By Craig Kwasniewski
Strength, aggression, focus, power... Words that never ever come to mind with Andrew Bynum. But that changed today after the Lakers grinded out a 87-79 home win over Oklahoma City to take a 1-0 lead. Andrew Bynum came out this afternoon with one goal in mind: to have an impact on the series. That he did with thunderous dunks (kicking out his legs a la early 2000's Shaq... Drew NEVER does that) and a dominant presence on the defensive boards. This is the Bynum that Jim Buss had been hoping would appear, the one the Lakers banked a lottery pick on, the one worthy of the 5-year exten$ion and the one that still mystifies Lakers fans on a nightly basis (all the talent in the world yet all the inconsistency). If he keeps this up, Bynum will be THE difference-maker in this series, especially with an "off" Kobe.
Anyway here are a few thoughts from my seat high up in Section 316:
The Lakers defense carried them to the win. Who expected a grind-it-out late 90's Heat-Knicks series with these two? I didn't! Oklahoma City can score with the best of them and the Lakers two years ago had one of the most efficient offenses in the game. Instead the Lakers rolled out old-school defense like we've never seen before (I'll be honest, I never expected a full 48 minutes of defensive pressure from this roster). The defensive rotations were crisp and the double teams and recovery were quick and timely. You can always tell the Lakers are into it defensively because all five are scrambling all over the floor, getting their hands into passing lanes and holding their own on the defensive boards. Westbrook was able to get easy hoops late in the 2nd and early in the 3rd quarter, but Kevin Durant never found his rhythm... I'm sure LA will take a great game from Westbrook over Durant any day. Kobe eventually went into "enough of this sh*t" mode late and contained Westbrook down the stretch.
Ron Artest's D made up for his horrible shooting...barely. Look I know the Lakers got Artest for defense and the showmanship (after-all it is Jerry Buss, he knows LA is more than X and O's, you need a dash of spice. This is what "the experts" never understood when he took Artest over Ariza. Buss wants the Lakers to win but he also wants them to dominate the headlines, good or bad. In his mind you ALWAYS take an Artest over Ariza any day.) Anyway, watching Ron-Ron work Durant on defense was a pleasure.
Quick side note (trust me this gets back to Artest): Back in high school I had a friend of mine who was a starting linebacker who always held his own playing pick-up ball with the basketball team. He played lock-down defense, being just physical enough to intimidate but never crossing the line. After, I asked him what was the key? He said he always looked at the guy's chest. Forget the jukes, the pump fakes, the stutter steps, your chest always goes where you go... "just look at the chest."
That is EXACTLY what I saw Artest do when defending KD on the perimeter. Eyes on the chest and a hand in the face on EVERY shot. Everywhere Durant was, Artest followed. Hand in the face, forearm in the chest, feet moving, Artest was there. Durant was going to get his, but he had to work really hard for it. Artest played an almost perfect game on D, frustrating the league's leading scorer to 24 off 7-24 from the field.
Now about Artest's shot selection... Ron-Ron needs to stop shooting threes. As I've tweeted, screamed, texted, sexted, whistled... and all other forms of communication, there's a reason why you're WIDE OPEN on your three's Ron! Teams know you're shooting 20% since All Star break and are daring you to shoot. Just take a step in for an easier 18-footer, or a dribble and bounce pass into the post. DRAW out the defense by attacking the lane and dishing. 1-8 from three point range does not a three point shooter make. Just stop! (BTW - take away Artest's 1-8 and the Lakers shot an impressive 7-14 from three, stop shooting Ron!)
Kobe ain't right. Can you imagine the panic if Bynum wasn't as dominant today? Odom was a non-factor (Sunday day games are his kryptonite) and Kobe could never find his rhythm (triangle code for jacking up deep, contested shots). Kobe never really found his comfort spots on the floor. So like any veteran he forced the Thunder to put him on the line, a brilliant move except that his freethow shooting is also off (he shot 7-12 today, yuck!). Kobe being Kobe, I expect a better game on Tuesday. It's just hard to see such a dominant offensive force struggle so much lately. Normally, as each season passes, Kobe tightens up his game and finds his comfort spots in the Triangle. Unfortunately Lakers fans are still looking for that.
Lakers went inside early and often. You will not beat the Lakers if they attack offensively from inside out. I'm just stating the facts. With Odom, Bynum, Gasol, Kobe and even Artest the Lakers have FIVE consistent low post threats. The Lakers opened the game attacking down low with Gasol on the left and Bymum from the right. The result? A 27-13 lead after one. Oklahoma City changed things up and fronted the post, hoping their weakside length would be enough to discourage the Lakers wings from feeding the post. The adjustment worked and the Lakers struggled the rest of the way, forcing them to win on defense. Let's be honest, this team isn't constructed to win games on defense and are kidding themselves if they think they can win a title Celtics-style (all defense and limited offense). They need to continue atacking the post to win.
Looking ahead to Game 2. Durant won't struggle again like today. He's too smart and talented and will find a way to get on the board. The Lakers need to continue to control the defensive glass, keep Artest out of foul trouble and attack from inside out. I expect more Westbrook earlier in the game. The Lakers can't stop him when he drives with a full head of steam. Maybe we'll see OKC spreading the floor more, giving Westbrook space to attack and kick to Durant. But I expect a better effort from a rusty looking Kobe in Game 2... and a Lakers win.