“My experience is telling me to stay patient and just think the game through,” he said after scoring 20 points on 7 of 18 field goals.
The Lakers trailed by 15 points at halftime and 30 after a third quarter in which the Thunder made its first seven and 12 of 15 shots (before two late misses), leaving Bryant to rest on the bench watching the final period.
At Tuesday’s practice, Bryant said the team was “Just looking forward to our next opportunity. You just gotta keep your poise. We’re a team that doesn’t get down when we get blown out – we’ve been blown out a bunch of times this season.”
His way to respond starts with studying video tape, both by himself and with the team, trying to determine just what tweaks and changes to make, including noticing what the Thunder did differently with nine days to prepare for Game 1:
“They made a couple adjustments offensively in terms of how they got in their screen/roll coverage, how they got our bigs work up the floor,” Bryant explained. “And also in bringing pressure defensively up the floor. They made post and wing passes very difficult, and that was a big factor.”
That screen/roll coverage has been a bugaboo for the Lakers not just of late, but dating back to the Kobe/Shaq days.
“Historically, for whatever reason, we haven’t been a very good screen roll pick and roll team.”
If pressed, Kobe might provide that reason: that it’s simply tough to play great pick and roll D when you have dominant centers like Shaquille O’Neal and Andrew Bynum, who by nature want to stay near and protect the rim. This because having such a presence also discourages post ups, often leaving the pick and roll as the best option for opposing offenses, which over the course of a game often ultimately works at least periodically.
That doesn’t mean the Lakers can’t do a good job defending screen/rolls, and coach Mike Brown explained what L.A. specifically needs to do better in that area.
“The one thing we have to do is give multiple efforts, because they do a great job of spreading out to the ball screens and creating separation at the beginning of the action,” Brown offered. “We really have to affect the ball at the point of the screen as opposed to waiting on the ball to come to us at the free throw line, and the guard that’s (on) the ball has to do a better job of negotiating the screener’s pick.”
Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden are all very capable screen/roll players, and where they hurt L.A. the most on Monday was with open mid range jump shots. Westbrook alone hit 7 of his 10 field goals on pull-up jumpers primarily out of screen/roll sets, a relatively new element to his game that wasn’t there even last season, when the book on him was to go under screens and let him shoot.
“He’s really worked on his game, so we have to address that and not give him those pot shots,” said Bryant. “It’s not a weakness any more, it’s a strength.”
The dual solution, at least on paper, is for the guards to better bull their way through the initial screen (“negotiating the screener’s pick, as Brown mentioned) and the bigs to simply get out faster to discourage the open shot without giving up an easy driving lane.
Easier said than done, of course, but we’ll see on Wednesday if L.A.’s planned adjustment makes a difference.