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May 15, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
No Rust Here

by Kevin Pelton

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at Oklahoma City 119, L.A. Lakers 90 (Oklahoma City leads 1-0)
Pace: 86.1
Offensive Ratings: Oklahoma City 138.1, L.A. Lakers 104.1

While the talking heads were going back and forth about the question of rust versus rest, they missed out on an issue that might have been more important to the final outcome of Game 1 of this series. Because the Los Angeles Lakers had less than 48 hours between finishing off the Denver Nuggets and taking the court in Oklahoma City Monday night, their coaching staff had little time to implement a new game plan. By contrast, the Thunder's coaches could spend the past week watching every second of the Denver-L.A. series and installing a system to beat the Lakers. Add in superior energy and hot shooting and you've got the recipe for a blowout that seems unlikely to bear much resemblance to the rest of this series.

The key to Oklahoma City's success was Russell Westbrook, who made major adjustments to his style of play to counter the length of the Lakers' front line. Of Westbrook's 10 field goals (in 15 attempts), just two came at the rim, which is unusual for him. During the regular season, Westbrook struggled to finish against the Lakers' 7-footers. So this time he focused his efforts on the pull-up jumper, which remains nearly automatic. Westbrook shot 6-of-9 from outside the painted area and also scored a couple of floaters.

When Westbrook did drive, he primarily looked to distribute the ball. Westbrook handed out nine assists against just one turnover in 27 minutes. In the first half, he was setting up teammates primarily from midrange and the perimeter. After halftime, when the Lakers wilted in the face of a mounting deficit, the Thunder was able to take advantage of their help defense by working the ball to the weak side for open looks, often in the paint.

Speaking of turnovers, Oklahoma City committed just four in 86 possessions, a laughably low rate. The Lakers' inability to force turnovers has been a recurring theme throughout the postseason, but this outcome was extreme even by their standards. The Thunder attempted more shots from the field despite taking 14 additional free throws and coming up with fewer offensive rebounds. Given how well Oklahoma City shot the ball, that was a recipe for disaster.

From the Lakers' standpoint, there were a couple of positives. Andrew Bynum reaffirmed his ability to score against single-coverage when matched up with Kendrick Perkins, who played at less than full strength and aggravated his hip strain during the game. (The Thunder said he was available to return, though there was no need to bring him back given the score.) Bynum had 20 points and 14 rebounds. Matt Barnes also hit half of his six shot attempts, including a pair of three-pointers, a welcome change from his series-long slump against the Denver Nuggets.

Beyond that, the Lakers had a tough time scoring and got no stops. The Thunder's 138.1 Offensive Rating was the first of better than 130 points per 100 possessions posted by any team in this postseason. The Lakers certainly got a good idea of what not to do. Now their coaching staff must use the day off before Game 2 to adjust and come up with a more workable game plan to stop Oklahoma City.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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Premium Article An Opportunity and a C... (05/15)
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Playoff Prospectus (05/15)
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Playoff Prospectus (05/15)

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