After suffering an embarrassing blowout in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Lakers were left with plenty of game film to analyze and make adjustments.
L.A. was killed on the fast break by a younger, more athletic Thunder squad in Game 1, as well as looked lost when defending OKC's pick-and-roll half-court offense. The Lakers, who have struggled defending the pick and roll for decades, had to find a way to adjust for Game 2, or suffer a similar fate.
And adjust they did.
A key component of the Lakers' defensive adjustment in Game 2 was how they played the ball-handler on the pick and roll. When OKC set a pick on the Lakers' ball-defender, instead of worrying about the rolling OKC player, both Lakers defenders stayed home to trap the ball-handler.
L.A. did a much better job with their help rotations, stepping into the lane to contest the rolling OKC player or to make a play on the pass. If the OKC ball-handler (typically, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or James Harden) took a jump shot, it was over the outstretched hands of one or two L.A. defenders.
The Lakers also made a conscious effort to control the pace and tempo of the game to fit their liking.
L.A. still has the best post-scoring options in the playoffs with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant on the elbow. The Lakers were deliberately patient on offense, usually running the shot clock down to less than seven seconds before attempting a shot, thus limiting the Thunder's possessions and fast-break opportunities.
OKC's half-court offense primarily relies on jump shooting, and after scoring 119 points and shooting a blistering 57 percent in Game 1, L.A. was able to limit them to only 42 percent and 77 points in Game 2. The Lakers were also able to force OKC into committing 12 turnovers as opposed to only four in Game 1.
The Lakers were in control of Game 2 up until the final two minutes, where a couple of ill-advised passes, a bad possession by Metta World Peace and a couple of desperation shots from Kobe Bryant gave the Thunder the opportunity to get a couple of fast-break baskets before Kevin Durant's floater put OKC ahead for good.
If L.A. can execute the same defensive strategies, clean up their late-game decision making on their home court as well as handle the back-to-back Games 3 and 4, the Lakers have a great opportunity to even this series at 2-2 before returning to OKC for Game 5.
Given the Thunder's talented core of Durant, Westbrook and Harden, that is a mighty big "if."
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