1 down, 15 to go

The Lakers began the real part of their title defense yesterday. It started off like gangbusters: great offense in the paint; great, active defense all over the floor; a 27-13 lead at the end of the 1st; and a 38-21 lead midway through the 2nd. The Lakers came ready to play, despite the noon start (damn ABC). And then they started to lolly gag, as they have so often over the last few seasons. Fortunately, they did just enough to win 87-79. Some thoughts…

  • The Thunder do not have the horses and the experience to beat the Lakers in this series. They’ve got some great talent, but it’s not going to be enough this time around. They will play better than they did on Sunday; the “deer in the headlights” effect will diminish as the series progresses. But the Lakers are too big, too strong in the paint, and know how/when to apply the pressure in the playoffs.
  • Bynum looked really good and was active, especially on the defensive end. He played much better than I thought he would, given his month-long absence. Post moves were good, good blocks, and solid rebounding. It’s funny how much Kareem you see in him. Welcome back, Drew.
  • Artest did a magnificent job on Durant, allowing very few clean looks. Durant worked hard out there and it was because of Artest’s guile and energy on defense. I can live with 24 points on 24 FGAs from Durant. Not sure Ariza could’ve done as good a job on him.
  • Durant’s shot is ridiculously smooth. Give him a foot of clearance and he’ll kill you. But it looks like if you get in his grill a little, you can slow him down. Let’s see how he adjusts. I’m guessing they’ll try to run a lot more screens for him in Game 2.
  • As expected, Jackson kept a much tighter leash on the bench. Other than Odom, no reserve played more than Shannon’s 12:57. With so little playing time, they didn’t have much opportunity to devolve into an ugly mess. Shannon’s shot selection — for the first time in a while — didn’t drive me nuts.
  • Why do the Lakers fall in love with jumpers when the post game is so effective? We were killing them in the paint early on…and then jumper after jumper for much of the rest of the game. Pau did not get enough shots. It’s one thing if the Thunder actually made some adjustments that took away the paint…but I don’t think that was the case. We just like to jack ’em up for some reason. We’ll have to play smarter as the competition ratchets up.
  • All year, I’ve defended Fish as follows: “I don’t care what Fish does during the regular season; it’s what he does during the playoffs that matter”. He did it again yesterday. No, he didn’t hit a miracle, game-winning 3-ptr and yes, Westbrook kind of torched him. But he made 3 big 3-ptrs (2 early to keep the Thunder defense honest and a third with 1:30 left in the game to effectively shut the coffin), had some good drives to the basket, and had the highest +/- of the game (+10 in 35 minutes).
  • With the exception of Westbrook’s many, many slicing drives to the hole, the Lakers defense played very well. They held the Thunder to 40.3% from the field (they were 46.2% during the season) and an offensive rating of just 95.0 (108.3 during the season). They were very active and didn’t give up many open looks. This wasn’t a case of the Thunder missing wide open shots; the Lakers challenged practically everything. We just need to put Westbrook on his ass a few times when he gets in the lane.
  • While we let them back into the game after an early 17-point lead, I was happy to see that the Thunder never got closer than 6 points. The regular-season Lakers would’ve given up the lead and had to scramble to win.
  • The biggest question coming into the playoffs remains a big question: is Kobe healthy enough to play at a consistently high level? Kobe made some big, dagger-type shots on Sunday, but his overall shooting remains pretty awful: 6-for-19 from the floor and 7-for-12 from the line. He hasn’t had a good shooting night since Mar 31. He didn’t force that many bad shots…he was just missing. And on an uncontested, breakaway dunk early in the game, he didn’t get up nearly as high as I would’ve expected for an emphatic dunk. Looks like his rest these last few weeks didn’t help all that much. At least the schedule in the playoffs is more forgiving, even if the level of play isn’t. I don’t think it’s in the cards for us this year if Kobe can’t be “Kobe” at least 2 out of every 3 games…

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