The prevailing theory that an NBA Playoff series doesn't officially start until the home team loses a game may still hold true under most circumstances, but in the case of Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers, Game 1 Monday night showed us that sometimes it is just that -- a theory.
It has been a trying first season for the Lakers without Phil Jackson at the helm. Newly minted head coach Mike Brown, known in league circles as a defensive guru, lacks the creativity in his offensive scheme that Jackson had with the slow-paced, but mostly efficient triangle. Instead of force-feeding the post to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and playing inside-out, Brown is content merely to run his half-court offense through Kobe Bryant. Clearly, there are worse things in the world, and Bryant will win his fair share of games, but in this series against this team, it won't work.
The Thunder is too long and too quick on the perimeter. It boasts an elite wing defender in Thabo Sefolosha, whose sole focus against LA is to make Kobe work for every single bucket. Point guard Ramon Sessions was a nice pickup at the trade deadline, but he lacks the speed to beat Russell Westbrook off the dribble, managing just 2 points on 1-7 shooting to go along with three assists in Game 1 -- which brings us full circle to Bynum and Gasol.
Bynum's problems throughout this season and the playoffs pose a significant issue that must be dealt with. But now is not the time for ego to get in the way. Brown must realize the value of his post touches and Kobe -- better than anyone, perhaps -- knows the value of having an elite big man to play off of in the half-court.
In Game 1, Bynum attempted 12 shots, and Gasol just 11. To be fair, part of that was because the game got so out of hand in the third quarter that both played light minutes and running any sort of offense became a moot point. Even so, we got a glimpse of what this series can quickly transform into when LA cannot create a consistent post presence. The consequence is poor possessions, even worse shots and a cadre of turnovers that lead to fast-break points for a Thunder team that feeds off of its lethal transition game, not unlike the Heat. All in all, the Lakers had 15 turnovers. In a 119-90 loss, they were not only outclassed, but they were out-executed in every dimension.
"This is their crack at it and I'm sure they're ready to go," Kobe Bryant said at Monday's shootaround before Game 1. And he is right; the Thunder is ready to go. But there is a way to beat them: Slow them down.
This season, the Thunder ranked sixth in the NBA in transition efficiency, per Synergy Sports Technology. On the break, it shoots an incredible 61 percent from the floor. And how is transition offense usually started? By way of errant shots and turnovers.
Force-feeding the post is not going to make Kobe's legs suddenly 27 again, and it's not going to prevent all of OKC's fast-break opportunities, but with the attention demanded by Bynum and Gasol's scoring prowess in the block, coupled with the fact that both are willing passers, doing so will naturally create an inside-out attack that Bryant and the rest of the LA wings can play off of.
At the very least, it gives the Lakers a fighting chance in this series. And after Game 1, that's a helluva lot more than it has right now.
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