The defending champs had taken their first blow from the 8th seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (1-2) to make this a 2-1 affair for the Lakers (2-1) heading to tonight's key Game 4. There's no doubt this is a HUGE game for both teams that has the gravity to change the tide of this series.
If the Lakers win, they take a commanding lead of the series and an overwhelming momentum back to Los Angeles. They lose then the Thunder will have the confidence in the world of taking this series from the purple and gold regardless if the Lakers have homecourt advantage or not.
I'm not saying they'll win the series for sure, but OKC does not doubt itself even when they're behind 10-0 in the opening quarter. This team is remarkably mature for being the youngest team in the NBA.
All the pressure of winning this series have always been on the Lakers because not only are they the defending champs but they're supposed to have thousands of playoff game experience advantage over the Thunder. So far, the youth and athleticism of the Thunder are giving them fits.
Some may argue that OKC have one of the best defense in the league. But the Lakers are more than capable of playing championship-level defense AND offense when they put forth the effort and focus. However, that hasn't been the case when things turn ugly for them. So far, they've been allowing the Thunder take control of the game a little too much and shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and defensive breakdowns aren't making things easier for them.
This is the playoffs. Every team is playing for all the marbles. Of course, the Thunder will do their best to make a name for themselves and leave a mark in these playoffs.
The Lakers must come out in Game 4 proving that the championship still goes through Los Angeles.
All year long we've been talking about Kobe Bryant's leadership role in this team. Well, it's time for him to take full responsibility of that role by talking to his teammates in practice and during the course of the game. He has to understand that he isn't 100% and needs his teammates more than ever to help them win ballgames. He also has to make his teammates understand what's needed to be done in situations when the Thunder is playing super-aggressive defense.
But this is not all on #24. Phil Jackson has to be a little more creative with his substitution pattern. He has to try to give Shannon Brown more minutes in defending Russell Westbrook. You don't need to be blind to see that Derek Fisher is way over-matched against him. Fish doesn't have the speed nor the athleticism to do much of anything against Westbrook. I thought that he'll be able to use his strength and experience over him, but even that doesn't seem to be enough.
PJ should also substitute fresher bodies more often but be mindful of when the current 5 on the floor is starting to lose control of the game to put his starters back out there. I also don't understand why he doesn't put DJ Mbenga in and push Lamar at the 3 against Kevin Durant instead of Kobe. Maybe that will help wake him up. Who knows? Maybe Lamar's length will bother Durant.
Bryant is too concerned about re-injuring his finger. That's why he hasn't been giving his all on D.
But the most important things for the Lakers to do in Game 4 and the rest of the series is to limit turnovers, trust the offense more, and keep that focus and energy for 48 minutes. Being more physical and giving hard fouls to Westbrook or anybody driving in the paint should also help control things for the Lakers. I'm getting tired of seeing Westbrook swoop down the lane without so much as a scratch on him when he comes out. A couple of hard landings should make him think twice about coming in.
The Thunder kept themselves in the game and won Game 3 because the Lakers could not handle the ball and could not defend other guys like James Harden and Jeff Green.
Yes, Kobe needs to defend better. Much of his focus is making adjustments on offense. Well what about defense? He doesn't really try to cover anyone that doesn't have #35 on their jerseys. A few key times he allowed Thabo Sefolosha and Harden an open three-pointer that found the bottom of the net. He has to start respecting those guys.
A spark can come from anywhere and has caused a major wildfire for the Thunder as we saw the past 3 games.
It's time for the Lakers to start their own inferno!
Other Notes: Kobe surpassed Jerry West (4,457 points) to become the Lakers' all-time leading scorer in the playoffs as well as the NBA's 5th leading scorer NBA playoff history. Bryant averages 25.1 points per game in the post-season. Karl Malone (4,761) is up next for Kobe.
Kobe just keeps breaking records isn't he? Hopefully, he breaks Shaq's record of 4 NBA titles this coming June.
OKC's Ford Center set a new NBA record for the noisiest arena ever by hitting 109 decibels in Game 3. Sacramento's Arco Arena held the previous record of 102 decibels.
Impressive but not surprising. I mean what else is there to do in Oklahoma City (or Sacramento)?
Here's a video of Laker assistant coach Jim Cleamons (who is in charge of scouting the Thunder) detailing what type of adjustments the Lakers will have for Game 4: