great to see it have no effect on a young player like Sasha.
Sasha also had a good game of getting to his spots earlier in sets than he did in Game 5. There was rarely a time that Sasha was out of step.
Defensively, Sasha did a better job on Korver than he had ion previous games. Korver wasn’t getting free off of his baseline runs at all. Sasha, did real well not getting tempted into futile help in the middle, letting Korver get free along the 3 point line.
I touched on Lamar earlier in this, but I don’t think enough can be said of the absolutely huge role he played in this game, but more importantly, Lamar was a massive reason the Lakers got this series done inside of the dreaded 7th game. It was mostly on the offensive end where Lamar really had the jazz stuck with no answer. His recognition of open lanes, even pretty tight ones, in this game was on the money. For the 3rd time in a row Lamar had almost a flawless game in regards to decision making.
Kobe was Kobe again tonight. That shot he hit off the board in the 4th was goose bump-worthy. For the 6th game in a row Kobe’s quick first step (even with the bad back) tore up the jazz’s inside defense, and the subsequent help by forcing the jazz to play defense with their hands rather than their feet. Underscored in this game was Kobe’s defense.
The easy looks that Brewer and Deron got on the inside were all shut down buy some very good defensive spacing by Kobe. There was no room left for the Jazz to move once Kobe found his spot on the defense in between the off man and the drive.
What Kobe needs to be careful of on the defensive end is taking a step away from his man when they pull p for the shot. There were several times in this game where his man would rise up for the shot but for some reason Kobe was backpedaling instead of standing up where he was with hands up or getting a hand in their face.
I mean, there’s not much more to say, but Kobe had you watching this game and this series with your mouth open wondering what else he can be capable of.
I don’t think picking on Farmar will prove any point. Suffice it to say that Jordan’s game can take a big step forward if he stops putting his teammates in bad spots like he did in this one. Make the early pass and cut off of it. Jordan knows what to do; he showed it this whole year. It was a bad series for him; the next round will hopefully be different.
Luke did a good job today of not letting Harpring get free for shots in this one. Game 5 saw Luke struggling to keep up with Harpring’s movement, but Luke did a considerably better job running through traffic to stay on Harpring’s hip.
Ronny had trouble staying on his feet. Looking for the block is fine, in fact he had a real strong one in this game, but for Ronny to have more of an impact he’s got to pick and choose his leaps much better than he did in this game.
Alright, so, I know it was along article, but its hard not to be excited about the prospects of this team. With each of these first 2 rounds you’ve seen the Lakers learn about the kind of team they are, use that to their advantage and best of all, close a series out when they had the chance.
Sure the Jazz had a comeback in this one, but these are the best 8 teams in the league, they don’t go down without a serious fight (as this whole second round can attest to, outside of the Orlando / Detroit series).
The big thing in this Game 6 (and subsequently the playoffs so far) was/is the calm the Lakers played with when things got hairy. The control of a veteran team that’s confident in what they need to do to win was happily evident.
Focus Wins The Day
The rust was apparent as the game opened. Though the Lakers had moments of good play, they definitely looked like a team that has had a bit too much time away from game situations. Defensively there were moments of obvious breakdowns that weren’t happening when the Lakers were in rhythm. However, this is a totally different team than the Jazz or Nuggets and adjustment will happen.
In the end, the Lakers showed patience and concentration that Phil Jackson teams always have. It served them well in what is hopefully the most disjointed game they’ll play in this series.
What’s important for the Lakers is that the period of adjustment is as short as possible. This is practically the same team the Lakers’ leaders Kobe, Phil and Derek have seen time and again.
Fisher has got to always remember to give up ground on the outside, not to give any room for Parker to move down and into the paint. The obvious key with parker is keeping him out of short range. Early on in the game Derek was giving ground way too easily on the outside, letting Parker get into the paint with virtually no resistance.
Derek would be well served to not necessarily try to beat the speed of parker on defense, but to at least get the ball into his chest, making him backpedal or need help from the Duncan or Odom. If he can get the Spurs to move off of the side posts on defense it would not only vary his game up, but it would get open looks for Gasol (especially) and Odom on the easy shovel passes. You saw in the 3rd quarter when Derek had a nice take on the Spurs to get the lay-up in traffic. He’s got to pull that move off almost every other time, balancing between outside and inside better.
Gasol tends to not use the glass when he’s trying to throw in a chippy from short range. If he’d look to use the bank shot on closer shots he may have better luck in getting those to fall. The nice post move he had on Duncan in the 1st quarter is the kind of mobility that he can exploit against Duncan’s D. Pau just has to do what he did with Utah successfully, step 2 steps out of the paint and let drives give him the room to scoer easy.
Lamar has got to keep fighting through no calls or fouls he thinks he should get like he did in the 1st quarter. There were 3 instances where Lamar got tapped on his way up to the rack, but he did a good job of keeping at the rebound despite no whistle. Lamar just looked like he eventually got caught up in the refs and let it affect his transition game and ultimately his concentration.
