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Lakers Lacking (Assist)ance

 

Moving the ball and finding the open man. It’s one of the most important principles of offensive basketball. It also is one of the things that the Boston Celtics defense is terrific at denying. By limiting passing lanes and rotating with great precision to shut down any gaps nearly instantly the Celtics D has been a force to be reckoned with throughout this postseason. In Game 5, that kind of defense was on full display with the Celtics limiting Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers to just 12 assists.

Now, at first that number may not look very impressive to you. The Celtics held the Magic to 10 assists in two games in the Eastern Conference Finals,  so what’s the big deal about holding the Lakers to 12? Well, the Lakers, unlike the Magic, actually have an offense predicated on sharing the basketball. The Lakers are good, not great at distributing the ball generally, ranking 15th in the league during the regular season, averaging 21.1 per game.

That number has taken a slight dip during this postseason, as the defense has tightened up with the Lakers average falling to 20.2 assists per game. Still, the Lakers are a team whose offense is at their best when they keep the ball moving, so a number like 12 assists for the Lakers last night is nothing to sneeze at.

In fact, a quick look through Basketball-Reference tells us that ever since Pau Gasol arrived in LA two years ago, LA has only had two games with fewer than 12 assists, regular season and postseason included. They lost both of those to the Thunder and Rockets respectively, by double digit margins.

So what was the issue last night? Was Kobe Bryant’s hot hand, scoring 23 consecutive points for his team, in some ways backfire since it stopped other Lakers from getting involved? Or was it the suffocating Boston defense? Kobe Bryant gave a lot of credit to the C’s postgame.

“They do a great job defensively.  We’re normally good at moving the ball,” Bryant said. “We missed a lot of shots.  We shot 30 something percent.  That’s a testament to their defense, as well.  So there’s some adjustments we have to make for the next game.”

Kobe’s right about some of that. The Lakers did miss some open jumpers early on, but the other Lakers did contribute early when Bryant’s shots were limited (only 4 in 1st quarter). Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum got out to hot starts, scoring 15 points collectively after 12 minutes. Both failed to score again. In fact, the entire Lakers team besides Kobe Bryant took just 34 shots in the final 36 minutes. Kobe took 23.

Paul Pierce was a proud camper when asked about the lack of assists, pointing out how the Celtics defense was able to key in:

“I was happy with our defensive effort.  We scrapped, we got them in the half court for the most part, and that’s the type of game we like.  We like to look up and see the score in the 80s and 90s for the most part.  You don’t want to get into a running game because that’s what they thrive in.  They’re one of the best offensive teams in the league and they’ve done it all year long.  It would be tough for us to beat them if they go out and score 120 points.”

Paul is giving the Lakers a lot of credit here. The truth is though, the Lakers aren’t a strong offensive team, especially against a team that plays strong half court defense like the Celtics. LA took advantage of a run and gun style in the last two rounds, since playing that way was the only way either the Jazz or Suns could hang with the Lakers and inflated their offensive numbers.

The fact of the matter is this Phil Jackson coached squad was hardly above average offensively during the regular season. They also are one of the worst 3 point shooting teams in the league. Combine that with an injured starting center and you got a half court offense that becomes short on options very quickly. The Celtics knew this and turned LA into a very predictable offensive team last night.

Make no mistake though, the Lakers play and pass the ball much better in LA (23.4 assists/game at home) so the Celtics will have to step up their effort even more to bring back the Larry O’Brien trophy to Boston.

  • gone green

    The reason why the lakes only had 12 assist is because Kobe was in hero mode. Its hard to get an assist when there is no ball movement or when the offense consist of giving Kobe the ball and get out of the way. Kobe had a great game last night but i will take Kobe getting 40 every game because that usaully means no one else is involved. It was onle like a 9/10 point lead early in the third when Kobe went into hero mode. there was more than enough time to continue to run the offense and keep everyone involved. By the time the fourth quarter came Kobe was gased and couldnt be the “Best Closer in the Game,” because he expended so much energy unnessasarily. So continue to take 30 shots a game and forget about gasol Because ONE PLAYER WILL NEVER BE ABOE TO BEAT A TEAM

  • Greg

    Hey Brian…Congrats on getting a legitimate answer out of Kobe at that press conference last night. Seriously.

  • Truth

    Hey Brian congrats on looking like a 12 year old boy going through puberty on national TV last night.

  • Mike

    Hey Truth congrats on making fun of someone anonymously in the comment section of a blog!

  • MK

    Brian,

    Nice work actually asking a good question. I’m so tired of some the awful crap “journalists” are asking these players.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Sophomore

    All good points, @Zach.

    Last night’s game was arguably the best defense the Cs have played so far – certainly up there with the very best. I’ll be thrilled if active KG shows up in LA. Five steals? Outstanding. And Sheed? Who would’ve believed two months ago how important he’d be to our interior D? In Boston, at least, he gave Gasol a lot of trouble.

    If the Cs’ offense hadn’t gone completely cold in the second half of the fourth quarter, they would’ve won by 10 or more.

  • Ersatz

    @gonegreen. You just don’t appreciate greatness. Doesn’t matter that Kobe was shooting 40% before last night or that he ruined whole fourth quarters with turnovers. He’z KOBE! It’s his team’s fault when the Lakers lose. You also might think it’s a bad thing when one guy takes 40% of your shots, but you just don’t understand the greatness of Kobe. You might even think that Gasol won two games for the Lakers while Kobe played with himself, but you just don’t understand basketball. Even Hollinger has weighed in: KOBE is the MVP!!! Never mind those turnovers, never mind that he’s done nothing to get his teammates involved in the series, never mind that he needs 30 shots to get his 30 points, never mind that his offensive effectiveness has been limited to about 15 total minutes this series. He’s Kobe.

  • sacbobv

    @Ersatz: LMAO! Written like a true Kobe homer, sure you’re not a closet one? jk!

  • Tom

    This is off topic, but is Luke Walton going to be the next Scal? I actually don’t like the Pierce on Walton matchup as it encourages Pierce to go into hero iso mode. Also he might not have the skills, but he seems to know where to go, almost like Scal (with more mobility)

  • Q

    I remember some team (don’t think it was a basketball team, but it’s applicable) describing their offense and saying that their goal was to score without anyone ever saying “great play”. Because a great play is a play that almost wasn’t made. The team’s goal was to be patient and find the easy, high-percentage plays instead of the incredible almost-didn’t-make-it plays.

    For some reason, that came to mind when reading comments on the third quarter.

  • trindog

    @ersatz Kobe is the greatest thing since sliced bread I know greatness when i see it greatness is putting up 40 points a night in losing efforts, greatness is making unbelievable plays at the expense of the Team. Greatness is ignoring the obvious mismatch to pad your stats. Kobe is the greatest player to put on a jock strap bar none

  • Shooter

    Gotta say though Kobe put on a show in the 3rd quarter.Lakers are in need of assistance, maybe a trade of Bynum for Arenas would work? Gasol was shut down,our bigs were too much for him.Odom…… don’t know whats up with him, but i do know he plays a lot better in that starting lineup.
    Lakers need a pg in all fairness they don’t really have one save Jordan farmar playing in limited mins….but if they do get Arenas or an upgrade over the off season it will change everything for them.That’s where i think people fail to realise the difference between Kobe the scorer and the Lakers without a true pg.Remember we have one in Rondo.If the Lakers get a true pg next season they’ll be an even greater force and people will stop labelling Kobe as a ball hog and start admiring true greatness, as he showed the whole world last night.

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