The attitude in the air for tonight’s game was simple and consistent all around – if the Lakers won, it’d be their biggest victory of the season. If they lost, it would be no surprise. Well, they lost and it really is no surprise. Yes, the Lakers have been on an upward swing the last couple of weeks. They’ve been playing like a team, gaining some ground in the standings and just look like they’re finally “getting it.” Unfortunately, “getting it” isn’t enough to defeat a team like the OKC Thunder.
There’s no getting around it – nothing encouraging about losing by 17 points. The Lakers, however, fell behind by as much as 18 points, and still managed, in spurts, to keep the Thunder on their toes by going on a few runs to claw away at the deficit, getting as close as six points from the lead late in the third quarter. Unfortunately, the Lakers needed to play a perfect game with the perfect amount of energy throughout the 48 minutes, but they caught on too late to fall under .500 again after a 122-105 loss.
Kobe Bryant – A collective gasp was heard ‘round Laker Nation three minutes into the game when Kobe Bryant keeled over in pain as he grabbed his right elbow. He subbed out and headed straight to the locker room to be checked. Not surprisingly, he returned a few minutes later, diagnosed with an ulnar nerve contusion (injury to his funny bone). Bryant played the remainder of the game (of course), scoring 18 of his 30 points, in the first half and went 11-12 from the free throw line.
Earl Clark – A source of energy and hustle for the team, Clark scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first half, and finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds for the game. He only shot 3-8 from the field but hit 6-8 from the charity stripe.
Threeball – How did the Lakers manage to keep the game competitive? They hit some big shots from downtown, that’s how. 12-29 from behind the arc, while OKC managed just 8-23. Aside from Dwight Howard, every Laker who saw minutes hit at least one from three-point land.
Free Throws – Despite being the worst free throw shooters in the league, the Lakers actually did a decent job from the charity stripe this time around. They converted 31 of their 40 attempts from the free throw line.
Third Quarter – If the Lakers played in the first half and fourth quarter the way they did in the third, tonight might have ended on a happier note. Everything in the third quarter kept them in the game. They outscored OKC 34-26, only allowed the Thunder 38.5% shooting while they managed to shoot 52.4% and they held Kevin Durant to just two points. Steve Nash, after going 1-7 in the first half, went off for 13 points on 5-6 from the field on the way to his 20 points for the game. They also only allowed the Thunder to score 10 points in the paint after allowing 28 paint points in the first two quarters.
Bench – The bench isn’t expected to score 52 points in every game like they did against the Timberwolves, but chipping in just 20 points against such a high-octane team like OKC is not enough of a contribution.
Defense – OKC scored 52 points in the paint, 71 points in the first half, and 122 points for the game. The Lakers looked powerless for the greater part of game, unable to stop Russell Westbrook, who went off for 37 points on 15-29 from the field, from getting to the hoop. Without his seven made free throws, Kevin Durant scored just 19 points on 9-22 from the field, but it wasn’t just OKC’s big two that chipped in. Four other Thunder teammates scored in double figures, and the Lakers did little to stop them.
Ball Movement – When the Lakers defeated OKC back in January, they handed out 29 assists on 41 made field goals. Tonight, they collected just 11 assists. 11! There were too many isolation plays, especially on Bryant’s part. Too many quick threes early in the shot clock and three-point attempts in transition didn’t help either. Instead of slowing the game down to start, they waited until the third quarter after falling into a double-digit hole. They played at OKC’s pace, and as a result, collected 16 turnovers which the Thunder turned into 22 points. OKC only committed two turnovers for the game. TWO TURNOVERS IN 48 MINUTES.
Despite being unable to score in the final six minutes, the Lakers really did have a chance to win this game, but instead of executing the proper game plan for their opponent, they played scattered for the majority of the time and suffered another loss because of it. By the time they found the energy to match the Thunder, it lasted for one quarter and then faded. Next up is Atlanta on Wednesday night. .500 – it was great while it lasted, and if the Lakers would like to take that record back, they’ll have to defeat the second team on this back-to-back road trip.