If there was one lesson to be learned from losing the 2008 Finals to the Boston Celtics, then it would be the need for defense. The 2007-2008 season was a roller coaster year for the Lakers, to say the least. The off-season began with questions of Kobe’s stance with the organization, backed up with rumors that he was “cleaning out his locker.” Then there was the question of whether Mitch Kupchak’s decision to not trade Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd was in fact the right call. The Lakers seamed to be stuck with no momentum on their side.
Then Derek Fisher returned to LA, bringing his leadership and lifting Kobe’s spirits and belief in the team. The season started shortly after with the improvement of Bynum’s offense, defense, and ability to fully contribute. The Lakers were back to playing at a level of what the fans expected. When Bynum went down mid-season, breathes were held from Laker fans. When heads and spirits started to fall, Pau Gasol entered the building, changing the future for the team, while getting rid of some problems. (Kwame Brown and Javaris Crittenton)
The Lakers were riding a train of success straight to the Finals, earning the role of the team who was favored to win. The Lakers were built around offense. They blew through the West, scoring at will. Then came the Finals against the Lakers’ old rival, the Boston Celtics. The Celtics were feeling confident with their team’s ability and their revamped version of the “Big Three”. The Lakers would soon realize that the phrase “the best offense is a good defense” is actually true. The Celtics and their defense ran over the Lakers. However, the Lakers would get their revenge two years later, after beating Boston in the 2010 Finals. The reason they got revenge was because they became a offensive team who could consistently defend.
The Lakers’ recent acquisitions over the past three years represents the organization’s commitment to be more defensive. Ron Artest was brought into the team for his defensive abilities. Artest understood his role on the team and has surrendered his usual role as a scorer. Matt Barnes was acquired to spark a defensive mentality off the bench. Steve Blake was brought in not only for his passing abilities, but for his speed on the defensive end of the court. The Lakers did not solely rely of defensive additions to achieve their goal. Phil Jackson and his coaching staff expected and encouraged the entire roster to step it up defensively.
Kobe Bryant has even improved his defense, despite being rewarded for his defensive performances several times in the past. The defensive efforts of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol seem to have had the most impact on the team. After being embarrassed by Kevin Garnett in the 2008 Finals, Gasol hit the weight room during the off-season. Pau came back stronger and could equally match up with any opponent. Bynum’s blocked shots, offensive and defensive rebounds, and overall presence in the lane has dramatically increased and continues to grow.
There is no question that the West has been known more for its offense, while the East is most known for its defense. This difference in approach is one of the reasons why the NBA Finals is so interesting to watch. It will also be interesting to see how Miami, an offensive team, can match up in the playoffs against either Boston or Chicago, defensive teams. The Lakers displayed their defensive abilities in Game 2 against the New Orleans Hornets, even though they struggled offensively.
Game 3 proved that the Lakers’ length separates them from the rest of the league. When the Lakers play true to their identity of being an offensive team who can equally defend, they have the advantage over the core defensive teams in the East that they may face in this year’s Finals.
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