The Lakers have no answer for James Harden and it is pretty obvious. They can slow him down, throw bodies at him but it looked pretty easy and Harden seemed to look relieved to look at his defender and not see Lou Dort. Lakers will respond, they weren’t badly outplayed but small adjustments (less Rondo, WAY more Caruso) will help them grab game 2.
The Stats & Thoughts
-1.02 PPP, had some really nice offensive moments
-Less Russ ISO, more Ballscreen & downhill actions
-Eric Gordon downhill & vs Kuzma is a nightmare for Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers
-Defense needs to lead to transition, half court offense got mucked up badly
-11/28 from 3, LeBron 2 of 7 - 3 of those EOQ ISOs, but Rondo/Kuz/KCP going 4 for 14 is rough
-Find a way to get PJ Tucker off AD, 26 times Tucker defended AD with 0 points. Ballscreen/Pindown/Flares, get Tucker off AD & go
Lakers After FT Play
The Lakers will run a free throw post up for Anthony Davis anytime their opponent is shooting free throws. Knowing this the Rockets will look to front, bump and jam AD from posting up, and they did a great job taking this action away - even when AD went to his spin lob counter.
Rockets Fronting AD in Post
If any Rocket other than PJ Tucker gets switched onto Anthony Davis, or even Tucker sometimes in after time out situations, the Rockets will front him in the post. Fronting him takes away any easy post up passes and pushes Davis away from his preferred position near the basket. Being able to help and sag off of players like Javale, Rondo, Kuzma allow the Rockets to shrink the floor and force the Lakers into tough possessions.
After time out specials are ways to create easy scoring opportunities and punish the opponent’s defensive scheme. In this series, the Rockets switching everything takes away alow of those looks but is prone to slips and weakside action. The Lakers ran no clever action, nothing designed to force the Rockets into a tough defensive decision and nothing for LeBron. This to me is the biggest issue with the coaching decisions and the fact the Lakers seem to not have 100+ plays ready for the Rockets switching is disappointing.
The best play the Laker’s have run all year has been the LeBron/Anthony Davis ball screen, whether it is on the side or in the middle of the floor. Switching takes the Lakers out of this action and shows why the Rockets are so hard to play against.
Anthony Davis Post Ups vs Harden
If I am the Lakers I am doing everything I can on every possession attacking Russ & Harden. Making those two defend as much as possible every chance possible will hurt their offensive game as well, but allow the Lakers to score easier. When the Rockets had Harden on Davis, he scored 3 of those 4 possessions and scored pretty easily. If the Lakers can find a way to create this matchup, that is a success for them.
Setting Up Plays & In-Game Adjustments
One of my favorite things is to try and notice any in-game adjustments the players or the coaches make. Since we are not in the huddles or any pregame meetings it is hard to know when or how these counters and adjustments start. Here is a good example of a play being open but the players not recognizing it the first time, when Gordon backdoor cuts on this baseline out of bounds he was open the first baseline out of bounds but Rivers did not even look at him electing to give the ball to Russ in an ISO. Later in the game, this exact scenario was open with LeBron overplaying the Harden ISO and Gordon going backdoor, this time the Rockets clearly saw it and hit him for the layup.
Rockets Relentless Attack Of Kuzma
It was pretty evident from the start of the game that the Rockets were going to attack Kuzma relentlessly. Whenever he checked in it seemed like the Rockets immediately went to attacking him with switches and in transition. I expect them to attack more often, considering they scored 18 points on 15 possessions as well as creating easier scoring opportunities as well.
Harden Attacking AD & Bigs
It may sound strange, but the Rockets are attacking and trying to get Anthony Davis switched onto James Harden. AD is an ELITE defender and he has been great defending Harden this year, but if he gets beat it is a trainwreck for the Lakers defense. By Isolating or even pulling AD out on Harden it does not allow him to help and if he gets beat it essentially is a simple easy layup with no rim protection. Part of why I would be hesitant to completely play AD at the 5 the entire game.
Lakers Counter to Big on Harden
My favorite saying is “The Enemy Has A Vote” from Jocko Wilink, a former Seal and current leadership consultant. This is always a reminder that no matter what you plan for and what you think you are going to do, your opponent always has a choice and will be ready for that decision. The Lakers counter when a big get switched onto Harden by throwing a late trap or a quick blitz to get out of that mismatch as soon as possible.
To trap or not to trap - the biggest dilemma for the Lakers in this series. They do not have a ton of defenders to throw at Harden and nobody like Dort. Trapping Harden is something that the Lakers used in the regular season and went to that 8 times in game 1. In those 8 possesions, the Rockets only scored 5 points but did miss some easy looks. No matter who shoots and misses and easy look, giving up wide open 3’s to a team is always uncomfortable so it will be interesting to see what the Lakers do in game 2.
The biggest adjustment and the number one thing missing from this breakdown - LeBron attacking the mismatch. This is because they did not really go to this action of putting Rockets guards in bad defensive positions and trying to exploit that weakness. I expect them to go to that more in game 2, but that is easier said than done.
If you have any feedback or thoughts let me know - the first paid breakdown will be a MASSIVE breakdown on the Heat vs Bucks series when that concludes and I am really looking forward to it!