In their last two visits to Oklahoma City, the veteran Lakers defeated the young Thunder and the player formerly known as Ron Artest was Kevin Durant’s worst nightmare. Funny thing about the young, though – they grow up. And these Thunder, they’ve grown up. Like GROWN UP – individually, as a team – they’re the real deal, and after having to listen to the entire league sing their praises, the Lakers finally saw it for themselves. If it was anything but a wake-up call for the purple and gold, I’d be surprised.
The Lakers used to be this Thunder team – the group of talented players who played like they had something to prove; a team who played TOGETHER because they had a common purpose. Teams used to hate playing the Lakers too, but this is a new season and neither team is the same group who met in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs; the round where the Lakers eliminated OKC, the year the Lakers won the second of back-to-back NBA Championships. Based on this game alone, the team prepared to make a run for that title wasn’t the one on the visitors’ bench.
No excuses, but the Lakers’ fourth game in five days against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the day after playing the Dallas Mavericks? What did we expect? As spectacularly good as this Thunder team is this season, if the Lakers played with the energy, passion and efficiency (minus the missed free throws of course) with which they played in Dallas, this game would have been a lot harder to call. But after holding OKC to just 19 points on 37% shooting in the first quarter, the Lakers skidded the rest of the way.
Lakers’ 1st quarter – OKC was held to just 7-19 from the field for 37% shooting and the Lakers still managed to shoot 50% in the process, led by the aggressive Kobe Bryant, who put up 10 points on 4-9. The Lakers actually looked like they could win this game, assisting on eight of their 10 made field goals, led by four dimes from Metta World Peace and committing just a pair of turnovers in 12 minutes. It was a good start. Unfortunately, that’s all it was.
Pau Gasol – 22 points on 9-14, 4-5 from the charity stripe, nine rebounds, three assists and a steal. In the shadow of Kobe Bryant’s poor shooting night, and Bynum’s slow start, Gasol seemed to adjust the best to the Thunder defense. Despite OKC clogging the paint and barring any chance of the Lakers’ seven-foot tandem going to work around the rim, Gasol was able to adjust, getting in his layups when he could, but was also able to shoot the mid-range when he had to. He scored in every quarter, but could’ve grabbed a few more rebounds.
Metta World Peace – He’s no longer the same defender that hovered over Kevin Durant’s offense like a dark cloud, but he provided nine points for this team, 3-5 from downtown, grabbed four rebounds, handed out five assists, took two steals and didn’t commit a single turnover.
OKC’s defense (High Point for the Thunder) – They covered Kobe via James Harden and some sharp help defense, only allowing Bryant a 7-24 kind of night and forcing him to rack up his points from the free throw line (10-11) but not much from anywhere else. Proud of his defense on the veteran, Harden and Bryant even had a lengthy exchange as the officials reviewed whether Derek Fisher’s shot was a two or a three. They were surely talking trash and with the way Harden limited Bryant, it may have been warranted, no? Can’t imagine Bryant wouldn’t do the same. With one primary, and effective, defender on Bryant, the rest of the Thunder on the floor were able to keep their eyes on Bynum and Gasol. Gasol had a fine night offensively, but Bynum was clearly bothered. OKC guarded the painted area like their very season depended on it, and that is how Bynum scored in the first quarter and didn’t score again until the fourth.
OKC’s defense (Low Point for the Lakers) – Bynum dribbled down the baseline in the fourth quarter and stuffed it in with authority. Why it took him so long to figure out that this move would bring him success is a mystery. He followed that up with a hook shot and it appeared the Lakers were getting ready to get back into the game. With over nine minutes left in the game at that point, there was more than enough time to bear down on the defense, get some stops, score on the other end and catch up, but OKC let their defense dictate their offense and erased any notion that the visitors would be going home with a victory.
It all came down to shot selection – After coming back up from a double-digit lead, the Lakers were just seven points away from evening up the score, but Bynum missed a jumper, followed by Metta World Peace missing one, followed up a missed fadeaway from Bryant, which he followed with a missed layup. The Lakers had just one more possession than the Thunder but came up empty too many times to formulate any kind of run. The Lakers may have tried to throw it inside, but most times, they passed around the perimeter until the shot clock ran down…and down…and down some more; so much so that first, second and third options came and went and someone (most of the time Bryant) had to toss up a shot, any shot, just to beat the clock. There was hardly, if any, execution by the Lakers in the final quarter. They tried to keep it close, but then the Thunder struck and boy do they strike quickly.
Outrebounded – The best rebounding team in the league should not be outrebounded by the 8th best, yet that is what happened tonight. Despite games where Bynum and Gasol have outrebounded the opposing team as a whole, they managed only 21 rebounds combined tonight. With Bynum unable to score as easily as he was able to last night, he should have been a beast on the boards and a presence on defense.
Fast Break Points – The Lakers only turned the ball over 12 times in this game, but it seemed like so much more. The Thunder scored 21 points on the break and the Lakers got six. SIX fast break points despite the Thunder equaling their turnover total.
It was a battle of the old vs. the young. Both teams were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but the Thunder played with the energy and enthusiasm of kids on the last day of school, and the Lakers played like…a team on the second night of a back-to-back. At the end of the game, the camera focused on Kobe Bryant’s face as he sat on the bench. He looked like he was recording every detail of that moment, perhaps hoping moreso for a change in his team, physically or mentally; perhaps remembering the victory the last time they were in town; or maybe, just maybe, plotting his revenge. As a Laker fan, one can only hope.