“Everyone feels like they’re part of the team,” Steve Nash said in the locker room after the Lakers got their biggest win of the season against the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-96.
It’s never enough to BE part of a team if one player feels left out, and that seems to have been one of many causes for these Lakers’ struggles. Not enough touches, not enough minutes, etc. Division is the quickest way to perdition and Coach Mike D’Antoni said it post-game today, “We hit rock bottom.” The only way for the Lakers to rise from under is to play together, struggle through games together, support each other, and that’s exactly what they did this afternoon.
Kobe Bryant had more assists than field goal attempts. Steve Nash had more field goal attempts than assists. Pau Gasol showed it doesn’t matter whether he starts or comes off the bench because his impact is major nonetheless. Metta World Peace was a workhorse on both ends, as usual. And as a team, the Lakers never let lost leads discourage them nor OKC runs exhaust them. This is how you win.
Kobe-of-all-trades – For the second game in a row, Bryant is leading by example. A scorer at heart, he has played the last two games showing off not just his ability to put the ball in the hoop, but his craftiness to get his teammates on the scoreboard. 21 points on 8-12 from the field, 9 rebounds, 14 assists, a steal, a block and just three turnovers in almost 39 minutes on the floor – that’s called efficiency and Bryant knows a thing or two about that. Thabo Sefalosha is one of Bryant’s many proud defenders, but on this Sunday afternoon, he had to worry about a lot more than him trying to score. Most every baseline drive by Bryant was followed by a hand-off to a cutting teammate on their way to the hoop, and when Kobe decided, a little fancy footwork got him an open jumper.
Balanced Scoring – Six Lakers scored in double figures, including Steve Nash who went for 17 and Metta World Peace with 15 of his own. The reserves outscored OKC’s bench 33-17. Gasol’s 16 points on 7-10 certainly helped, but Antawn Jamison chipped in 12 points and Jodie Meeks checked in in the fourth quarter and rattled off five quick points to give the Lakers a lead. And the Earl Clark experiment? How about 11 points on 5-9, including a three pointer and four rebounds?
Sustained Effort – There were 18 lead changes. OKC led by as much as five points and the Lakers led by as much as nine. Another knock on the Lakers during those 25 losses were the close games that they couldn’t finish in the end. Today’s game was the exact opposite. Halfway through the fourth quarter, OKC took an 87-86 lead off Kevin Durant’s 3-pointer. After a step-back jumper from MWP that gave the Lakers back the lead, the home team never looked back.
Defense – The Thunder are the highest scoring team in the NBA at 105.9 ppg and third in FG% at 47.8%. It’s one thing to hold OKC to 23 points on 39% shooting in the first quarter, but to hold them to 96 points on 44% for the entire game? That’s something else. The Lakers stood their ground for an entire game, and after losing the lead midway through the fourth, they outscored the Thunder 19-10 the rest of the way. OKC’s big two still scored a combined 52 points and Russell Westbrook handed out 13 assists, but 13 of Durant’s points came from the free throw line, so his 22 points from the field took 26 attempts. The Lakers made him work hard for every shot, and for a scorer like Durant, that’s often the most that you can do. Westbrook went just 6-22 from the floor, with Bryant taking on the assignment in spurts, and MWP checked Durant, as usual, but it took a team effort on the defensive end to hold the Thunder to under 100 points.
Free Throws – 13 missed free throws on 29 attempts, with eight of those misses coming courtesy of Dwight Howard, who didn’t have his most efficient game.
Dwight Howard – Eight points on 3-7 from the field and 2-10 from the charity stripe, 10 rebounds, an assist and two steals. It’s not the most impressive stat line from the supposed best center in the league. Howard was in foul trouble, but his constant complaint of not getting touches could be remedied with some effort on the glass. Bryant, a guard, was one rebound shy of tying the rebound total of the starting center on his team.
“As long as we utilize what we have, we should win,” said Metta World Peace in the locker room after the game. In essence, it’s the simplest solution for this talent-riddled Laker team to score some victories if they could only just REMEMBER who they are and what they have, and play like it.
It’s a great day in Lakerland today – a win over the best team in the league, and the birthday of the best owner in sports history. Happy Birthday, Jerry Buss!