It’s been a heck of an exciting time for the Lakers and their fans these last couple of days. The Lakers went up 1-0 in this second round and above all else; Kobe finally snagged his first MVP trophy. As the presentation went off without a hitch and all the rigmarole wrapped up there was still business to be done.
That business was taking Game 2.
To start things off, you knew it was going to be a good game when you saw Rick Fox at the scorer’s table during Kobe’s ceremony.
Loved the activity going inside out really early on. The Lakers weren’t settling for the jumper, much like Game 1. They were looking to at the very least jab the ball into the mid-range defense of the Jazz. If it wasn’t jabbed inside every single Laker was at least making a cut to get the Jazz to pull down onto the baseline and off of the mid-range shot.
Pau was doing particularly well with Odom moving in the middle. Every time Pau got the ball in the low post, Lamar was getting himself free to make a move into the paint. If Gasol didn’t see him Odom was still disrupting the set defense of the Jazz.
What the Lakers did pretty poorly (in the 1st quarter that is) was getting out to shooters. If they got caught crowding the deep paint, nobody was popping out to the perimeter to even get a hand in the face of shots. The Lakers can’t just be giving range shots to the Jazz. They won’t be shooting as poorly as in Game1, but for some reason tonight in the 1st quarter, the Lakers were almost daring them to make really open shots.
Radmanovic’s hitch in this one was his sluggishness getting to his man on the perimeter. What Vladi did well on defense was body up on Kirilenko in the post any time he got the ball there or worked his way into it. Also, Radmanovic played the help role on the perimeter fairly well. What Radmanovic has to be careful of on the help is completely losing sight of where he can recover once the ball’s been passed out of the trap or the shot goes up. That’s where Vladi tends to get lost, sometimes leaving Lamar or Pau to guard 2 Jazz players under the board.
Lamar tonight was more active than he’s been thus far in the playoffs. The amount of good footwork he had going from the first tip of the game was fantastic. There was nowhere on either end that Odom wasn’t involved with the play. As he went from grabbing the board on the defensive end to taking Millsap in the post on a nice bank shot in the 1st.
It was good to see Ronny have a bit of an impact tonight. However, when he was playing Millsap he had a tendency to look strictly for the block when he should be bodying him up as soon as he gets below the free throw line. That aside though Ronny’s activity, like Lamar’s on the inside was good to see. Ronny had yet to really make a showing in the playoffs, but tonight Ronny got involved.
What he can do to improve his defense, which had suspect moments, is to stop turning his back to the play. When he tries to keep track of the weak side rebounder coming into the paint, he’s turning away from the actual play way too early.
Overall, Pau simply struggles against the physical type of team. He had a below par showing in Game 1 (despite the double-double). Tonight he was looking apprehensive once the Jazz threw him any kind of tough defense in the paint. Though he did have a couple nice steps, like the step around against the shot clock for a dunk, he had trouble getting into rhythm off the low block.
What Pau can do to improve his offensive game is stop trying to initiate his shot through the post. He’s having the same trouble Luke does when he goes up against stronger defenses. If Pau would step out of the post a bit, use his ball handling to pull traffic out of the lane, pass it off, then take his spot on the side of the key he’ll rack up points like crazy. Pau has got to set himself up as a decoy of sorts. Right now he’s trying to match the physical game, but that won’t work.
One unsung player tonight was Sasha. What made his game such a big improvement over some games he’s had this year was his decision-making. The ball fakes, making the extra swing pass (like the one to Derek for 3 late in the game), and taking shots that aren’t rushed or off kilter were all elements of a pretty solid game from Sasha. Defensively he’s getting lost among the trees a bit, but that’s almost to be expected with the size the Jazz can throw down low. Sasha would be well advised to try and cut underneath the play along the baseline to pop out on the other side of traffic. He can’t do it every time, but when the Jazz pack the middle he can use his speed to catch up on the weak side of the play.
Derek was just money tonight. From that opening shot in the first 5 seconds, the guy played a great game. His defense on Deron Williams was again surprising, surely some comes from him mentoring him in Utah, but its still impressive to see him keep up with Williams as well as he has. Between him and Kobe anchoring this game, there was rarely, if ever, a moment of doubt that the Lakers would come out on top. That calm is a big result from Phil, but hopefully people won’t forget the big impact Derek has on this team, especially in games like these last 2.
Lastly, Kobe was spectacular tonight. The thing that struck me was that when he looked like he may be forcing shots, he had a pass in mind the whole time. That pass to Pau in the paint in the 4th quarter was pure beautiful basketball. He made some amazing shots, but most of all the cont4rol the Lakers showed when Utah made their run stemmed from both him and Derek. That right there is why he’s one of the best leaders in the NBA, if not the best.
The Jazz were still getting too many inside rebounds, but the difference in this game was that the Lakers, Lamar in particular, was seriously contesting every single board. That kind of effort on those missed shots will eventually wear down the Jazz’s physical play and get the Lakers back on a better rebounding track.
Key defensive moment came in the 4th around the 5-minute mark when Lamar and Pau teamed up to stuff Boozer in the lane. That plat right there is what the Lakers were doing well in the first half but sloughed off on. They have got to crowd the lane when Utah tries their 4th quarter push into the paint. It’s been 2 games now where the Jazz suddenly tries to play a drive and kick, but moreover a straight up driving game in the 4th quarter. The Lakers have got to be aware that it’s coming and keep crowding the lane with good enough spacing to put a hand in the face of a shot. They can do it, as that and other plays this game showed. Now it’s a matter of doing it quicker before Utah busts the leads down to shallow single digits.
Since Boozer has been pushed out of the paint effectively in these games it time to look to Millsap and ways to keep him from getting position so often. No doubt the guy is quick and strong but the Lakers look like they’re falling asleep on him far too often. They’ve got to get to him early as he looks to push from the side of the key inwards.
A 2-0 lead does not a series win, but its also not a bad jump to get as you go into one of the toughest places to play in the NBA.
If the Lakers maintain their admirable passing, communication on switches out up top and look to keeping that gorgeous balance of inside and out they had tonight, the wins should come no matter where they are.
For now, its not time to get cocky for the Lakers (and their fans), its time to hunker down and finish this team off as soon as possible.