By Jason Wojciechowski on April 25, 2010 at 12:45 AM
What can we take from this ugly loss? A list.
- (I get a little profane in this one.) I take it back about Thunder fans. Their "Beat L.A." chants are idiotic and derivative. What history do they have with L.A. that they can chant anything? Oh, right, they don't have any history at all. They couldn't get their own team so they had to hijack someone else's team. Bill Simmons tries to walk the line by blaming the Thunder owner and letting the fans off the hook. Fuck that. Thunder fans appear to feel no shame about rooting for a team that rightfully belongs in Seattle. They should stay home in protest and demand an expansion team.
- Ron Artest isn't just a bad offensive player who can't shoot, has no handles, and has no speed with the ball. He's also a completely dumb offensive player. I don't get this. He's smart on defense. He studies the man he's guarding. He learns how to play them. He bodies up guys who like room, he gives room to guys who like to drive. And then on his end of the floor? When he has the ball? He plays like I would. He takes dumb shots, he doesn't appear to know where he should be on the floor. He's less than zero. He's the Adam Everett of basketball.
Look, do you remember Rick Fox? Remember how as his Laker years went on, he lost all his speed, all his hops, and most of his shooting ability? Do you remember how he made up for it? He was a very good passer, not quite Luke Walton, but still very good. He was particularly good at feeding the post. His passes into Shaq were a thing of beauty. He knew where he was supposed to be on the floor, kept the offensive spacing appropriate. Ron Artest does none of these things. He's not a willing or capable passer, he's utterly inept at feeding Gasol, Bynum, or Odom in the post (and those guys are really good at receiving post passes -- they'll go up, down, or to either side to grab an errant pass, they'll catch lobs in traffic, they'll give it their all and they'll succeed), and he just looks lost in the triangle.
- The referees have to stop calling touch fouls. When you call touch fouls, it's impossible to call a consistent game. When you give James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha fouls on three-point attempts because Kobe brushed them after the shot, you're just asking for criticism on every single jump shot. Have you watched the NBA? Unless a guy is wide open, every shot involves contact on a hand or a leg or a hip. Guys fall down a lot, sometimes legitimately, sometimes looking for fouls. So when you start calling touch fouls, you run the risk of making horrible calls and non-calls, relative to other calls and non-calls you've made just moments before.
Obviously, I'm not speaking abstractly here. The Thunder shot 48 free throws in this game to 28 for the Lakers. In Game 3, the Thunder earned their disparity. In Game 4, the Lakers pounded the post and drove the lane repeatedly. Their jump shots very often came off of dribble drives and post moves. Driving the lane is, of course, Oklahoma City's game. So how do you end up with 48-28? Because you're calling touch fouls.
- L.A. needs free throw practice. They ended up 17-28, but they started something like 3-12, which pretty much put the game away. Give them, say, six of those, for a still-mediocre 9-12, and it's more like a seven-point lead for the Thunder at the half. When you have a 12-point lead, you can play a little crazy to try to push it to twenty. That's exactly what OKC did. When it's six or seven? You've got to be a little more careful. L.A. handed OKC that possibility by missing free points.
- L.A. has no spot-up shooters. Ron Artest, as mentioned, just cannot shoot. Jordan Farmar is inconsistent. Shannon Brown's not really a threes guy, although he's decent. It's not Lamar Odom's game. Luke Walton hasn't hit a three in five years. It's basically Derek Fisher, particularly in the starting lineup, and while he was 3-6 from three tonight, he's inconsistent and, moreover, a genuine defensive liability against Russell Westbrook.
- Sometimes things just don't work out. The balls for the first three quarters just didn't seem to go L.A.'s way. The "hustle numbers" favor OKC, but to my eyes, the Lakers weren't getting beat to balls so much as the balls were just bouncing. An L.A. big man had his hands on basically every miss on the offensive end, but the balls just didn't get tipped the right places. Perfect example: the offensive rebound that literally landed in Jeff Green's lap while he was lying on his back on the floor. He made a great play with the ball once that happened, whipping a pass through traffic to a man on the other side of the lane, but what started that play was what seemed to happen the entire first half: the bounces just bounced, and that was that.
- Sometimes things just don't work out part deux, Russell Westbrook edition. According to Hoopdata, Westbrook shot greater than 50% at the rim this year, and under 40% everywhere else on the court. This fits his reputation: he's a strong, fast slasher with finishing ability, but his jump shot needs work. Well, not tonight. His final numbers only say 6-11, but he started something like 5-6 or 6-7, with a number of those being jumpers. They were jumpers where he worked himself open off the dribble, of course, but presumably he's been doing that all year and still missing. Just not tonight.
- I've been worried all year. I'm worried now, because I don't think L.A. can win in Oklahoma. That means that the Thunder just need to steal Game 5 or 7 in L.A. Right now, the Lakers feel like 60-40 favorites at home and 75-25 dogs on the road. So let's work this out.
- Lakers in six = win, win = 15%
- OKC in six = win, win = 30%
- Lakers in seven = win, lose, win or lose, win, win = .27 + .06 = 33%
- OKC in seven = win, lose, win or lose, win, win = .04 + .18 = 22%
In other words, I'm giving OKC a 52-48 edge to win this series. That's a small enough edge that my likely overreaction to Game 4 (Game 3 was as close as Games 1 and 2, remember) could be distorting things. Dispassionately, are the Thunder really 75% to beat L.A. in Game 6? Especially since Game 6 will be a potential closeout game for someone? Probably not. But I also don't think I'm overreacting that much. The Lakers just looked that helpless in this game, and much as I might bitch about bad luck and referees, it was a 21-point game.
From championship to first round exit? It's happened before, but has it happened to a team that's returned all its pieces healthy for the playoffs?