Last night's 77-75 result was a total contrast to Game 1, where the Thunder scored a whopping 119 points on their way to an easy victory. The offense was on pace for a normal game early on in the first half, but things totally halted in the second half. Here's some of the reasons why.
Kevin Durant didn't take a single contested shot. Every look he got was clean, generally off of a solid screen from a big, on the fast break, or off of an offensive rebound. The only contested shot he did take was the strong layup that won the Thunder the game, which I have no problem with him taking.
Almost every short Kobe Bryant took was contested. Every single look he got was either a longshot three, a drive to the basket, or a turnaround jumper with Harden or Sefolosha in his face. About 80% of the time, it was a contested jumper. He almost never had a pick set for him, and when he did, the pick was really fishy and ineffective.
It pretty much represents a contrast in styles. Bryant is the master of isos, willing to triple threat his opponents to death. He pretty much fakes the drive constantly and settles on taking a fadeaway jumpshot. It wasn't super effective tonight, as he doesn't have the size or length of a Dirk Nowitzki, and his shot just seemed to be off in general. Some Laker fans would claim that KD gets open looks because Kendrick Perkins is setting a "moving screen", but the Lakers bigs aren't helping Kobe move around the floor at all, because they like to score off of post-up plays rather than pick and rolls. Most of the time it works out fine, but in the second half it led to some heavy stagnation.
The Thunder's offense stagnated for different reasons. One of the more notable culprits was Serge Ibaka, who missed two straight open jumpers late in the fourth, putting the Thunder in a big hole. Gasol looked like he didn't really even care about defending Ibaka from beyond the block, and didn't even raise a hand against him half of the time. Gasol's strategy seemed to work tonight, but I honestly have no problem with Ibaka continuing to throw up two or three mid-range shots, as long as they're open. Eliminating that weapon from his offensive arsenal would pretty much justify never having Mohammed or Perkins never taking that shot again either, and that would really limit what the Thunder can do with their offense. Sure, you're gonna have nights like this, but it's pretty rare that Ibaka, Mohammed, and Perkins all shoot under 50%.
Below: Westbrook's game and how he was defended, turnovers, getting into the paint, awards!
Another culprit was Russell Westbrook. To be fair, a lot of Westbrook's shots came during the first half, and some of his misses were tough layups that barely rimmed out. But on some of the other plays I saw, Westbrook seemed to revert back to the 2011 version of himself. He wasn't looking for screens as often, willing to spot up Steve Blake straight up. He even took a shot from the forbidden zone (the zone between the free throw line and restricted area). It bounced in, but his body language could be a bad sign of things to come. And you can't forget his total defensive lapse at the end of the game, leaving Steve Blake wide open.
You could see that leaving Blake or Sessions on Westbrook wasn't actually that bad of an idea. The reason he punished Fisher so much back in the day is because he was a reckless attacker of the basket, pretty much willing to ignore whatever defense was in front of him. Now, Westbrook is much more focused on his mid-range jumper, and isn't as involved at punching it down low. Seeing Sessions and Blake as not tall enough to contend with his jumper, he gets too overconfident and forgets to set a screen, leading to a lower percentage shot. In short, he's either going to have to get smarter about his jumpers or recognize when he has a mismatch, and exploit it down low.
Lastly, I'd like to address the turnovers the Thunder had to endure tonight. The Lakers seemed pretty content overall to just let the Thunder take open shots, but they would defend the paint with the hunger of a thousand hyenas. Every time a Thunder player drove the lane, it seemed like the Laker defender kept up with them on one side, while another defender came to help from the weak side and sandwich them in. The result was a lot of lost balls. There were some highlight reel drives, sure, but the Lakers generally did an excellent job of protecting the paint.
Heading into tomorrow's game, I'd like to see the Thunder work on more creative ways to get into the paint. I know that every TNT analyst kept rambling on about this "the Thunder are a jump shooting team" nonsense, but there's a grain of truth to what they were saying. The Thunder's bigs, aside from Nick Collison, had huge problems getting looks inside, and half of the time a wing player drove the ball, they got their pocket picked. If Westbrook and Harden could settle down, it would lead to some easier baskets and better ball movement. As I've said before, they're starting to play with their balls, rather than their head. But the reverse is true for Kevin Durant. I'd like to see him force a couple more shots inside the arc. Anything's better than a TO.
Thunder Wonder: James Harden, for beasting through in the end.
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, for leading the team in boards and assists, and a solid all-around performance.
Thunder Blunder: Kendrick Perkins. Clank.
Thunder Plunderer: Pau Gasol with an efficient, if not amazing, performance.
Next Game: At the Los Angeles Lakers, Friday, May 18th, 9:30 PM Central Daylight Time