After last night's dismantling of the Thunder, a game controlled from start to finish and every point between by the Lakers, the defending champs were barraged by the media with "So why can't you guys do this every game? questions.
A legit query, considering the Lakers have spent much of the postseason's first round playing against their strengths -- and often logic.
The puzzling list:
1-The Lakers' interior play often took a backseat to perimeter shots (despite a terrible percentage from downtown).
2-Long misses that created transition opportunities where the Thunder are most dangerous.
3- Stagnant ball movement.
4-Impatient shot selection.
These choices constantly left the Lakers' defense in a bad position.
Basically, the opposite of what one expects from a veteran "been there, done that" team. The Bizarro-Spurs, if you will.
It might comfort some to learn game five was the result of a light bulb going off. A mystery solved. A new way to counter OKC's active, fronting defense of the Laker bigs or penetrate previously unavailable creases. "Eureka!" in some way, shape or form.
Actually, the answer was more "Just do it!"
The general consensus in talking with players is success didn't come through changes strategical, but rather mental. A group-wide conscientious decision to obey a game plan. Slow the pace to their liking. Work from the inside. Move the ball. Move bodies. There was a willingness to get on the same page of the same book and refuse to read anything else. To patiently stay on point and never deviate no matter how tempting the urge. Disciplined unification.
In running this scheme to perfection, the Lakers racked 27 assists, but big dimes also came via a detailed Monday practice and Tuesday shoot around. "We went through our offense," explained Bynum. "From top to bottom yesterday at practice. (While) executing we saw that when we move the basketball and move ourselves, it's very easy to score."
But despite this common knowledge, the 2010 season has often featured a frustrating cycle. The Lakers talk up the benefits of sharing the ball, working inside, cutting, staying on point, etc., then inevitably blow off the triangle a game or two later. Eventually they'll embrace it again, then go off the reservation. Thus, it begs the question. If the Lakers typically play best operating within the confines of their system, why the deviations into iso-heavy/passing-light play?
As Drew later explained, because more often than not they manage to get by, the better laid plans of mice and men be damned.
"I think we fall into that because we're so talented we can do that. Everybody is capable of having a big game by doing isolation basketball."
True. But that doesn't mean the team's overall performance will equal that from one or two players. There's a difference between merely winning a game and flat out crushing. Drew, along with everybody else, knows this. "When we play together and we move, nobody can stop us."
Obviously, this isn't matter as simple as saying "triangle" and snapping ones fingers. There are aspects like spacing, recognition, initiation, etc. You have to make crisp passes. You have to can the shots. Plus, the opponent does actually get a say in the matter. This isn't an exact, automatic science. Sometimes, a blueprint comes up short.
But more often than not, in bigger picture terms, if you ask players if the lack of execution comes from being denied or denying themselves, the issue is almost always the latter.
"It's more of us saying we're gonna do this," insisted Luke Walton.
I guess it could be ironically comforting to know the team holds such control over its fate. Still, it's awfully perplexing to witnessed this power frequently devalued. For what it's worth, this lack of focus and patience may cause fans to bang their heads against the wall, but they're not alone.
"It makes no sense," said Walton when I asked about inclinations to drift away from consistent execution. "I still can't figure it out. It's frustrating. That's why the media's up and down on us all the time. It really doesn't make sense that we don't play like that all the time."
So what's a purple and gold enthusiast to do as the playoffs continue forward? Perhaps ESPNLA.com's Dave McMenamin really does have the answer. The "Jekyll and Hyde" nature ain't going anywhere, so perhaps it's time for the Laker Nation to give in, wrap its arms around this bipolar soul and give it a big ol' smooch. For better or (hopefully not) worse, this is who the Lakers are.
But it's nice to know they feel and understand your pain, even if they're the ones willfully inducing the agony.