That first 3 hit by Farmar couldn’t have been a better sign. The Spurs’ points are much more suited to Jordan’s game. The aggressive lay-up with the foul he got in the 2nd spoke volumes to Jordan looking like he found a bit more space for his game against the Spurs.
Defensively Jordan got a long run in the 1st half, doing a better job of spacing off of Parker, letting him get more open outside shots than views into driving lanes. But as theat run kept going Farmar looked intimidated again. For some reason he’s shying awayfrom the contact on drives that he was so willingly giving during the regular season. He did better in his time on the floor, and I don’t think this is a permanent thing for his game. But for Jordan to get more minutes he’s got to keep moving like he showed everyone he can. Moving to one spot and stopping never to move again in a set doesn’t work on either end of the floor.
Radmanovic did alright in this one, looking to do more than chuck it up from range. There was a nice tip-in a couple good takes right down the throat of the Sours’ D and overall Vladi played a much-needed active and varied game. Again though, the problem came on defense, where he just looks a half step slow no matter who he’s guarding. He was getting lost off of screens and any kind of traffic.
Ronny did a great job on Duncan in the 1st half. In particular he stayed on his feet perfectly. He didn’t bite on fakes, let his blocking instinct take a backseat and really bodied up on Duncan early in the post. Then came the 3rd quarter where Duncan just straight up used Ronny on the post. He started going for the fakes and left the floor one too many times, letting Duncan get to the line. Those trips to the line slowed the Lakers pace and often got them off kilter right when the rhythm looked like it was going to kick in.
The match up serves well to spell Odom or Gasol for small runs, but I think Phil left Ronny on the floor about 5 minutes too long in this one.
Kobe was so in pass first mode that there were at least 3 wide-open lanes directly in front of him that he was out and out turning down. This pass first mode for Kobe is great to have come from your superstar, but I’d hope that in the rest of this series (which is going to be tight the whole way through) Kobe doesn’t wait 2 and a half quarters to fire the game up.
Tonight though he did a great job in just firing up the team. Once he got his game going, you saw the huge jump in everyone’s play and activity. Most of it was in the sharpness of play. Everyone was back to getting to spots crisply and being in option spots they ignored earlier on. There came a bit of a watch Kobe play time in the 4th, but it faded quickly after a timeout.
When all is said and done Kobe played like an MVP – again. He stepped in when the team needed him most without taking the whole game away from everyone and took the game into the win column on his back.
Sasha was player of the game for my money. He was the only one I’ve seen this playoffs finally making Ginobli go right. He shaded him at every chance to his right and never really let Ginobli find a lane that wasn’t dictated by Sasha’s defense first. Once that drive was taken away Sasha did incredibly well coming off screens to keep up with him.
And in the end for a young player like Sasha to hit 2 clutch free throws like that was awesome.
There was obviously good in the game, but there was quite a bit of junk coming from the Lakers too.
Good rebounding effort on the defensive end. Long rebounds looked to be a bit of a problem as the Lakers did do a good job of packing the middle. This is a differently rebounding team than the jazz, but the Lakers looked like they were still expecting the highly physical inside play that Utah threw at them. The traffic in the middle is good to see though; it just can’t come at the expense of sending someone out to about 6 or 7-foot range to rove for longer boards.
The Lakers had some decent cuts / dives while they looked to push the ball inside early. The blocking foul Odom drew on Oberto in the 1st quarter was a good example of the Lakers not looking to play to the Spurs defense, but rather have the Spurs adjust to their aggressiveness.
There was a bit too much manic play once the ball got into the high post. The Lakers looked like they were pushing the tempo a bit too fast to stay within the methodical offense that serves them best.
The Lakers had the ball hit multiple stagnant points on offense. When the ball got caught up on the sides of the court, motion stopped and the Lakers looked stifled. The problem was that stuck play was the fault of the Lakers. The Spurs played good solid defense in the middle but it wasn’t enough to keep the Lakers from moving to pass option spots and easing up their spacing more.
There was a fantastic / stupendous sign in this game. At the first timeout in the 2nd quarter the Lakers evened the game up without Kobe on the floor – and without Kobe scoring point 1 yet.
The Lakers got beat far too much. There was no help coming onto Parker on his drives and when the Lakers did finally do something to get in their way, they were playing the last resort hands-first defense.
One to no pass offense was pervasive tonight. They did nothing to rotate the ball around the perimeter. No movement off the ball, minimal cuts and basically the Lakers were a team of guys standing around waiting for the other guy to wake up first.
7 missed lay-ups don’t help. It speaks loudly to the amount of mildew that was all over the Lakers’ game.
And the thing is I can go on with everything the Lakers did wrong. Yet despite all of this (and more) they came out with the win. I really don’t think the Lakers could play any worse for about ¾ of the game. The fact that they won (and they won without going 3-point crazy which was great to see develop) is a testament to this team’s newfound (to this season) ability to stay under control in the worst circumstances.
Being home or not, you’re talking about a mostly inexperienced playoff team (in regards to Conference Finals experience) coming back from a 20-point deficit to steal a game against a far more seasoned veteran championship caliber team.
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill