For this full recap, I'll be focusing on a few key areas that the Thunder struggled with in this game, and analyzing how they could have dealt with them better. I know that the Thunder won by a good margin when it was all said and done, but in order to move past a team like the Spurs, they've got to recognize some key weaknesses.
Like it or not, Kobe Bryant had a fantastic game against the Thunder today. Though the Thunder won't have to deal with him until next season, it's worth taking a look at what worked for him and what didn't. It's not often that someone goes for 42 points while shooting 54% from the field, so there had to be something wrong. Recognizing what works against such a dynamic scorer will be key against guys on the Spurs like Parker and Duncan.
Help Defenders in the Post. When Kobe was given room on an isolation play or something similar, he was able to find success at the rim. But generally, when there was a defender waiting for him in the post, the defender was able to stop him without committing a foul.
Pressure. Kobe didn't really pass the ball tonight. Ever. He was either focused on the rim or creating a shot. So during those rare times that more than one defender would cover him, he wouldn't really make the defense pay, and would often
Thabo on Kobe within 12 feet of the basket. Thabo has the center of gravity and awareness to keep Kobe out of the paint. He only got past Thabo a couple of times, and generally when he did it was straight into heavy defense.
Forcing Kobe to shoot the three. He was 1-6 from that range, and Thunder defenders generally challenged him well out there, because he telegraphed his shots about 3-4 seconds before he shot them.
What Didn't Work:
Fast Break Defense. Every time Kobe got out on the break, he found a way to score.
Harden on Kobe. I can't tell you how many times Kobe blew right by Harden on the perimeter. Harden didn't really have the quickness or awareness to keep up with him. Plus, Harden seemed so traumatized by the foul trouble he suffered in previous games that he wasn't willing to seriously challenge any of Kobe's shots on the perimeter, often leaving him wide open.
Thabo on Kobe further than 12 feet from the basket. Like Harden, Thabo was never seriously challenging Kobe on any of his jumpers, as he didn't really have the quickness.
Any time Durant or Fisher had to defend him. Just a disaster waiting to happen. Durant's never been an exceptional one on one defender, and Fisher is far too short and slow to seriously challenge Kobe.
Below: Looking at Key Laker Runs, Awards!
Spurts of Lakers Offense:
Until late in the third quarter, it was looking like the Thunder would never be able to pull away from the Lakers. The second they would get a 3 to 5 point lead, the Lakers would eat right back into it and re-take it. Looking at these runs might be very telling as to why the Thunder's offense could stall out during the upcoming Conference Finals.
2nd Quarter: 10:19-8:17
Lakers come from 5 down to three up.
The Thunder's backups were in the game at this point, and James Harden was pretty much relied upon as the offensive cornerstone. During this stretch, he utterly failed. He was called for a illegal screen, giving a free throw to the Lakers. On the other end, he missed an open three and had a layup blocked by Devin Ebanks, of all players. The Lakers were pounding things inside. Ramon Sessions was guarded bu the slower Derek Fisher, so he was able to get open and get ball movement flowing relatively easily. Andrew Bynum was guarded by Nazr Mohammed, who got caught paying help defense in the high post twice.
2nd Quarter: 4:45-1:16
Lakers come from 5 down to one up.
This took place over a longer period of time with a couple of Thunder made baskets, but I'd consider it a run nonetheless. This run was a prime example of over-reliance on Durant and Westbrook, who were trying to make some really tough plays in coverage. Durant missed a couple of tough threes, and Westbrook struggled around the rim. Westbrook and Durant did eventually defer to other options, as Harden had a nice layup. But the Lakers got exactly what they wanted when they suckered Kendrick Perkins into taking two weird shots from just below the elbow. Both of them bricked. The Thunder didn't really find offensive success again until a string of technical fouls called late in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Lakers were totally dominating the paint, with Kobe, Metta World Peace, and Gasol all getting their just due. They were great at drawing the Thunder's big men out of the paint and sharing the ball. All in all, it seemed like the Lakers big men used positioning to their advantage on both offense and defense. Plus, Durant and Westbrook were getting too overconfident and trying to force shots. The result was a game closer than it should have been at the half.
3rd Quarter: 12:00-9:52
Lakers come from 5 down to one up.
Kind of a mini-run here (and the last run the Lakers would go on).
During this run, we saw the downside of Westbrook. He rolled right up and shot a tough mid-range shot and a tough three pointer. Both of them had no pick, and both of the shots missed. KD took a shot out of rhythm after losing the ball. KD also missed a wide open layup in transition, but that comes down to lack of execution, rather than forcing anything. The lone bright spot was a easy Kendrick Perkins dunk, made when Pau Gasol let him under the basket too easily. The Lakers produced rather easily during this run, as James Harden wasn't guarding Kobe Bryant very well, and Pau Gasol was forcing his will inside. In the end, the lesson to be taken from this run is the same as the last. The Thunder need to be mindful of forcing shots with their two big stars, because a team with an offense much more lethal than the Lakers' can punish them much more consistently for their transgressions.