Are you freakin’ kidding us, Lakers?
They got blown out in Game 1 at OKC – fine. The Thunder had 9 days of rest and the Lakers had one. The Lakers had control of most of Game 2, and as hard as that loss was to accept, at least it showed that they could not only keep up with OKC, they could challenge them too. Game 3 was a great game because the Lakers won it as a team, playing with the same effort from tip-off to the final buzzer. And then there was Game 4. Talk about relapse.
Just as they did in Game 3, the Lakers came out swinging and led by as much as 11 points in the first half, and went into halftime with a 10-point lead. Kobe Bryant had 16 points and Andrew Bynum had 14. Neither James Harden nor Thabo Sefalosha could keep up with Bryant, and with so much of his energy expended on Kobe Watch, Harden’s offensive game seemed to suffer, slowing down at least one of OKC’s big three.
The Lakers looked active; not showing any signs that playing on the second night of a back-to-back was an issue. They, in fact, looked like the more energetic of the two teams despite the Thunder being the younger bunch. The Lakers forced OKC to work harder on both ends of the court in the first half, challenging them on the defensive end, with both Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant, even Ramon Sessions, penetrating to the hoop. The Lakers challenged them on the offensive end by preventing too many run-outs and working the glass to avoid second chance points.
…and then came the second half. OKC hadn’t completed any scoring runs in the game until late in the fourth quarter when they needed it most. They defended the Lakers into shooting just 36% in the second half, outscoring them 57-44, outrebounding them, taking over in the paint, and basically did everything the Lakers did to them in the first half. OKC had a 32-point fourth quarter that pulled them over the hump and into a commanding 3-1 lead heading back home.
HIGH POINTS in the first half that turned into LOW POINTS in the second half:
Kobe Bryant – Last night we admired Bryant’s grit for getting through a bad-shooting night but still managing to make an impact in the game. Tonight he had a great shooting night…for the first three quarters and them came back in the fourth and tried to do too much. Bryant hasn’t had a successful shooting percentage in this series, but tonight seemed like THE night. Through three quarters, he had 31 points on an efficient 10-18 from the field, including a 15-point third quarter – finally! He also had seven rebounds and four assists up to that point, and there seemed no reason to expect him to shut down in the final, pivotal quarter…and then he went 2-10 for seven points (three points from the charity stripe), grabbed a single rebound and handed out a single assist. He finished the night with a game-high 38 points.
Andrew Bynum – He had 14 points on 7-11 from the field in the first half. No moving-screen-prone Kendrick Perkins nor block-happy Serge Ibaka could stop him. He also had seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks. After a tough-shooting game last night, it appeared Bynum had re-discovered his dominance and figured out a way around OKC’s defense. In the second half, however, it was a whole lotta Kobe and not much of anyone else. In the final two quarters, Bynum scored just four points on only 2-4 from the field, grabbed just a pair of boards, had zero assists and had one block. The Thunder defended him with as great of an effort as they have all series long, accounting for his bad shooting percentage, but Bynum can’t help his offense if he doesn’t touch the ball. In games like tonight, when Bryant is hot for three quarters and then suddenly goes cold, it’s easy to blame him for the lack of touches to talented scorers like Bynum and Pau Gasol, but as a collective, the Lakers didn’t do much to create plays that put Bynum in a position to dominate, which he proved in the first half he could do.
Sharing the ball – In 23 made shots in the first half, the Lakers assisted on 15 and committed just five turnovers. What a great effort to keep the ball on the move! But to follow the theme of tonight’s game, their second half efforts were not the same. The ball movement halted, with the Lakers handing out just four assists on 14 made field goals. They went 14-39 from the field, and it’s difficult not to attest that to a lack of execution on the offensive end. Too many iso’s on Bryant’s part to end the final quarter. The Lakers led by as much as 13 points to begin those final 12 minutes, but after Steve Blake’s driving layup with half the quarter done, it was all Bryant.
Points in the paint – The Lakers simply dominated OKC in the paint in the first half, 34-16. In the second half, however, they were limited to just 14 compared to the Thunder’s 18 points inside.
Rebounding – The glass was owned by the Lakers in the first two quarters. Despite OKC’s efforts, they were outrebounded 24-14 and were allowed only three offensive rebounds. In the second half, they outhustled the Lakers to more loose balls and missed shots, eventually outboarding the home team 25-19
Defense – The Laker defense that held the Thunder to just 46% shooting in the first half, allowed a 52% field goal percentage in the second half. James Harden’s offense may have been muted in this game, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored out loud for a combined 41 points 13-22 from the field. Bryant should have probably spent the fourth quarter keeping an eye on Westbrook instead of going 2-10, and left the scoring load with the Laker bigs.
Good start – In short, good starts don’t matter if they don’t end with good finishes, and in two games in this series, the Lakers let a good start turn into a bad ending.
LOW POINTS that were just LOW POINTS:
Pau Gasol – It wasn’t just that late-game turnover he committed that cost the Lakers this game, it was his effort. Gasol has dealt with a lot this past season, but he’s been heralded for being this professional who worked hard no matter the circumstances in which he is placed. Gasol had a double-double in last night’s win, but it only shielded what really stood out on the stat sheet, and that was Gasol’s efforts as a whole. He had 12 points and 11 rebounds – great! His scoring aside, in almost 17 minutes of playing time in the first half, he grabbed just six rebounds and in the 20 minutes of floor time in the second half, he had just five rebounds. Unfortunately, because of Bynum’s larger role on the offensive end this season, Gasol has turned into an opportunistic scorer, putbacks of missed shots if there are some available, but that’s been the gist of it. Bryant called him out again tonight for not being aggressive enough, and Gasol mentioned that there was no ball movement late in the game, clearly a not-so-subtle retort at his co-captain. This back and forth of aggressiveness vs. ball movement has been the two captain’s not-so-secret war for a couple of years now, and sometimes, Bryant concedes and plays playmaker, and other times, Gasol does and goes off for a 20-point 17-rebound kind of night, but they don’t seem to be on the same page as often as they used to, and live out their concessions during the same game, and Gasol appears to be growing tired of it. What else explains this stat line of 10 points on 4-10 from the field, five rebounds, two assists, three blocks, three turnovers and five fouls. That’s a stat line for the likes of Josh McRoberts, not a two-time championship ring owner and co-captain of this Lakers team.
Being down 3-1 will not be an easy mountain to climb, especially with a close-out win in the hard-to-play Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, but this is the bed the Lakers have chosen to make for themselves and now it’s time to lay in it, no matter how uncomfortable it is or how loud the room gets. It didn’t have to be this way.