When asked to explain his team’s ups and downs, particularly the 60-point swing seen from Games 4 to 5, Kobe Bryant summoned the one word that has been said ad nauseum since the start of this first-round NBA playoff series between his Lakers and the Thunder.
"I think those two games in Oklahoma, they executed extremely well,” Bryant said. "They had a plan in place, they had a strategy and they executed it to perfection. And we made our adjustments. Now it’s on them to see what they do.”
Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City’s Coach of the Year, is on the clock.
Following Tuesday night’s 111-87 blowout in Game 5 at Staples Center, the Thunder is now on life support in these playoffs. The Lakers own a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 is Friday night inside the Ford Center. And now, it’s really "win or go home” time.
That’s where Brooks comes in.
The Thunder’s coach must return the volley that Lakers coach Phil Jackson swatted across court two nights ago, effectively changing the face of this series. Jackson neutralized the Thunder’s biggest playmaking threat Tuesday when he sicced perennial pest Bryant on Russell Westbrook. It was a move that disrupted the Thunder’s entire offense and resulted in yet another poor start for Oklahoma City.
Whatever adjustments Brooks makes Friday seemingly must begin there.
Through five games, the Lakers have outscored the Thunder in the first quarter, 128-98. And with Bryant, rather than Derek Fisher, expected to remain on Westbrook, Brooks must devise a plan to get the offense flowing again.
Brooks will tell you that the Thunder’s defense is its best offense. By that he means the more Oklahoma City prevents the Lakers from scoring, the more it will be able to run out in transition and revive the stalled fast-break game that was seen in Game 5.
And to restore the team’s defense — which allowed the Lakers to shoot 64 percent in the first half Tuesday and a series-high 54 percent for the game — Brooks finds himself having to preach a point he didn’t think would be an issue in this series. Effort.
"They hit us really hard in the beginning of the game, but we didn’t fight back,” said Nenad Krstic. "Even in Games 1 and 2, they really tried to come out and get an early lead but we found a way to come back. (Tuesday), we just gave up.”
The Thunder’s offensive woes, while they run rampant, will always come second to the defensive focus. Oklahoma City has shown throughout this season that it has plenty of offensive firepower when things are clicking on the defensive end.