Lakers teammates Pau Gasol, left, and Kobe Bryant walk off the court following… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Some things to take from the Lakers' 77-75 Game 2 loss Wednesday to the Oklahoma City Thunder:
1. The Lakers can't recover from this loss. I'll break down the particulars in the items below, but the Lakers threw their season away by missing a prime opportunity to steal Game 2. The Lakers won't get swept. They provided a good blueprint moving forward on how to beat the Thunder. But it's not going to matter. Oklahoma City has this series locked up now that it's leading 2-0. The psychological disappointment in squandering a seven-point lead with two minutes remaining will be too overwhelming. It's presumptuous to think the Thunder will shoot 42% from the field and score only 12 third-quarter points again. And Oklahoma City has even more confidence now that it can have its way with the Lakers even in an ugly game it should've lost.
2. Don't blame Metta World Peace for passing to Steve Blake on the final inbounds play. Lakers fans shouldn't get up in arms over Kobe Bryant not getting the last shot. Ideally, that's what the Lakers should do. But Bryant wasn't open on the inbounds play and actually went away from the ball as he curled off a screen. World Peace's pass simply would've been way too dangerous to throw crosscourt in the middle of traffic. So instead, World Peace found a wide open Steve Blake on the nearside perimeter.
Blake had to make that shot. The Lakers have shown confidence in him through all his inconsistent shooting, an approach that recently paid off with clutch playoff moments in Games 1, 4 and 7 in the Lakers' first-round matchups against Denver. But this one just hit the rim. Criticize Blake all you want for not hitting a wide open shot. Wonder what would've happened had Derek Fisher been in that position. And wish the Lakers hadn't squandered a seven-point lead in the final two minutes to put themselves in this position. But don't blame World Peace for ignoring Bryant. The Lakers' forward would've passed to Bryant if he were open.
3. Blame the Lakers' collapse in the final two minutes mostly on Bryant, some on teammates. Besides not getting open enough on the final play, Bryant made a few plays he'd like back. Before the final play, Bryant killed 13 seconds off the clock dribbling in isolation before Thabo Sefolosha fouled him with five seconds remaining, giving the Lakers very little time to run a play. Bryant's poor pass that led to Kevin Durant's fastbreak dunk with 1:45 also sparked the Thunder's momentum.
Don't blame Bryant entirely on his final two missed shots, though.
An off-balanced fadeaway shot that James Harden blocked led to a layup and Bryant's ridiculously long three-pointer reflect other mistakes too. The Lakers didn't run any sort of offense before just dumping the ball to Bryant late in the shot clock. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol didn't crash the boards with enough offensive aggression to get a putback. And certainly no one on the Lakers sprinted back fast enough to stop Oklahoma City in transition.
4. The Lakers, beforehand, made very good adjustments from Game 1. The Lakers aren't going to take any moral victories, nor should they since they're in the playoffs. But the Lakers provided a really good blueprint before their collapse in the final two minutes on how to beat the Thunder moving forward. Most important, the Lakers outworked the Thunder, knowing it had a small margin for error. That's not something the Lakers usually like doing in the land of Hollywood, but they had no other choice.
The other adjustments involved tactical ones that Coach Mike Brown deserves credit for doing. The Lakers controlled the pace by featuring the offense mostly with Gasol and Bynum (combined 34 points and 20 rebounds). The Lakers played the triangle offense at times. Bryant scored 20 points on nine-of-25 shooting by mostly attacking the basket. He remained effective on defense by playing the center-field position. That minimized the damage Ramon Sessions faced guarding Russell Westbrook, who scored only 15 points on five-for-17 shooting. It also helped the Lakers force 13 turnovers. Meanwhile, the Lakers remained more disciplined on contesting the Thunder's jumps shots off pick-and-roll coverages. By doing that early, Oklahoma City failed to establish much of an offensive rhyhthm.
5. Ramon Sessions continues to struggle. With no one in front of him, Sessions clanked a fastbreak dunk. That personified everything about Sessions' two-point effort on one-for-three shooting. He remained tentative, as he feared Oklahoma City chasing him down. Sessions failed to deliver on the simplest plays. And with the play leading to Oklagoma City scoring on the other end, Sessions' poor play severely hurt the Lakers.
Yes, the Lakers' offense mainly features Bynum and Gasol. They need Sessions to control the tempo. But the Lakers can't afford to have a key starting player appearing afraid to make plays both on offense and defense. The Lakers are painfully finding out that their upgrade at point guard hasn't come close to solving their backcourt issues.
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