- David Thorpe, NBA
- 0 Shares
In NBA playoff basketball, teams are prepared to make all sorts of adjustments to their styles and strategies in order to find a way to win. Perhaps they'll move, by just a foot or two, where a screen is to be set. Or maybe they'll change the direction of an action from one game to the next. Some teams will call more plays for a particular player. Other teams will call less plays and hope to see their guys play with more creativity. There is never enough space in these columns to detail all of the many potential adjustments that could be made in a particular game. But Game 3 of this series featured a key that has little to do with adjustments, the one key that all teams hope to achieve in every game they play: shooting the ball well. The Utah Jazz simply shot better than the Los Angeles Lakers, winning the game and creating a much more dramatic series in the process.
There is no statistic from Game 3 more telling than this one: The Lakers shot 5-for-23 from the 3-point line. Kobe Bryant missed all six of his attempts, meaning his teammates shot 5-of-17, and no Laker made more than one 3-pointer save Vladimir Radmanovic, who was 2-for-6. In the first two games, the Lakers attempted only 21 3s combined, making 12. Part of the reason they shot more of them in Game 3 -- not including the three late-game treys they took when time and score situations called for them -- was based on how Utah defended Bryant throughout most of the game. Unlike the first two games, Utah ran a ball-side help defender to Kobe, a very risky maneuver in the NBA. This strategy enabled him to make an easy kickout to a wide-open teammate, and Utah rarely ran a second helper to the shooter, leaving players like Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and Derek Fisher with time to take the shot.
If L.A.'s shooters had been even a little more successful, Utah probably would have started running that second helper over to the wing shooter. This would have allowed the Lakers to make the extra pass to create great attack lanes, and also would have opened up offensive rebounding opportunities. But not only did the Lakers miss 18 3-pointers, they never made two in a row -- allowing Utah to build trust in its game plan. If unsuccessful early in Game 4, these same shooters could choose to drive and create, or simply reverse the ball and run some triangle action on the other side. Forcing the Jazz to work harder and run more on defense could pay off as the game and the series progress.
This strategy of doubling Kobe on the wing paid another dividend to the Jazz: Kobe, knowing the double-team was coming, responded by taking four of his six 3-pointers. (He had attempted just four total in the first two games). When Kobe is in pure attack mode, he's usually unstoppable, and in Game 3 that was again true. He finished 10-for-20 -- and an incredible 10-for-14 on 2-point attempts -- from the field, and 14-of-17 from the line. The Jazz can only make things tough on him, hope he settles for deep shots and then hope again that he misses them. There is not a single player in the NBA who attacks more relentlessly than Bryant -- not even Allen Iverson -- but Kobe's not perfect. Had he attempted four fewer 3-pointers and instead chosen to drive, it's likely that L.A. would have scored a few more points and perhaps eked out a victory.
This is not to put any blame on an amazing player who was by far the best Laker -- and best player, period -- in Game 3. Rather, it is a suggestion that we'll see Bryant committed to attacking full-time in Game 4. If his teammates can shoot just a little straighter, the Jazz are in serious trouble because he'll again draw those double-teams all game long.
Utah's activity in helping on Kobe and Pau Gasol forced some very important turnovers as well, 18 in total for L.A. In Game 4, look for the Lakers to keep the floor spaced when either guy gets the ball, and for both Kobe and Pau to take their time and make an easy pass when the double comes.
It was clear that for Utah to beat this formidable Lakers team, they needed a big performance from Carlos Boozer. They got it, but only because Boozer finished shots better. He got similar looks in Games 1 and 2. Boozer did look more relaxed and aware of scoring opportunities within the Jazz offense. After asking Boozer to set a screen near the paint, the Jazz looked for him on the duck-in, and they also looked for him in the soft middle after he set ball screens. Boozer is still having trouble finishing consistently at the rim against the length of Lamar Odom and Gasol: He's flipping shots up and hoping they drop, instead of really focusing on finishing and not worrying about getting his shot blocked. He discovered that one of the best ways to get a good angle to shoot against either defender is to use a spin move before he shoots. The spin puts his defender on his back and allows Boozer to use his massive width to create the space he needs. But spinning comes with risk because it's a blind move that allows a second defender to drop down. L.A. may do exactly that if Boozer goes to his spin moves in Game 4.
Mehmet Okur played a huge role in the game, hitting 4-of-7 from 3-point range. The Lakers use their 4-man as a very active helper on ball penetration, but that strategy hurt them with the way Okur shot the ball. I still think they'll employ a similar strategy because Boozer and Deron Williams are too good to be ignored, but perhaps they'll help less when anyone other than those two has the ball in the paint.
I still think Los Angeles is the best team in the playoffs right now, but the Jazz are close enough that L.A. has to play really well to beat them. Just because L.A.'s normally good shooters missed in Game 3 does not mean we can expect them to make shots in Game 4. Utah, as proven time and time again in the Houston series, is a very tough and resilient team. The Jazz upgraded their effort level in Game 3 and will do the same in Game 4. Williams' wrist injury is a big concern, and will likely be the deciding factor for Game 4. If he performs well, the Jazz have a great chance of winning, but I'm looking for one of those 50-point outbursts from Kobe, who is determined to do whatever is necessary to head back to L.A. up 3-1.
PREDICTION: Jazz win Game 4
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for NBA and college players. To e-mail him, click here.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.
Scouts Inc. previews Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinal series between the Jazz and Lakers, and picks the winner.