News notes and observations from Friday’s 91-75 win over the Los Angeles Lakers…
- I’ve never worked at any other place that is as big on predictions as this market. I don’t know why it’s like that here and I probably never will understand it. But this game is the best example of why I generally don’t like to make predictions on a game-to-game basis. Go back and look at the video recap I shot with Mike Baldwin after the Houston win and pay attention to my answer when Baldwin asked me about the Lakers game at the end. It took everything in my power to keep from saying the Thunder had no shot. And as I came out of the tunnel on my way to the press table tonight, an usher asked me who I had my money on. All I could tell the man was, ‘You don’t want to know.’ But what do I know?
- The Thunder outplayed the Lakers from start to finish, holding the defending champs to a season-low 75 points and a paltry 39 percent shooting. OKC never trailed and led by as many as 33 points.
- Someone asked me via Twitter if this one had the feel of a playoff game. I responded that the crowd was getting there. It was a buzz in the Ford Center the entire night, and Thunder players rode that wave of energy to a blowout. My only reservation in considering it a playoff atmosphere was that the fans again left early. I’m nitpicking, of course, because OKC was ahead by 28 with 4 1/2 left to play. But if this is a playoff game and not a regular season matchup, do fans still leave in the same scenario? I honestly don’t know the answer, but I don’t think they do. Maybe we’ll get the chance to see find out in three weeks.
- Thabo Sefolosha is the obvious MVP of the game. His defense on Kobe Bryant was the best I’ve seen him play all season. And Thabo obviously has had more than his share of good games defensively. Bryant had just 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting and never could find his rhythm offensively. He admitted after the game that Thabo frustrated him. Give the Thunder’s second wave a hand, too. Even though I thought it was a bad idea every time Scott Brooks subbed James Harden for Thabo, Harden performed admirably as well and the help defense was on point all night when it needed to be.
- As an aside, I have debates all the time about who’s the best player in the game today, Kobe or LeBron James. I always say Kobe. In short, tonight’s game partially explains why. Even though the Thunder had a 19-point halftime lead, the game still seemed in doubt. At least I had the feeling that Kobe could heat up at any moment and take over like he’s done on so many occasions. Even midway through the third quarter, when the Thunder had a 21 point lead I still had the same feeling. That’s the Kobe Bryant effect. LeBron James doesn’t give me that same reaction. Not yet.
- A co-MVP tonight could very easily be Nenad Krstic. He was huge on the glass early and had every bit as much of an impact as Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook in getting the Thunder off to a good start. Nenad had nine rebounds in the first quarter. He finished with 10, but that’s not the point.
- Very impressive bounce-back performance by Westbrook. He controlled the game with his playmaking, had 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting to go with six assists and two turnovers. If the Thunder does somehow fall to the eighth seed (which I don’t see happening), Westbrook will be the biggest advantage OKC would have on the champs.
- Scary moment came when Westbrook rolled his left ankle midway through the second quarter. He shook it off faster than any person I’ve ever seen. On the playground, in high school, college or the pros. He came out of the game, went to the back for a brief moment, then reappeared on the bench seconds later looking ready to go like it was tip-off. He checked back in about two minutes later and looked like himself.
- Serge Ibaka also gave fans a scare when he landed hard on his backside with 9:57 left in the second quarter. He rolled around a bit on the floor as the Thunder tried to inbound the ball. He got up holding the back of his head and his left elbow. Brooks called for a 20 second timeout, and Ibaka and head athletic trainer Joe Sharpe got into an animated exchange about whether Ibaka was fine. It looked like a boxing referee checking on a fighter after getting knocked down. Ibaka gave only a slight nod of the head, and that wasn’t good enough for Sharpe. Ibaka tried to give the two thumbs up and a more assertive, “I’m OK.” But the rookie lost that argument. He ended up sitting.
- Ron Artest was a non-factor tonight. You would think he’d be one of only a handful of players who could give Kevin Durant a tough time with his defense. But Durant had a game-high 26 points on 9 of 19 shooting. Half of that point total came in the first 24 minutes, before the game got way out of hand.
- I’m also surprised Pau Gasol didn’t have a better game. That goes back to Nenad and his work in keeping Gasol off the boards early. This long, lanky Lakers team has bullied the Thunder on the before and it’s not pretty when that happens.
- Lost in the first half runaway was a surprisingly slow start for Jeff Green. Green went scoreless on 0-for-6 in the first half. He finished the game 5-of-15 for 10 points, his lowest scoring output since March 10.