The final seconds of the final post-game interview Monday night was all kinds of awkward.
Just before Kobe Bryant concluded the evening's events, a local reporter asked the Los Angeles Lakers star guard a blunt but burning question that cuts to the heart of what this series with the Oklahoma City Thunder is now about.
“Can you guard ‘em?” a reporter asked.
Bryant looked up from his seat atop the podium.
“Excuse me,” Bryant replied.
“Can you guys guard them, as a team?” the reporter restated.
Bryant pursed his lips, shook his head and rolled his eyes
“No,” Bryant said, defiantly and sarcastically.
The five-time champion and 14-time All-Star then stared down Myron Patton for five seconds before being excused from the press conference.
The atmosphere in the room couldn't have been more tense.
The exchange couldn't have been more telling.
This Western Conference semifinals series now boils down to whether the Lakers can defend the Thunder. And regardless of what Bryant believes, there is a mound of evidence that points to the Thunder simply being a bad matchup for the Lakers.
After one defeat, one brutally-bad blowout defeat, L.A. looks utterly lost against the Thunder. The Lakers look too slow, too old and too thin to keep up. Already, it's clear that the Lakers don't have enough counter options to continue to compete with OKC.
So what's L.A. to do? How on earth can the Lakers defend the Thunder from here out to make this a compelling series and avoid the same sweep the defending champion Dallas Mavericks faced in the first round?
The options are limited. But there are a few Lakers coach Mike Brown has at his disposal.
1. “Show” harder on the pick-and-roll.
It's no secret that the Thunder's offense is pick-and-roll heavy. Game 1 was no different, as 33.3 percent of the Thunder's plays came out of pick-and-rolls. This is by far the Lakers' biggest concern. The problem is, with big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the Lakers are not built to defend the pick-and-roll. Every team knows this about the Lakers, and every team tries to exploit it.
The Thunder did just that in Game 1. All the Lakers can do to correct it is cover the pick-and-roll harder. L.A. has to be more engaged at the point of attack. That means Bryant must guard Russell Westbrook earlier and closer, shutting off his path to the basket. Whoever is guarding the screener — usually a Bynum or Gasol — step up and “show” harder, keeping Westbrook, James Harden or Kevin Durant from dribbling right off the screen and toward the basket.
In Game 1, the Laker bigs were camping out in the lane and giving up too much space, allowing the Thunder to get to the middle of the floor and pull up for open jumpers. It's a pick-your-poison equation for the Lakers, because if the bigs press up then OKC's guards can turn on the jets and get to the basket, which they still did at times Monday night.