Entering the playoffs versus the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Lakers were struggling and were about to face a run-and-gun Thunder team. Some people actually doubted the Lakers in the series, even though the season series was won by the Lakers.
Game 1 in Staples Center was a very important battle. First, the Lakers would have a chance to take a series lead. Second, the Lakers would try to regain momentum and prove all doubters that they’re still the team to beat.
The game started off with the Lakers firing on all cylinders and took an early 27-13 lead. By halftime, the lead dwindled down to only an 8 point margin. However, a bright spot was that Kevin Durant, the league’s leading scorer, was being harassed and essentially shut down by Ron Artest.
From day one, Artest was expected to guard and stop an opponent’s superstar, and up until the playoffs, Ron was very inconsistent. However in Game 1, Artest finally showed up and Durant finished with 24 points — on 24 shots.
With the lack of proficiency from their best player, the Thunder never took the lead and lost the game 87-79. The Lakers took a 1-0 series lead by shooting 41% from the field, while limiting the Thunder to only 79 points.
Andrew Bynum put in 13 points and 12 rebounds in his first game back from injury and judging from his performance, someone may have thought that Bynum hadn’t missed a single game. “Conditioning for me, especially in the first quarter, was tough just coming back.” Bynum said on his first game back. He also added, “But I think it’s going to get better. Obviously just playing more minutes, keep it up. The coaches challenge me to play defense and then try to alter as many shots as possible and get every rebound; that’s really my focus.”
Although Andrew Bynum had an amazing return, the Lakers star Kobe Bryant still struggled from the field. The broken finger has caused Kobe to fall into a slump the past few games. In Game 1 the Black Mamba shot 6 of 19 and his struggles were clearly visible. “I think that he’s worked on his shooting.” Phil on Kobe’s shooting. “I think that some of his shooting looked okay at times today. I’m trying to convince him to take open shots. He had open looks that were pretty good. I thought that he tried to advance the ball a little bit too far at times on sequences and got himself in there.”
As Game 2 came along on Tuesday night, the Lakers were hoping to go into Oklahoma City up 2 games to none.
Reminiscent to Game 1, the Lakers opened up the game with a 26-18 lead but allowed the Thunder to sneak back into the game and take a 47-45 lead by halftime. Once again, the defensive maestro Ron Artest was making Durant earn all his shots and allowed no easy looks.
As the game progressed, the Lakers and Thunder exchanged leads and battled all the way to the final buzzer. With only 12 seconds left, the Lakers were ahead by 2, and the Thunder had possession. A screen was set off Durant, to open him up for a three. But Kevin hadn’t seen a good look all night and this situation was no exception; he missed the shot and the Lakers went on to win the game and take a 2-0 series lead.
Kobe Bryant put up 39 points and 5 rebounds, and his dad was one proud man.
The Lakers have a chance to win the series in Oklahoma City, and based on the performances in Staples, this seems very likely.
“We got to go on Thursday, ready to close out the series.” Says Bynum “Can’t let them gain any momentum. They’re going to be on, they’re going to be playing harder, more aggressive. And we just have to step up our defensive game up and keep them down.”
Expect two physical games in the Ford Center; we have come to known this season that every game must be taken serious and the Lakers can lose to any team.
Teams thrive when the defending championions are in town, and I believe the only way the Lakers regain that championship respect and fear in the opponent’s eyes are if they sweep the Thunder. We can accomplish this through heart, effort and of course the defensive presence of Ron Artest.
Follow Ramneet Singh on Twitter @RamneetKB24.