Lakers need to contest more on Russell Westbrook’s jump shooting
If his players thought Mike Brown’s previous film sessions felt long, those agonizing moments probably paled in comparison to the review of the Lakers’ 119-90 Game 1 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Lakers coach surely had plenty to discuss. The Thunder nullified the Lakers’ inside presence, scoring 48 points in the paint. The Lakers forced only four turnovers against a team that averages 11. They coughed up the ball 15 times and yielded 13 fastbreak points.
Then there were the individual matchups. Russell Westbrook exploded for 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting even with Kobe Bryant guarding him. Kevin Durant dropped 25 points on eight-of-16 shooting. And James Harden showed again why he’s the NBA’s sixth man of the year, scoring 17 points.
Yup, there’s plenty of ground to cover. But rewatch Game 1 and a few things pop out. Metta World Peace played decent defense on Durant. The Lakers don’t have the bench personnel to limit Harden. But they made the silliest mistake with their coverage on Westbrook. Yes, he’s fast and there have been and will be times the Lakers simply can’t do anything about it. But six of Westbook’s 10 field goals were uncontested jumpers in the first half when the Lakers’ focus was still there. Below is a breakdown of those plays.
8:52, first quarter
As Kobe Bryant guarded him at the top of the key, he appeared worried about giving Westbrook enough dribble penetration to cut to the basket. But that risked giving Westbrook an open jumper. On this play, Bryant didn’t even contest Westbrook’s shot as he pulled up for a 17-foot jumper.
8:22, first quarter
After World Peace’s pull-up jumper missed, Westbrook brought the ball up the floor. Bryant picked up him at the right elbow, again to deny middle-drive penetration. But then Thunder forward Serge Ibaka set a pick along the elbow. Lakers forward Pau Gasol switched early enough to pick Westbrook up. Yet the Lakers forward failed to contest his shot. It appeared Gasol too wanted to prevent a drive to the basket. But once Westbrook had his feet set, Gasol could’ve reacted more quickly to block his shot.
6:17, first quarter
Once Gasol’s fall-away went flat, the Thunder pushed the pace. As Westbrook flashed toward the far end of the court, Bryant had already picked him up. But it didn’t matter. Westbrook established post position and then found open space. After creating separation, Westbrook leaned back. World Peace tried to help but didn’t contest quickly enough. Westbrook swished a jumper.
5:58, second quarter
Harden drove from the top of the key to the right elbow. Ibaka set a screen on Bryant, who unsuccessfully tried to curl around it. Westbrook had more time to dribble toward the free-throw line. Lakers center Andrew Bynum helped out in time but didn’t jump out to contest the shot.
4:24, 2nd Q
This involved more pick-and-roll action. Thunder center Kendrick Perkins set one at the far end on Bryant, while Westbrook curled around it and pulled up for a 15-footer. Again, Bynum reacted well enough to help. He also contested the jumper, but Bynum gave Westbrook too much space. Bynum needs to play the pick-and-rolls higher so that Westbrook doesn’t have enough room.
1:55, 2nd Q
World Peace nearly caused a turnover by Durant. Once Thabo Sefolosha grabbed the loose ball, World Peace swarmed him. After Sefolosha broke free, Bryant picked him up to push him off the top of the key with seven seconds left on the shot clock. Westbrook then caught Sefolosha’s pass as he curled toward the end of the court. But Ramon Sessions kept tight tabs on Westbrook. That disciplined defense all went to waste, though, once Perkins set a screen on Sessions. Again, Bynum didn’t switch at all on the screen, let alone approach Westbrook. The result: Westbrook had enough space to nail a three-pointer.
What this means
The Lakers’ hope that Westbrook would miss his shots backfired. From the beginning they allowed Westbrook to get in a rhythm by granting him open looks. That only bolstered his confidence and, more important, made it more difficult for the Lakers to absorb all the other problems that plagued them.
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Thunder nearly flawless in routing Lakers in Game 1
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