With 29 seconds left in the game against the Indiana Pacers, the Lakers were down by a single point, with possession of the basketball.
Here’s how the play should have gone.
After Fisher gets the steal, Bryant recovers the ball and runs it up the court. Once double-teamed, he passes to Gasol, who with David West defending him, posts up on the isolation. Now, two things can happen. Either he makes the basket and the Lakers go up by a point, or he at least gets a shot up and has Andrew Bynum under the basket to get an offensive rebound. Even if it doesn’t work out, there’s still enough time left on the clock for the Lakers to stretch out the game a bit.
Here’s how the play went.
After Fisher gets the steal, Bryant recovers the ball and runs it up the court. Once double-teamed, he passes to Gasol, who passes it back to Bryant. With the ball still in hand, Bryant lets the clock run, perhaps waiting for the double team. It comes, and the only option left for Bryant is to pass to Fisher who then tries to either shoot or lob it to Andrew Bynum.
Without an offensive identity, the Lakers didn’t know what to execute when Bryant was forced to give the ball up.
The end result? No basket, leaving the Lakers to start fouling with about 8.7 seconds left on the clock. Two made free throws by the Pacers, and one botched three-point attempt by Bryant later, the Lakers are facing the reality that they’ve lost their third-straight game in the last four nights.
The Lakers are obviously uncomfortable executing the offense, especially in the half court. Of all the times for Mike Brown to call a timeout, he opted instead to let the team play it out. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, but it at least would have put the team on the same page, as opposed to looking completely lost on the play.
“Yeah I was going to [call a timeout], but Kobe had the ball in the open court, and I didn’t want [the Pacers] defense to get set,” said Brown in his post-game interview. “In hindsight, I should’ve called it whether Kobe had the ball or not, and I didn’t.”
It’s interesting that Bryant deferred to Gasol, who had good post-position against West, and Gasol (very) quickly passed it back to Bryant. Given how Gasol played throughout the game, it was nice to see Bryant try and run the offense through him—giving him the opportunity to get the potential go-ahead basket, but Gasol never gave himself a chance. It’s further evidence that the team has become overly reliant on Bryant. What’s worse is that they’re not even exploring the possibility of getting involved in crunch-time offense. Everyone was stagnant on the play that easily could’ve swung this game from utter frustration to a victorious sigh of relief.
Although last season the Lakers had their fair share of blunders and lackadaisical nights, they had an identity. They had a set offense, and once Bynum fully recovered from his off-season knee surgery, even had a defensive edge. Now, the Lakers don’t run the triangle, they rarely run pick-and-rolls, and if they plan on resting their laurels on all Kobe all the time, it’s going to go about as well as it did last year.
Heading into the next couple of days, the Lakers will close the books on the first quarter of the season, and they still don’t have an identity. Are they a defensive team? Maybe. Prior to the start of their matchup against the Indiana Pacers, the Lakers were listed as 5th amongst the NBA in points allowed and 3rd in overall rebounds. These two stats are a positive sign for the Lakers, who should be better defensively under the tutelage of Brown, however, to win games, you still have to put up more points on the scoreboard than your opponent. Granted, the offense did look a little better tonight than it has looked, but it has to be consistent on a nightly basis. The only way they’re going to achieve consistency is if they don’t have to second-guess themselves on offense while on the court.
Yes, the Lakers are a work in progress. When the front office decided to hire Brown, they had to have known that it would be a difficult task, with a week of training camp, to adapt to a new system. But what system are the Lakers exactly supposed to adapt to? If there are only a few plays to draw upon in the Brown Playbook, then why has it become so difficult for this Lakers team to execute said offense?
No one said it better than Metta World Peace, who when asked about the Lakers offense, indicated that Brown was still trying figure out what type of team he had. It isn’t like Brown inherited a mediocre Lakers squad. He got Bryant, who despite growing injury concerns, still puts up MVP-type numbers. He has two big men in Bynum and Gasol, who work well on both ends of the floor, and have the potential of both being very effective on offense. Everyone else has a role, and once they execute their duties consistently, it will further solidify the team as a unit and even, just maybe, give them the identity they lack.
The more comfortable the Lakers become forging an offensive identity, the easier it’ll get to minimize the confusion when the game is on the line.