The game clock ran down as the Oklahoma City Thunder put the finishing touches on their Staples Center victory. A friend of mine texted soon after the final buzzer, “I don’t know why I hope.” It’s a sentiment shared by every Laker fan this season, because every time the team appears to have a game, their mindset or their efforts in the right place, they always find a way, an excuse, to do everything wrong.
The Lakers are like the absentee mother or father who always promises their child a day at Disneyland and then sends their assistant instead. The interim guardian is fun for the first hour and then completely clueless and incompetent for the remainder of the day. That’s what the Lakers have turned into in this last, most critical stretch of the season – a team that looks excellent and dominant for a moment that raises our hopes, and then turns into a group who looks lost and confused.
They start a game with great effort, focus and energy, but as soon as their opponents counter with their adjustments, the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome takes over and they don’t seem to know the slightest bit about adjusting right back. Not to search for scapegoats, but that’s one thing Mike Brown and his coaching staff have yet to show their mastery in this season – in-game adjustments.
Kevin Durant shot 1-9 in the first quarter with Metta World Peace guarding him. Then he went off for eight points on 4-7 in the second under Matt Barnes’ watch, who is a scrappy defender himself, but against Durant, he may as well be a pencil guarding a palm tree. Russell Westbrook shot 3-10 in the first half and then went off in the second half against Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that he played under Kobe Bryant’s watch; Bryant, who may not be quicker, but is at least a bigger body with which Westbrook had to work around.
We should’ve known where this game was headed at the half, when OKC shot just 36%, Westbrook and Durant were a combined 8-26 from the field and Derek Fisher was just two points away from tying Pau Gasol before going into the break.
The third and fourth quarters were all OKC all the time. Except for a 15-4 run late in the fourth, the Lakers could do no more. This game belonged to the Thunder and they knew it.
First Quarter – The ball was moving, with the Lakers assisting on nine of their 14 made field goals, and shooting 54%. They opened the game with the Bryant to Gasol lob to Bynum sequence and spent the next 12 minutes sending pass after pass into the paint where they outscored OKC 22-8. Their defense, which ran just as efficiently as their offense, kept OKC to 28% shooting! Kevin Durant, thanks in large part to Metta World Peace, was held to just 1-9 from the field and scrappy Russell Westbrook was just 2-6 himself. The Thunder was beaten to every board, with the Lakers outrebounding them 18-10. Because everything was clicking, the enthusiasm and energy of the home team were ever present and they finished the quarter 30-18…and then came the rest of the game.
Ball Movement – As in they stopped creating any. After handing out nine assists in the first quarter alone, the Lakers collected just six assists for the remainder of the game. Credit the Thunder’s defense, but the Lakers are partly to blame regardless. YET AGAIN, the ball remained in the hands of one player for far too long in one possession and it resulted in nothing but rushed, odd-looking, low-percentage shot attempts that never saw twine (talking to you, Kobe).
Rebounding – They outrebounded OKC 18-10 in the first 12 minutes, and then were outrebounded themselves 38-27 for the rest of the game. The Lakers gave away 17 offensive rebounds in the first three quarters of the game, which resulted in a 19-10 OKC advantage in second change points. By the end of the third quarter, the damage had really been done. The Thunder outscored the Lakers 34-19 on 62% shooting, and despite the fourth quarter still to play, the Lakers didn’t appear to have any sort of plan.
Pau Gasol’s fourth foul – To begin the third quarter, Gasol committed two fouls in 11 seconds, which he added to his first from the first half. Two minutes later, he committed another which totalled his fouls to four, with just over 9 ½ minutes left to play in the third. Why he wasn’t sent to the bench after committing that third foul is a mystery. It doesn’t matter if Gasol planned to play less aggressively or not. He had three fouls in the beginning of the third quarter. He should have ben sat and then possibly returned right before the fourth. That fourth foul so early in the second half was where the Lakers’ downward spiral began.
Kobe Bryant – 7-25 from the field for 23 points. Bryant grabbed nine rebounds, handed out two assists and didn’t have a single turnover, but 7-25? When the Thunder took over the lead, and began to build on it (which is what you’re SUPPOSED to do), Bryant and the Lakers suddenly turned into a jump shooting team. It didn’t seem to matter how dominant they were in the paint to start the game, and it didn’t seem to matter that Bynum was 10-15 from the field for the night. Bryant went back to his erratic shooting and the ball movement halted as a result.
Another Loss at Staples – After losing just two home games out of their first 22, the Lakers have now dropped the last 3-4 at home, where they had been so dominant all season; the one place they actually played efficiently well. Now even that is starting to fail them.
After the final buzzer sounded, Derek Fisher gave Kevin Durant a giant, congratulatory bear hug, and then waved to the opposing bench, pointing to former teammates who, more than ever in these last few games, probably wish their old co-captain was back in the locker room to talk them through another tough loss. After their captain was benched two games ago, and then the best player on their team this season was benched in the last contest, and then their new co-captain remained unable to pull them through in the end, the Lakers could probably use some encouraging words. Unfortunately, they need to make do with what and who they have, and Derek Fisher is neither.