It happened in the exact opposite way of what we hoped, and it was exactly as bad as we feared it would be. That the Oklahoma City Thunder swept the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and got 9 days of rest, and the Lakers had to play the full seven games to eliminate the Denver Nuggets, was there really any surprise that the younger, fresher team got the best of the older, weary one?
The Lakers started well enough, hitting six of their first seven shots, but that was as good as they got the entire game. OKC’s lead after one quarter was a manageable seven points. After the half it was, still, a manageable 15. Then the third quarter began, and faster than you can say Thunder Up, the lead ballooned to an insurmountable 35 points.
The Thunder were relentless and the Lakers were, well, they were relented. I don’t think that’s a real word but really, there are no combination of words on dictionary.com that could describe how the Lakers got murdered tonight. They were bruised and beaten to a bloody pulp.
During a huddle, with Oklahoma City’s crowd blaring in the background, Kobe Bryant tried to encourage his teammates, “They score, it’s ok. Don’t get down. Just communicate, work it out. Just go harder, that’s all. You gotta keep playing.” Maybe they were just tired. Maybe they needed to hear it from Derek Fisher. Whatever the case was, Bryant’s words didn’t go far and the Lakers were buried in the first game of the series.
Good start – Just like they did in the regular season against the Thunder, the Lakers got off to a good start, hitting 6 of their first seven shots to take an early four-point lead. Metta World Peace made two from downtown, Kendrick Perkins couldn’t stop Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol hit his first fadeaway jumper and Kobe Bryant wasn’t forcing any shots. After Bynum’s reverse dunk five minutes into the game, however, the Lakers didn’t score for the next three minutes until Bryant’s free throw, and didn’t hit a field goal until over a minute after that. In the last five minutes of the first quarter, the Lakers scored just five points and that was just the beginning.
Bad Finish – If all’s well that ends well, all’s badly ends even worse. In the final three quarters, the Thunder outscored the Lakers 89-67, highlighted by a 39-point third quarter that really pushed them over the edge…way over the edge. The Lakers’ offense was unrecognizable of anything remotely resembling any sort of playmaking. There were passes for the sake of passing, and shots early in the clock that resulted in 15 turnovers and 13 fast break points for OKC, zero for the Lakers. The Lakers scored just about evenly in the paint with the Thunder (44-48), but even after outrebounding them by a pair of boards, it was OKC who took the edge in second chance points, 21-11. There was no purpose in their ball movement. They averaged just over 21 apg in the regular season, third in the NBA, while OKC was eighth in the league with just 17.5 apg. That the Lakers’ offense was so stagnant is not shocking when, in 48 minutes, they handed out just 14 assists in 35 made field goals.
The defense couldn’t have just been better. It would’ve been nice just to have SOME, but OKC was just too much for anything that the Lakers tried. For all the accolades Metta World Peace has gotten for guarding Kevin Durant well, his effors tonight still yielded a 25-point, 50% shooting night for the regular season scoring title winner. Kobe Bryant took on Russell Westbrook on occasion, but for the most part, he was left to the incapable hand ands feet of Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake, and he led the game with 27 points on 10-17 from the field and handed out nine assists.
Pau Gasol – Where Gasol’s motivation comes from these days, we may never know. After a no-show in Game 6 against the Denver Nuggets, he led the team to a win in an inspiring Game 7 victory. Tonight, he reverted back to that Game 6 no-show, exhibiting no signs of leadership whatsoever at a time when his team needs him the most. In the first half, he had just six points on 3-9 from the field, seven rebounds and an assist. Maybe Serge Ibaka just defended him too well and he was frustrated, but that’s what the second half is for – a chance to adjust. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Gasol was done doing work after halftime. In 12 minutes of playing time in the final two quarters, Gasol managed to contribute just four points on 2-2 but didn’t grab a single rebound or hand out a single assist. Stu Lantz used to refer to him as Mr. Consistency, but in this post-season, Gasol has been anything but.
Pointless Point-guards – Come on, even Derek Fisher scored five points, more than twice the combined contribution from Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake. Sessions has been on and off in the post-season. His numbers upon arrival were just what the Lakers needed. In 23 games, he averaged 12.7 ppg and 6.2 apg. In the playoffs, so far, his minutes per game are up but his stats are on a slow decline. His offense, however, isn’t the larger issue. Sessions can find his way to the rim and his midrange is okay. It’s his defense that needs honing. He may not be as quick or as big as Russell Westbrook, but he’s not slow either. His speed on the offensive end needs to somehow channel through in his defensive efforts. Kobe Bryant can’t be assigned to Russell Westbrook the whole series. He’d have little left on the offensive end. Sessions needs work on the other end of the floor and he has little time to start practicing.
Steve Blake, after playing such a huge component in two of the Lakers’ notable wins in the first round, did very little tonight. He grabbed four rebounds and handed out four assists, but only attempted a single shot. Blake isn’t expected to scored 19 points in every game, and he’s not expected to shoot 5-6 from downtown each night either, but as a point guard, the other expectations of his position have to come into play when the scoring isn’t there, and tonight would have been the perfect time to do that. Create more plays, make the opposing point guard work harder to defend you.
The Thunder played a nearly perfect game, and to have any chance of being a true competitor against such perfection, the Lakers needed to play a flawless game too and they didn’t come close. Bynum’s 20 points and 14 rebounds weren’t enough, and neither were Bryant’s 20 points. With Game 2 scheduled for Wednesday, and Games 3 and 4 slated for a back-to-back situation this coming weekend, the Lakers don’t have a lot of time to meander. They need to pinpoint their errors, correct them, and then make another push in a couple of days. They’re undoubtedly tired, but even if they were to survive this round, it certainly doesn’t get any easier so they have got to fuel themselves, otherwise, they could be making vacation plans as early as this weekend.