The Los Angeles Lakers held a six-point lead with 7:18 left in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks, looking like they were on the verge of sweeping their pit stops in New York. Instead, they gave up an 18-4 run down the stretch en route to yet another ugly loss. Worse, those four points all came from free-throws, which means the Lakers didn't make a field goal for nearly eight minutes. That's not the path to victory, but a drive to disappointment.
So how did the Lakers' offense fall wayside this time around? Let's break down every possession and figure out what went down (way down) at Madison Square Garden.
Possession 1 - 86-83
The first possession ends with Lou Williams putting up a well-contested off-the-dribble three, but that shot doesn't tell the whole story. The offense is initiated by D'Angelo Russell, who calls for a high screen from Larry Nance, Jr. Kristaps Porzingis doesn't hedge out to cover it, instead hanging back to prevent dribble penetration:
The Knicks force Russell to make a decision with the defense hounding him, and while he had the "right" idea in trying to get the ball to Nance, it would've been a a tough pass for anyone to pick out in traffic, and it's off target:
The Knicks easily bottled D'Angelo.
Possession 2 - 86-83
The Lakers' next look on offense was more of what we've seen plenty of to start the season, but there are two nuances here to point out.
The first is that Lou picks up his dribble as soon as he crosses half court. That's making the defense's job way too simple. The second is that Jose Calderon easily reads that Williams wants to dump the ball to D'Angelo and covers the passing angle. Lou then picks out Metta World Peace at the elbow, who isolates and puts up the shot with 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
The Lakers' offense was one pass to the elbow for a tough shot. That's it.
Possession 3 - 86-83
Byron Scott subs in Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. The Lakers try a high pick-and-roll with Roy Hibbert and Clarkson, but the Knicks' defense has no problem impeding his path to the rim just as they did for D'Angelo. The problem with bringing Roy out to set a pick at the top, even if he's a huge pillar, is that his man can just sit back and wait just as Robin Lopez does here:
And this is what the Lakers are left with. Clarkson is completely covered because New York can pack the paint:
This possession ends with Kobe trying to create on the wing. He passes it to Hibbert, who then hands it off for what was actually a very good look for the Mamba. This one simply doesn't go in:
Possession 4 - 86-83
The Lakers are still treading water at this point, but they go back to their "One Pass" offense. This time it's down to Kobe at the elbow, who tries a defended shot with plenty of time still on the clock:
Possession 5 - 86-83
The Lakers go back to the high screen with Hibbert and Clarkson, but this time Jordan bursts into space for a mid-range jumper. It's a good look and the kind of possession you can live with, but it's another missed shot:
Possesssion 6 - 86-85
The Knicks finally scored, cutting the lead down to one after the Lakers failed to convert points on their previous five possessions. L.A. goes back to the HIbbert-Clarkson pick-and-roll, again, but this time Jordan tries to attack the Knicks' interior defense. He misses the shot, but Hibbert grabs the board and is fouled when tries to put the rebound back up.
An isolated look at the pick-and-roll sequence, and it's clear why Jordan was facing so much pressure at the rim. Kristaps Porzingis abandoned Julius, who's isn't a threat from beyond the arc. This is going to be a schematic problem all season:
Possession 7 - 87-85
Hibbert made one of his two free-throws in Possession 6, and the Lakers come up with the ball. They again go to a pick-and-roll, this time with Russell as the ball-handler and Hibbert as the screener. Russell doesn't get much separation, then looks like he tries to initiate contact much like Lou Williams does. No whistle:
The Knicks just protect the paint, leaving Hibbert out at mid-range. He doesn't appear to be a fan of the shot selection here:
Possesssion 8 - 90-87
The Lakers are up to 90 points because of free-throws, trying to hang on despite the offense getting nothing against the Knicks. Dial up the Kobe elbow isolation, obviously:
Possession 9 - 90-89
The Lakers are still trying to hang on to their one-point lead, but a possession ending with Randle taking a three against the clock surely isn't what was drawn up here. Watching Kobe fight to get the ball like a mad man to no avail is pretty indicative of where this possession was supposed to go:
Anthony has no problem bodying him up and preventing an entry pass, and the Lakers' offense can't create anything at this point.
Possession 10 - 90-92
The Knicks have finally taken the lead while the Lakers offense sputters. The Lakers try to use an off-ball screen to free up Kobe for an above the break three, where he's shooting just 24.3 percent on the year (9-of-37). It clanks out:
Possession 11 - 94-90
Despite a horrible offensive showing in the fourth the Lakers are still in position to make a push for the win. L.A. is down four with 1:21 left, and they call in another pick-and-roll for Clarkson. At this point we should all know what to expect: Knicks defenders hanging back and forcing the mid-range. That's exactly what happens here:
Again, it's not a terrible shot for Jordan, who's pretty effective off the dribble with space, but the shots aren't falling for the Lakers even when they get quality looks. Another missed field goal, and another Knicks rebound.
From this point the Lakers are in full-on chuck mode as they try for the miracle three-point barrage to bring them back. It doesn't work out, and their only field goal is a three-pointer from Nick Young with five seconds left in the game.
For over seven minutes the Lakers' offense couldn't convert a single field goal. The few quality shots they took didn't drop, the rest of the muck they tried to survive with didn't work, and the Knicks defense did exactly what it needed to do to finish off an opponent that simply couldn't score.
We see these types of scoring droughts often from the starting lineup, too. It's clearly a problem that between their starters they couldn't come up with a single made basket in a game they were very close to winning. Their pick-and-roll scheme is problematic because it's too easy for the defense to pack the paint, and there's nothing else really going for it right now. It's a mix of system, talent and inexperience that's causing these kinds of ugly stretches.
Everyone deserves part of the blame. From Byron Scott, to Kobe, to Russell. Hopefully this clears up with time, but we're starting to see why something even as bread-and-butter as a pick-and-roll might be a challenge to execute for this team.