“That’s two games in a row that we controlled the tempo,” the Lakers guard said following his team’s Game 3 win Friday night. “We did a good job of controlling the pace of the game and being physical.”
Now, in Game 4 on Saturday night inside Staples Center, the Thunder must figure out a way to again dictate the pace. That’s the key for Oklahoma City to regain momentum and grab complete control of this series.
The Thunder knows it and the Lakers do, too.
Bryant was blunt when asked if the Lakers, on less than 24 hours rest, will again be able to play with the same intensity and physicality Saturday night.
“No,” he said. “Not if it’s an up-and-down game, no. We don’t have a shot. If both of these teams were well-rested we wouldn’t have a shot. So we have to slow the game down and play our pace, play our tempo and we’ll be fine. Whether it’s a back-to-back or three nights in a row it doesn’t matter. If we control the pace, we’ll give ourselves a great opportunity.”
In Game 1, the Thunder cruised to a 29-point victory by speeding up the game and making the Lakers uncomfortable. OKC scored 13 fast break points and converted 15 Lakers turnovers into 22 points. The Thunder also kept the Lakers off the free throw line, limiting them to 15 attempts.
In Games 2 and 3, however, at least one ingredient was missing from that three-part recipe.
The Thunder notched a 77-75 win in Game 2 despite scoring just 14 points off 15 Lakers turnovers. In that game, the Thunder raced to 18 fast-break points and again did a good job of limiting the Lakers’ free throw attempts, holding them to just 14.
On Friday night, it was the free throw line that doomed the Thunder.
OKC put L.A. on the line 42 times, and the Lakers made a staggering 41 of them. That 97.6 percent clip became the second best foul shot rate in NBA history for a team that shot at least 30 free throws. The Lakers’ accuracy rendered the Thunder’s 23 fast break points and 22 points off 15 L.A. turnovers pointless.
“We fouled too many times,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks after Game 3. “That’s the bottom line. Forty-two is a high number (of free throws). That’s more than they average, a lot more than they average. We were using our hands and fouling too much. We’ve got to do a better job. Forty-two free throws and 41 makes, it’s hard to win on your opponents home court when you do that. We have to do a better job of not fouling, defending, rebounding and getting out and running.”
With big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers have the ability to methodically burn the shot clock before getting high-percentage shot attempts from in close. In Game 3, that attack, coupled with mounting foul calls, was too much for the Thunder to overcome.
We’ll see if Game 4 will be any different.
“We need to try to not let them get out in transition too much,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “I though they did there for a stretch (in Game 3). Having 23 fast-break points is kind of tough. If we can keep them playing half-court basketball, we’ll have a better chance. They’re getting out after our turnovers and they’re getting easy baskets after our turnovers. That’s been the difference a lot of these ballgames.”