I have been going through game footage to figure out what's changed between the Lakers of Game 5 and the team that cruised through the Western Conference (after the first round, of course). I thought I'd find plenty of plays where the Lakers were whipping the ball across the court, cutting furiously through the lane, laying some wood on their screens.
What I discovered was a bit shocking: Kobe was still taking a lot of shots and passing up the offense to get them. The ball never really moved that much either, and the players certainly didn't appear to be overly cohesive. I'm sure we've all read the reports of Kobe's reaction when Pau tipped in his missed shot against OKC. Apparently, he was angry that he missed it, thereby losing some glory while his teammates celebrated at midcourt.
I wanted to show some video clips where the Lakers zipped the ball into the post, the cutters went through, and the offense hummed along. But the clips I could show where the Lakers scored wouldn't be germane to this series. And that's because it's the Celtics defense that is so much better than anything the Lakers had to face. Kobe Bryant continually got to the rim for layups against the Spurs and OKC (since the Suns played zone, he did it from the outside, of course). When he goes to the rim now, there are at least 3 Celtics plastered to his mug. Pau Gasol would take the first pass on the block and wheel around and score easily. That is not happening against KG.
Suddenly, the Lakers need to run the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th option in the triangle - something they're clearly not used to doing. Too often, their offense stalls out after two passes - no weakside action, no ball movement, just Kobe going through his legs a few times and shooting another terrible shot.
I'm sure Phil Jackson isn't surprised by this. He certainly must have recognized how poor the defense they were facing was. But the Lakers couldn't help but feel satisfied after their playoff run up until the finals. And it would've been good enough to beat any other team in the league. The Lakers built themselves to beat Cleveland with LeBron and Orlando with Howard. They forgot about the Celtics - the one team uniquely built to beat the Lakers.
So now they are in a strange position - the Celtics are not likely to win 3 in a row, and it seems that if Boston does indeed lose Game 6 tonight, then they surely won't win Game 7 in Staples.
Sometimes scoring on a play isn't a good thing, especially if it comes back to haunt you when it really counts. And that's where the Lakers stand now.