Three overall themes helped to define the Lakers victory Sunday afternoon: presence; patience; and persistence.
All three were there for Los Angeles, and all three will remain necessary elements throughout the team’s postseason run if they are to be successful.
Presence. Patience. Persistence. Simple as that.
Presence came in the form of Andrew Bynum. Los Angeles’ often-ailing big man was a physical presence in the paint against the Thunder in returning from his 13-game absence. He offensive numbers do not necessarily leap off the boxscore – he had a modest 13 points on 6-of-10 from the floor – but he tied playoff-career high is rebounds (12) and blocks (4), and his imposing length gave every Oklahoma City player other than Russell Westbrook all kinds of trouble getting the rim.
With Bynum, presence is enough. He need not give the Lakers nightly 20-10 performances, but rather if he can change the game defensively by using his length effectively, and if he can stay engaged on offense throughout the game so that the other team cannot double team Pau Gasol, Bynum will have done his part. He and Gasol combined to put up 32 points, grabbed 25 rebounds, and blocked 7 shots, a line Phil Jackson would take any day.
Patience came from Kobe Bryant…at least most of the time. Yes, he was a volume shooter, needing 19 shots to get his team-leading 21 points, but the encouraging thing for Los Angeles was that so many of those shots were good looks that were taken while trying to attack the lane and get to the rim. Too often as Bryant has battled through his injury-plagued season has he leaned on fading perimeter jumpers so as to save his legs from further the pounding they would take from driving into the heart of the defense, but that was not the case Sunday.
Especially when he had the overmatched James Harden on him, Bryant worked patiently in the post, and wore his defender down with a methodical series of fakes and outstanding footwork. It helped of course that he had fresh legs, and that the Thunder have no real elite shot-blocker, but more than anything, it was Bryant’s willingness to be patient and work for the best look possible that helped carry him. He will need to shoot better in the games going forward, but at least Sunday his approach was on-point.
Finally, persistence came in the form of team defense. When Los Angeles commits to playing the sort of swarming team help defense we saw in Game 1, they will be a challenge for anyone. Moreover, if Ron Artest is able to turn back the clock and bare down defensive like he did in this game (and if Bryant is able to drop back in help so far off his man all game), the Lakers will be tough to beat.
The team had nine team blocks, and six steals, as they contained the Thunder to just 40.3% from the floor and held the young challengers to an offensive efficient rating 15 points below their team average.
That sort of defensive success is born out of persistence, and commitment to execution. It is also helped by the opponent’s all-everything superstar forward coming out extremely flat. The Lakers cannot expect Kevin Durant to shoot this poorly again – he missed shots he normally makes and he never found any sort of rhythm on offense – so they should be wary to think that Artest can repeat his success against him throughout the series (though it is worth mentioning that Durant was just 4-18 when Artest was checking him).
Presence. Patience. Persistence. That is what Phil Jackson will look for again from his team on Tuesday night, and really, throughout this entire postseason. Los Angeles will need to show those three overarching elements to repeat as champions. For now, they can rest easy knowing that Jackson is 45-0 in series after winning Game 1.