The Los Angeles Lakers battled the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday in Game 1, attempting to fight through the fatigue of a first-round, seven-game bout against the Denver Nuggets. However, the Thunder seemed well-rested and all too prepared as they dominated Los Angeles, winning 119-90.
Here are some takeaways from the Game 1 loss.
Fans and players today overlook the importance of an idea as simple as energy.
The Lakers came out seemingly on top of their game, but as the night went on their passion and determination began to fade. They quickly went flat, and when push came to shove, L.A. bowed out.
Whether because of fatigue or mental unpreparedness, the team failed to match the passion and emotion that the Thunder and their fans brought to the building.
This energy needs to start with the Lakers’ leaders and be echoed by the rest of the team, including the staff.
I wouldn’t go as far as to question the Lakers’ desire or will, but they will have to bring a different attitude to Oklahoma City on Wednesday if they plan on competing.
Sessions not in session
Ramon Sessions was nowhere to be found in this game. He finished with a meager two points and struggled to defend Russell Westbrook when the two squared off at the top of the key.
For a player who was supposed to be an upgrade from former point guard Derek Fisher (who, by the way, visibly outperformed Sessions this time around) and take the Lakers from pretenders to contenders, that performance just won’t cut it.
Sessions needs to be far more assertive and aggressive on the offensive end. It’s his job to control the pace of the game and get Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol involved while also finding time for his patented floater. The Lakers point guard also tends to be more active on the defensive end when he gets in his groove offensively.
The bottom line is that Sessions has to be more effective. The good news is his performance couldn’t have been any worse.
This has been a weakness of the Lakers’ offense all season long. The team continues to resort to predominantly pick-and-roll and one-on-one post-ups as their main source of offensive production.
Yes, Bynum was great on the interior tonight, and Kobe Bryant and Pau are equally effective when in the zone, but it would benefit them even more if they got the ball after a series of screens and/or cutters. Movement on the offensive end keeps the defense on their toes, while standing around allows them to utilize help side defense and double teams.
The Lakers’ offensive woes lie just as much on the shoulders of Mike Brown as they do the players themselves. Brown needs to orchestrate and design a more fluid system than the current post-up and pick and roll that he is currently instituting.
Defense, defense, defense
I really don’t know where to start with the Lakers’ defense—or lack thereof.
Whether it was one on one, pick and roll, or transition “D,” the Lakers failed to even challenge the Thunder.
Kevin Durant, James Harden and especially Russell Westbrook had their way with L.A.’s perimeter defenders. Durant’s dunk early in the first and Harden’s “and-one” layup to close the quarter are prime examples.
Kobe needs to flip his mental switch and become wholly dedicated to containing Westbrook like he was in their final regular-season matchup. Metta World Peace is equally responsible for the success of Durant. He needs to be much more physical in order to bother the two-time scoring champ.
The Lakers’ defensive rotations were also off, which allowed for far too many easy three-point looks. Durant, Thabo Sefolosha and Daequan Cook finished a combined 5-of-10 from behind the arc. Most of their looks came off penetration and kicks, as well as solid ball movement.
The pick and roll defense may prove to be the most glaring flaw of all, though. The Thunder’s Big Three repeatedly drained mid-range after mid-range jumper. Westbrook alone went 7-of-10 on 10- to 18-foot jump shots.
Bynum’s refusal to hedge on screens, or at the very least step up until the guards can recover, may be the deciding factor in the series.