However, that smart play that won Games 1 & 2 was left back in L.A..
In this one it wasn’t the arena that made it rough on the Lakers it was the Lakers themselves. I’ve said it for a while that the only team that can beat the Lakers right now is the Lakers. Tonight proved that point to a T as the Jazz simply swooped in on terribly disjointed and abnormally vacant play by the Lakers on both ends.
The first play with Pau and Kobe in the 1st quarter was exactly how Pau can take his game to the Jazz. He played a passive role, setting a screen, simply rolling while letting the attention go towards Kobe, and then got the pass for the easy deuce. That’s how Pau can do major damage.
But, Pau again had trouble tonight when he tried to go up one on one with strength or with the Jazz pulling Kirilenko or Boozer down into the paint. The blocked shot in the 1st quarter only needed a slight head fake or better yet, a pass back out to the perimeter to reset. Pau has got to use his smarts to make the Jazz almost forget about him, instead of him trying to power through an already strong interior Jazz D.
In the 4th quarter when Pau did just that, made himself a quiet sideline kind of player, the Jazz got scrambled on defense. He has got to step back into the shadows just a bit attacking much more from the quiet weak side of the ball rather than trying to be the bullying go-to guy down low, which he simply isn’t.
Early on that’s what the Lakers had trouble doing, getting the passing game going. They had a quick lead, but it was off of passing sets. As soon as the Lakers get lethargic in their off ball movement, the passes begin to take a backseat to one on one play that got the shot clock down too far or gave the Jazz time to really get set in their defensive spots. The key to this series is movement on all fronts. If the Lakers begin to think they can play one on one offense with a maximum of one pass per set, this series will get extended far longer than it should.
Kobe as again brilliant baiting whatever Jazz player was guarding him into the foul on the shot. Kobe’s 2nd half was much more efficient, but most of all it much more thought out. There was more help off the ball (at times) but mostly, it was Kobe putting his head down and really taking control of himself as he looked much more like the slicing Kobe of the first two games. What Kobe needs to watch is forcing the action. That’s his one hitch in his game, pushing the ball too deep into the clock without cycling the ball through the rest of the team.
When Kobe is driving and kicking in rhythm the Lakers are all moving off of him. In this game (in the 1st half) the Lakers were in watch mode. Hen Kobe did get the ball inside there was little to no movement around him. When the Lakers did move (as Ronny did early on) easy shots opened up all over the floor.
Well, now that I mentioned Ronny, the guy played Boozer real well. He played him just as you should. His spacing on him was perfect. He gave up the 10 to 12 footer but never really let Boozer have any room to get around him to get the easy lay-ups. Ronny only got lost on double screens sets that got Boozer a little freer inside, but in large Ronny played real solid defense.
Vladi looked fairly alert on the defensive end tonight initially. As soon as Kirilenko was getting the ball on the perimeter, Radmanovic was pressed right up on him, giving him no room to do anything but pass. The problem with Vladi’s defense tonight was that as the game wore on, Radmanovic lost sight of his man more and more. You’ll see Vladi get yanked out of the game as you did in the 1st half tonight abruptly because of this reason. That non-defense on Kirlenko’s 3 in the 3rd quarter was inexcusable.
The Jazz were trying to push Lamar out of the post tonight, Odom had none of it. He made a much more concerted effort to hold his ground on the inside. There was no easy pushing out in this one. Odom had trouble in the first couple of games keeping his spot. That wasn’t so in this one. The problem Lamar had tonight though is doubling off of Okur far too much and often when it was unnecessary.
Derek had a real good game through all the muck. His defense on Williams was invaluable right now. Also though his defense running off the pas was spectacular. I don’t think he got enough shots in this one really. But when Derek did get a shot he made good decisions with the ball. In particular Derek did a great job moving off of Williams sand surprisingly enough around screens.
It was the help D once Derek did get screened out that really kept the Lakers from keeping the jazz from cutting through the paint at will.
One of the keys to the Jazz having a better run of it in the 1st half was Derek’s foul trouble. When Farmar has to come in to defend Williams, the Lakers are at an inherent disadvantage simply because of size in the backcourt. So when Williams gets around Farmar, as he has fairly easily this series so far, the help has got to come early and not off of the perimeter, ala Lamar coming off of Okur. The help can come from Kobe off of Brewer preferably, leaving the Jazz a mid-range shot here and there but not giving them the chance for Okur, who can be streaky as heck, to get it going from beyond the arc.
Another key was the Lakers surviving the worst 18-minute span they’ve played in this series so far without being blown out. With Kobe shooting minimal shots, several easy shots missed, some bad decision on defense by almost everyone, the passing game voluntarily disappearing, Farmar running some odd plays (like the quick lay-up towards the end of the quarter), the turnover infection and some other clunky play they came out of it only down by 9. That right there was a sign that even when the Lakers play far below the top of their game, keeping up with the Jazz, even in Utah, isn’t impossible whatsoever.
At 5.24 in the 2nd quarter the Jazz were out of fouls. From that point on, the Lakers shot a minimal amount of free throws. Due to the game being in Utah, you had to know the fouls wouldn’t come in bunches like they did in the first 2 games. However, the Lakers did a better job in the first 2 games taking advantage of a foul-crippled Jazz team.
In the 4th you once again saw a tandem of Pau and Odom shut the middle down with a block a piece. Like I said in the last game, its that firm footing and smart positioning kind of defense on the inside that will force the Jazz to become more of a jump shooting team.
WTF Of The Game: The Jazz having the nerve to freak out about Kobe’s hook in the 3rd quarter. If The Jazz got called for that in every game, these games would be 30-point blowouts in the Lakers favor. I don’t think I’ve seen the Jazz have one drive (outside of Deron Williams) where someone hasn’t thrown an off arm a Laker’s way.
So here’s the thing – you beat brawn with brains and tonight, the Lakers just didn’t play smart. They started out doing alright, but fell apart as the turnovers and stagnant footwork took over. The Lakers did everything they could to give the game to the Jazz and the Jazz took it.
When you look back on this game you can rest assured that the Lakers lost it for themselves far more than the Jazz just beat them. Everything that could go wrong did at some point, yet down to the last second the Lakers were still within serious striking distance.
That in and of itself is a big positive to build off of. You can’t expect the Lakers to play as dimwitted as they did tonight in Game 4. Every Laker now knows what the Utah environment is like and the rash of mistakes that plagued the Lakers throughout this game simply won’t (and can’t) happen again.
Don’t freak out, the Lakers are still up 2-1. Going undefeated in the playoffs just wasn’t going to happen, everyone had to know that. Sure its odd, since the Lakers haven’t lost in a month to see them drop a game, but it happens. This is the playoffs, its never easy. Losing this game may actually work to the Lakers favor. It shows them that they can’t skate through the West. No matter what the regular season records are, everyone steps up in the second season.
Game 4 is now the time for the Lakers to step it back up.