After watching the Los Angeles Lakers narrowly escape with a 99-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Semis, my first thought was that the Lakers were fortunate. They could easily be down 3-0 and considering recent history, when it comes to being on the bottom end of elimination games, they pretty much pack it in. When you factor in that Game 4 is the latter of an unusual back to back affair and it’s quite easy to conceive of the Lakers getting blown out at Staples.That’s why it was imperative to come away with a victory on Friday for reasons beyond the obvious…going down 3-0.
With a Game 3 victory, the Lakers now know that they should be up 2-1 with the next game being at home and an opportunity to go back to OKC with a commanding 3-1 lead. Most teams don’t recover from that type of deficit.This aint hockey!!
The beauty of playoff basketball is the obvious adjustments that are made by teams during any particular series. This series has the feeling of the Tortoise and the Hare. OKC wants so bad to run the Lakers out the gym and Kobe and Crew want to keep it at a slow methodical pace, forcing the Thunder to run half court sets, which is an obvious weakness of theirs. LA is also making a point to utilize the one advantage they have over any other foe in the league, which is their size and having two talented 7 footers, both with all-star caliber game. If Game 2 was any indication of how effective the Lakers could be running that style, then Friday’s victory was a total affirmation. Pound the ball inside, slow up the tempo, get back on defense and keep the Thunder in a half court set and you will win!!!! I think the Lakers know that’s the formula to move on to the Conference Finals.
I expect the Lakers to tie the series and touch down in OKC with extreme confidence, knowing that if they stick with the game-plan, they can take the series lead heading back to Staples with a chance to close it out. The problem is that the even with 41 of 42 free-throw performance, the Lakers barely escaped, meaning that no matter what LA throws out there, the Thunder still have what it takes to win. Scary!!—Mike A. Layne