Rebounds win Rings. That’s what former Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley used to preach to his 1980’s Showtime team. And it was true.
After Game Four of the Western Conference Finals where the Phoenix Suns evened the series, this generation of Lakers players need to heed Riley’s message.
There is a reason why this Lakers team again won the Pacific this season, and, unlike the past two years, it was not on the offensive side of the ball. No, this team used defense to keep their repeat title hopes alive.
The Lakers were No. 10 in team defense this year. More importantly, they were No. 1 in opponents three point percentage, at 32.8 percent. And, because of their length and size advantage, also dominated opponents in rebounding, especially on the offense end, where they were No. 2.
This was the winning recipe: defense and rebounds.
Well, until the Suns series. All year long, everyone complained that the Lakers offense wasn’t humming. And it wasn’t. But the defense and rebounding carried the team.
As the Lakers entered these playoffs, they finally found their offense groove again as players got healthier and the team switched gears for another Finals run.
The Lakers woke up in that Oklahoma Thunder series, played tenacious defense and worked the triangle to victory. The team then executed on both ends of the court against the Utah Jazz for a sweep.
It seemed the Lakers fired on all cylinders as the readied to face Phoenix. The first two games in Los Angeles displayed the Lakers offensive prowess but it was actually defense and rebounds that created those victories.
Phoenix came in red hot, averaging 113 points a game in the playoffs, nearly the same as the 110 in the regular season. But in Games One & Two, the Lakers held the Suns to only 107 and 112, respectively. Plus, Phoenix couldn’t stop the Lakers on defense.
That all ended this week in Phoenix. The Suns scored and scored again. Amar’e Stoudemire went ballistic and racked up points and rebounds. The Suns averaged 116.5 points in both victories in Arizona. That is so far above where the Lakers normally hold opponents. Where was the D in those two games?
But, here’s the worrisome stat that gnaws. The Suns outrebounded the Lakers 51-36 in Game Four. Let me say that again: The Suns beat the Lakers on the boards. One more time: The smaller Suns crashed and crashed and won the rebounding game.
This has to stop. And I’m pretty sure it will. Phil Jackson and his staff are masters at adjustments and returning to LA will bring a more heightened focus on defense and rebounding.
And, I’m not too concerned with the Lakers offense back in LA. They will be at home, will be far more aggressive, even against the vexing Phoenix zone and the Lakers will more than likely get to the line more than the Suns. None of that worries me.
No, the areas of focus will need to be defense and rebounding. Look for those areas to be the key to a Lakers victory. The Lakers have to get stops.
Ron Artest and Lamar Odom, in particular, need to re-emerge as factors on both ends of the court, but most importantly, in the rebounding and defensive areas. And, the sieve called the Lakers' bench must show up and play, unlike their performances in the last two games.
If they get that mojo back, they will regain control of this series and be in the driver’s seat for a return to the NBA Finals. Let’s see what happens in Game Five.