This one got me a sleepless night. I just couldn't comprehend how the Lakers not only lost to OKC but blew a massive 26 point lead. What made it even more peculiar was reading the comments and plenty of hottakes in the game thread (which doesn't exclude myself). So I grabbed the opportunity to re-watch the game, slow it down and pay attention to the offense, defense, lineups, coaching, plays and checking on the narratives that are out there.
After giving it some thought, I didn't want to make this fanpost just about assigning blame - no, don't be disappointed, blame will certainly be assigned, it has to after such a collapse of epic proportions. The main purpose of this post, however, is to come up with takeaways and discussion points based on facts from this game where this team and individual players are lacking and where they have to improve in order to stand a chance at contending.
1st quarter: 41 - 19, 17 of 25 shooting, 5 for 8 from deep, 2 for 2 from the line, +7 on the boards, 11 assists, 3 turnovers
Offense, positives: In particular Westbrook generating highly efficient looks for everyone. Plenty of lob passes to AD and DJ. Finding open shooters beyond the arc who knocked down shots. The bigs helping Russ with screens (they did all game so I won't mention it every quarter).
Offense, negatives: second possession, Russ early shot clock pull-up jumper with AD barely making it past half-court, playing 4 on 5; third possession, early shot clock pull-up jumper AD with Russ and DJ not established within the offense, both still behind the arc. Why? Breakdown Westbrook turnovers: a bit inaccurate on lob passes to AD combined with the awareness and athleticism of Bazley who broke up both plays. Right idea, execution needs a bit more patience and accuracy.
Defense, positives: everybody picking up their man and the assignments make sense (Baze point-of-attack defender vs SGA, DJ on Favors, AD vs Bazley, Russ vs Dort, Monk vs Giddey the one mismatch); transition defense mostly there; DJ very solid
Defense, negatives: early warning signs of things to come; AD being all too happy to use the shooting 'threat' of 30% 3-point shooter Darius Bazley as an excuse to avoid protecting the rim; worse, he's often found in no-man's-land just outside the paint, neither committing to closeouts nor to help defense and rim protection, alibi defense regularly; DJ messing up once failing to protect the rim, offering a wide-open driveway to the rim that's promptly taken; Bazemore sitting on SGA's left hip and overplaying him, this one may be intentional though; Monk overplaying once forcing a switch back onto his guy at the wrong time
OKC: missing shots, turning it over five times, SGA disinterested in playing defense
2nd quarter til 06:54 left: Lakers play solid, lead 53-30, with the game firmly under control. First crack in the facade and first blame assigned, to Rob Pelinka... Vogel basically has to trot out a lineup of four guards (Rondo, Bradley, Bazemore, Monk) with Dwight Howard, as Melo needs a breather and AD is still resting. Lack of forward depth clearly shows, exacerbated by the Thunder rolling out one guard and four guys 6'8'' or taller. Josh Giddey immediately starts exploiting mismatches. Fortunately they cling onto their lead until AD checks back in with 05:20 left...
And there's the second crack showing: AD has already checked out of the game, his unwillingness to protect the rim forces Melo - or worse - the guards to provide help defense at the rim where they are overmatched. They give up easy points now, with their best defender being the main culprit.
Another issue that shows throughout the quarter: Baze is the only useful guy to defend the point-of-attack. Giddey beats everybody else with else and then showing great vision and passing ability. Twice in a row he forces the help defense to come over and beautifully sets up Favors for easy layups. He tries again on the following possession but is stopped by Dwight this time who stays with Favors and offers Giddey a floater he never takes.
Being too small (lineups) or playing too small (AD) also shows in the rebounding department. They lose the rebounding battle by 6 and give up 4 offensive rebounds to OKC in the quarter, end up losing it 31 - 37. OKC now hits some 3s, going 4 for 9.
Westbrook's turnovers: he got fouled on number 3 without a call, not his fault. Number 4 is a miscommunication, he tried to set up a shooter in the corner who continued his run. AD also with a sloppy turnover (travel).
