Lakers have respect, and a game plan, for Thunder
He smiled and then chuckled, his voice and demeanor suggesting full admiration for his team’s opponent.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder blocked 17 shots against the Lakers in Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs and forced the Lakers into another miserable shooting night. And for the second straight game, the young Thunder took the more experienced defending NBA champions to the brink.
“They have our attention,” Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons said. “They are a worthy opponent. They have our full respect.”
And this is after the Lakers opened a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Thunder has limited the Lakers to 39.2% shooting in two games.
The Thunder was in position to pull off the upset in Game 2, falling only after Kevin Durant missed a three-pointer that would have given Oklahoma City a one-point lead with just under eight seconds left.
And then there were those 17 blocked shots, a Lakers playoff opponent record.
Game 3 is Thursday night at the Ford Center, as is Game 4 on Saturday night.
The atmosphere in Oklahoma City has been electric during the regular season, with the games more like a college setting. “If I’m them, they probably have every reason to think they can win both of these games,” Cleamons said.
“I think that the optimism that they’ve had — the way that they played the last two games, defensively and what they’ve done offensively — they probably feel pretty good about themselves,” he said.
The task may be somewhat daunting, but Cleamons, in charge of putting the Lakers’ game plan together against the Thunder, has some keys for the Lakers to be successful.
Transition defense: This is a mandate in this series for the Lakers. They have to get back on defense en masse, or face the quick Thunder running the ball down their throats for dunks.
Take quality shots: The Lakers have a size and length advantage against the smaller Thunder. So Cleamons wants to attack the Thunder inside with seven 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
“We need to play inside-out first,” Cleamons said.
Defend the Big Three: Cleamons said the goal is to not let all three of Oklahoma City’s top scorers during the regular season be productive. That means constantly focusing on Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green.
“Our defensive plan has been all along that two of them can score, but the third one can’t,” Cleamons said.
As for the Thunder, Cleamons said, Oklahoma City will ride Durant, who is averaging 28 points in the series but is making just 38% of his shots.
Cleamons also expects Green to settle in at home. Green is averaging 11 points, but is making just 26% of his shots and is averaging just 3.5 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Thunder point guard Westbrook will continue to attack the Lakers.
“What we have to do [Thursday] is understand our game plan,” Cleamons said, “and play the best game of this series.”