After the Lakers' 77-75 Game 2 loss Wednesday to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kobe Bryant appeared frustrated over not taking the final shot. After Thursday's practice, Bryant instead praised Metta World Peace for passing to an open Steve Blake. Once the Lakers' 0-2 deficit became official, Pau Gasol left the court with a saddened look. After Thursday's practice, Gasol professed the loss is "behind us." After Blake's missed game-winner, he acknowledged the disappointment over letting his teammates down. After Thursday's practice, Blake hardly second-guessed himself.
"If you dwell on something too much, it can hurt you," Blake said. "We're not going to let that happen."
That remained a challenge in itself in Thursday's practice, which consisted of a 45-minute film session outlining all the mistakes that led to coughing up a seven-point lead with two minutes remaining. The results hardly looked pretty. Bryant missed his final five shots and committed a turnover. The Lakers allowed the Thunder to close the game out on a 9-0 run. Blake missed a wide-open three-pointer on the final play.
But the Lakers say they went over the film constructively. They also sensed comfort in noticing the marked improvement from their 29-point Game 1 loss to their nail-biting Game 2 defeat. The difference appeared most noticeable on defense, including points (77, 119 in Game 1), shooting percentage (42%, 53% in Game 1), turnovers (13, four in Game 1). By contesting the Thunder's jumpers off pick-and-rolls, the Lakers believe they found the foundation needed for Game 3.
"I don't think we have many pieces to pick up," Lakers center Andrew Bynum said. "We know exactly how to defend them now."
Still, Bryant brought up the 2003-04 Lakers team beating the San Antonio Spurs in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals after facing a 0-2 deficit.
"You just move forward and get ready for the next game," Bryant said. "I've been here before and communicated that to the guys. We'll be ready to go tomorrow."
Whether that positive mindset and Game 2 improvement will actually yield the Lakers overcoming the deficit remains to be seen. The Lakers face an additional challenge in Games 3 and 4 because they're played on consecutive nights at Staples Center. A staggering 95% of NBA teams have won the series after leading 2-0. It's likely Oklahoma City would build off its most recent victory and counter the Lakers' recent adjustments.
But the Lakers simply have no other choice.
They already experienced losing to the Dallas Mavericks in a four-game sweep in the Western Conference semifinals for reasons beyond Xs and O's. Then the favorite, the team unraveled for various reasons. Bynum shared the team had "trust issues." Gasol acknowledged Internet reports speculating on his personal life had affected his focus. The fatigue stemming from three consecutive NBA Finals appearances caught up to them too.
"Last year is a totally different story," Gasol said.
That's because the Lakers are underdogs for once in this series and have taken a workmanlike approach because of it. The team routinely huddled with each other during Game 2. They helped each other on defense. They avoided the finger-pointing afterward.
That approach might not be enough.
Bryant has only averaged 20 points on 37.2% shooting. The Lakers' point guard unit featuring Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake have scored a combined nine points in two games. Who seriously believes the Thunder will shoot 42% again?
Said Coach Mike Brown: "At this point in the year, if we can't sustain it, we don't deserve to win."
Right now, the Lakers believe they can. They will find out if they're right soon enough.