Step aside, young fellas – the old geezers are coming through…and they haven’t forgotten how they beat you last time.
For all the criticism that the Lakers get for being unable to keep up with the younger, more athletic teams in the league, you’d think they were using walkers to get up and down the court. The known fact is the Lakers are not a running team. Their strength is not in the fast break, but in the halfcourt. They beat you with patience, not speed. The Lakers failed to play to their strengths in the final quarter of yesterday’s loss against the Clippers, and they paid the price. Tonight, there were no ultra-dramatic runs, no fights, and, surprisingly, no technicals. The Lakers just played their game, their pace, and the young Thunder paid price.
Kevin Durant must have nightmares about Ron Artest. In last season’s first round of playoffs, Artest defended Durant into shooting just 35% from the field for the series, and tonight, it was business as usual. Durant leads the league in points and regardless of how badly he’s shooting, he’s still going to find a way to score. But damned if Artest didn’t make it a struggle for the NBA phenom to get the ball in the hoop. Tonight, Durant scored 24 points but needed 24 attempts to get there; below his average of 28.5 ppg on 48% shooting for the season.
With Durant struggling from the field, Russell Westbrook took it upon himself to keep the Thunder competitive. With 32 points on 12-23, not much could stop the young UCLA product from driving to the hoop, and he even handed out 12 assists, as if he hadn’t done enough. But it wasn’t enough. Westbrook and Durant carrying the offensive load for the Thunder will not always be enough. Aside from this dynamic duo, the only other player who scored in double digits was Serge Ibaka with 11 points. Other than the disparity in production, Oklahoma City also fell at the mercy of their putrid 3-point shooting, which was just 2-22 for 9.1%!
The Lakers shot quite well from behind the arc, 7-14. Actually, they shot well from everywhere BUT the free throw line (18-26). At halftime, the Lakers shot 53% from the field and they finished with 50%. Five players scored in double figures and the team assisted on 24 of their 38 makes. Efficient distribution of the rock!
Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher looked like their young selves, combining for 36 points on 12-22, seven rebounds, 10 assists and three steals. Bryant drove in time and again, blowing dust in the face of Thabo Sefalosha, at times to lay it up, other times to dunk with both hands. Sefalosha was no match for Mamba’s wiles tonight; falling for the fake/blow-by all evening. Bryant finished with 21 points on 7-12, not to mention seven assists. He was keen on getting his teammates involved tonight, in however way he could, and they were better for it. Bryant was seen talking to Ron Artest after he passed up an open shot with four seconds left on the shot clock. He also approached Pau Gasol, hitting him on the chest in encouragement after the Spaniard hesitated before shooting a jumper that gave the Lakers a 10-point lead late in fourth. Bryant’s leadership isn’t just about setting up shots. Defending champions or not, reassurance is never a bad thing, especially when it comes from your captain.
The Lakers’ other captain, Derek Fisher, had one of his more efficient games of the season, going 5-10 for his 15 points and adding three assists for kicks. Fisher was 2-3 from behind the arc, and as tough an assignment as Westbrook is, still played scrappy defense, managing to strip both Jeff Green and Westbrook in the process.
The Laker big are not to be overlooked. Pau Gasol poured in 21 points on 8-19, grabbed seven rebounds, two assists and three blocks. The Thunder tried to keep the Lakers out of the paint, but Gasol’s got other weapons – like a sweet jumper that rarely hits anything but twine.
Despite getting into foul trouble, Andrew Bynum still managed to contribute 10 points on 5-8, as well as 10 rebounds. Fouls have plagued Bynum the last few games. Either the officials have it in for him, or he’s got to learn to defend more effectively without making (obvious) contact. It’s not an easy task, of course, when you’re 7’1” and 285 lbs.
Lamar Odom, who’s been a the Lakers’ most dependable player this season, win or lose, chipped in his usual effort – 16 points on 6-9, seven rebounds, a pair of assists, a steal and a block. Put this man on the All-Star team. He deserves it!
After such a sour ending to their last game, tonight was a great win for the Lakers. It’s true; they’re one of the oldest teams in the league. Their starting five has a combined 43 years of NBA experience and 11 of their 15-man roster is 30 years old and over. But sometimes, winning isn’t just about how young you are, how fast you can run, how high you can jump or how much the backboard shakes when you dunk. Like the Lakers showed today, winning is a lot more about how well you know yourself, how well you know your team and how well you know your opponent.
Let’s see how well the Lakers know Dallas on Wednesday…
Pre-game Thoughts: The Lakers let one get away yesterday, and tonight they face another young team in the OKC Thunder. The Lakers must match the Thunder’s energy and they simply must play up their advantages – inside game, passing ability and veteran savvy. Watch out for OKC’s run-outs. They do it…A LOT.
Half-time Thoughts: 55-58 – Both teams are capitalizing on their strengths; the Thunder with their fastbreaks and the Lakers with their post game. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are the only players with double-digit points for the Thunder. They have 34 of OKC’s 55. Lamar Odom leads the Lakers with 12 points, and Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol have 10 points each. Second half should be a good one.
Most Thoughtless of the Game: The Lakers’ free throw shooting (18-26) – In a close game, such as tonight’s, missing almost a third from the charity stripe could be costly in the end. The Lakers are fortunate they shot so well from the field.
Most Thought-filled of the Game: Ron Artest, for being the Durantula stopper. Durant shot just 8-24 from the field.