Here are a few aspects of last night’s 99-96 victory we will analyze:
Rebounds – The Lakers out-rebounded the Thunder, 44-37. The Lakers have an obvious size advantage against every other team in the league, and must look to dominate the boards at all times. Game 4 will be no exception.
Assists – Although Kobe Bryant put up 25 shots again, the Lakers had 20 assists overall compared with OKC’s 13. As we stated in the last edition of “The Breakdown,” the Lakers had to move the ball more in Game 3, and last night they did. Most importantly, Pau Gasol was a facilitator (just as we had proclaimed he must be) and Ramon Sessions also did his fair share of setting up his teammates alongside Kobe.
Kobe Bryant – After making some mistakes towards the end of Game 2, Kobe redeemed himself as everyone would have expected. He once again proved his status as the game’s best finisher by ending the game with 14 strong points in the fourth quarter. His shooting percentage was exactly the same as it was in Game 2, but he was very aggressive and hit all 18 of his free throws.
Andrew Bynum – Bynum didn’t have a dominant game last night, but most of the times he got the ball and attempted to score, he was fouled. Additionally, he converted on 11 of his 12 free throws. He played solid defense throughout, and stepped out on high screens as well; effectively disrupting the Thunder’s offense. Although Bynum was just 2-13 from the field, Andrew is a smart player who learns very quickly. Oklahoma City obviously has found a way to disrupt his shot, but it would be a surprise to no one if Bynum came out in Game 4 and had a counter for every defensive scheme by the Thunder.
Free Throws – The Lakers converted on 41 of 42 free throws last night! That must be a record for these Lakers. Plenty of times we have seen them connect on just half of their free throws. If they can somehow keep the precise shooting from the foul line, they will have a great chance at winning the championship this year.
Pau Gasol – Pau is one of the best play-makers on this time, and as we have been saying in numerous previous editions of “The Breakdown,” he must be a focal point of this offense in order for the team to be successful. Last night he wasn’t extremely aggressive offensively, but he got an adequate amount of touches and was able to dish out six assists.
Ramon Sessions – The reason it was okay for Gasol to not get more touches last night was Ramon Sessions. Sessions was probably the most aggressive we’ve seen him play in these playoffs, last night. He drove into the lane and converted on plenty of shots, and when he couldn’t find his shot, he found his teammates. Sessions is a crucial part of this team and disappeared for a while (especially in the first two games of this series). We knew he would play better at home, especially in this series, however. He has to keep up his aggressive play and take pressure off of Kobe. If he can continue to attack, he will prove to be a valuable asset going forward. He has all the abilities to play off of Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum and must continue to take advantage of his opportunities. He is going to be a huge X-Factor going forward.
Metta World Peace – Metta has been playing some incredible defense lately. His shot was off last night, but for the most part it has been on since April. Either way, World Peace played a crucial part in last night’s victory. His defense is at peak performance. The only thing we can ask of World Peace is a higher shooting percentage, and to attack the rim the way he was in his last regular season game against the Thunder.
Steve Blake – Blake didn’t notch a single assist, but he sure came through when it was needed. The point guard grabbed eight rebounds and put up 12 points (on 4-5 shooting, 2-2 from three). Now that’s efficient! Blake has been crucial in these playoffs, and has been extremely clutch for the Lakers all season. The fact that he missed the potential game-winning shot in Game 2 should have no bearing on his reputation. The best part about it is that he responded with such a focused and contributing game in the very next contest–which says a lot about him as a person and a player.
It disappoints all of us at Lakers Nation that Blake and his wife, Kristen, have been receiving menacing Tweets following his failed shot in Game 2. We hate to even have to bring it up, but it’s something that must be addressed. First of all, as we stated in the last edition of “The Breakdown,” it wasn’t Blake’s fault that the Lakers lost the last game. He had a wide open shot and simply missed it. That happens to even the most legendary player and Steve has connected on more big shots this season than he has missed.
Secondly, what kind of Lakers fan would openly threaten a player? Like that’s really going to motivate him and help him focus on the next game. Whoever sent out those Tweets obviously aren’t real fans.
Lastly, Blake and his wife have been nothing but model citizens for the city of Los Angeles and should be treated with much more respect than they were. However, Blake responded in the exact professional manner we expected him to–with a solid, crucial performance.
Matt Barnes – It’s quite saddening to see Barnes’ minutes diminished the way they are. Most likely he is still suffering from a sprained ankle he sustained towards the end of the regular season. However, it is disheartening to see a player who was playing so well and was so crucial to the Lakers’ success leading up to the post-season. We can only hope that Barnes will have a breakout game very soon and finally put his fingerprints on these playoffs.
As for now, the Lakers must focus on the task at hand, which is Game 4. With just 24 hours between games, they will have to truly focus on their craft, and try to even up this series. If they can do that, anything is possible going forward.
Five down, 11 to go.