3rd quarter: assigning more blame and man, was this a horrid quarter from Westbrook! Things start going south with Bazemore's 4th foul. Unnecessary reach-in foul, questionable call to deem it a shooting foul. Bazemore goes to the bench which severely weakens the defense, Russ is upset about the call. From this point on he's losing control of his emotions and the Lakers lose control of the game. On the next few plays Russ scores once but also forces two bad shots. He commits turnover number 5, an awful pass that leads to a dunk for Lu Dort. Turnover number 6 is a bad pass by Austin Reaves that Russ initially saves but just steps on the line. Westbrook loses Lu Dort on defense which leads to a wide open 3 for him and a timeout by Frank Vogel. Curiously enough, Vogel is looking at somebody else with his unhappiness, not Russ. But there are other issues...
Offense: team doesn't use their bigs anymore, at all. No more lob passes, dunks or alley-oops, no deep post position. AD and Russ settle for jump shots, Bazemore gets 1 field goal attempt, Melo 1, Monk none, Reaves none. Only positives are Bradley who hits 2 of 3 shots from deep and the fact that AD hits some of his shots. The execution on offense has me question everything here, Russ, AD but also coaching. Why don't you play to your strengths? Results: 9 for 20 from the field, 2 for 8 from deep (only Bradley hit), no spacing, a horrendous 3 total rebounds in the quarter while OKC got 12 and 5 turnovers (Russ 2, illegal screen Melo, I think offensive foul DJ and one on AD).
Defense: DJ solid. Monk can't defend on-ball. Baze in foul trouble. Giddey cooking everybody. Rondo messing up a switch with AD, leaving lethal shooter Ty Jerome wide open. Biggest issue: AD continuing to excuse himself from rim protection duties, instead pretending to guard 3-point threats Isaiah Roby (1 shot per game, 30% career) and even Derrick Favors (0.2 per game, 20% career) behind the arc - which he also doesn't commit to, he just pretends. It's those actions that has guards collapse into the paint numerous times.
OKC: still with some awful turnovers themselves but their confidence is growing rapidly now. Bazley starts dancing on AD and shoots a stepback 3 in his face. Giddey open, Jerome open, Dort open. SGA can't miss, hits AD with the stepback 3, then Westbrook, both give him too much space. A circus shot to end the quarter and give the Thunder the lead. OKC 8 for 12 from 3 this quarter, outscoring L.A. 41 - 23.
4th quarter, offense: Settling for jump shots. AD and Russ a little less but now Melo joins that party. Bradley doesn't get a shot, others can't make them. Russ tries to use Dwight but fails to make accurate passes respectively Dwight is a little out of position on the second one, leading to turnovers 7 and 8. Not mad about those, at least he tried and it was the right play to make. Him and AD get a bit going inside, carrying some scoring load and getting a combined 5 offensive boards, but too little, too late. Turnover 9 is another horrible pass similar to number 5. Missed number 10. Team goes 2 for 13 from deep. Conclusion: Russ let the offense down with four turnovers in the quarter but I'm also questioning the design of the offense as well as the shot selection.
Defense: entire team left Dwight alone in transition once. Melo got killed on two important possessions. When AD protects the rim the team gets way more stops but do we have to beg AD to actually be a rim protector?
OKC: they make the right plays, exploit lapses and mismatches, play to their strengths and take care of the ball. Enough to close out the game, even though SGA goes 0 for 5 and they lose the rebounding battle by 6.
Overall conclusion and general takeaways:
- second half offensive collapse was on Russ; he tried hard but lost control of himself and the ball, his passing wasn't good enough, he didn't set shooters up late, did too much by himself; first quarter was stellar, got everybody involved; what happened after that?
- decision-making and play design are questionable, Lakers are not playing to their strengths at all, they don't exploit mismatches enough
- AD wasn't willing to play center or protect the rim, not even when Melo was the only other big
- comments were they were lazy; none of the guards were. Some made mistakes, some have shortcomings but none of them was lazy in this game. DJ and Dwight did their jobs. Melo looked bad in the 4th quarter twice but was more limited than lazy; the one guy that was for the majority of the game is AD defensively and it hurt the team on at least a dozen possessions. Here's hoping it's due to being cautious after the previous game but I got serious doubts that's the only reason.
- Pelinka needs to get at least one more playable wing defender
- This team suffers defensively if AD doesn't commit to help defense and rim protection with consistency, whether he's the 4 or the 5. Not for ten possessions a game, not when it's convenient to help out on the perimeter but also when inside presence is asked for. He can't delegate that to Melo or the guards
What do you guys see as necessities in order to boast a good enough offense, defense and play to the strengths of the roster?