Lakers 87, Thunder 79
News, notes and observations from Sunday’s 87-79 loss in Game 1…
- Kevin Durant was bottled up by Ron Artest all night and never could get into an offensive rhythm. It cost the Thunder a golden opportunity to steal Game 1.
- I do think Durant simply missed some looks that he generally makes. But Artest was all over him on the others, and the Lakers’ forward did probably the best job I’ve seen all year of keeping up with Durant as he ran off screens.
- Russell Westbrook was awesome tonight. If he brings that type of performance Tuesday, and Durant finds a way to get it going, we could have us a series. I asked Westbrook after the game if he felt he should have been more aggressive from the start to avoid the early hole the Thunder dug itself and he said no. He viewed his early play as an effort to get everyone involved and, ironically enough, be the playmaker everyone seems to want him to be. I think it’s safe to say he shouldn’t worry about doing that again. Attack from the start and this game could have played out completely differently.
- The defense was very impressive tonight. That was the biggest reason the Thunder should be encouraged. This is a Lakers team that could come out and flat out embarrass you with all their offensive weapons. But the Thunder held L.A. to 87 points on 41 percent shooting. Considering how the Thunder has played over the past 1 1/2 months defensively, this was a great way to start the series.
- I thought the Thunder even did a decent job against Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the low post. It was a little ugly early, but the Thunder battled throughout the night and really helped out Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green on the low block. It’s called team defense.
- Coach Scott Brooks might want to play Serge Ibaka more. Because of Ibaka’s strength and athleticism, Bynum struggled to get clean looks a lot more against Ibaka than he did against Krstic.
- Nick Collison played his tail off. I counted three charges he took.
- Someone has to step up off the bench for the Thunder. James Harden might as well have watched the game from the house he grew up in. Eric Maynor was OK, but between those two, the Thunder’s biggest offensive weapons off the bench, there is no way OKC can afford to get a combined two points.
- The perimeter shooting was atrocious tonight. 2-for-16 from downtown isn’t going to get it done.
- Something is wrong with Kobe Bryant. After seeing him with my own eyes, he’s not the same player. It’s either his finger or his leg. Or both. But Kobe is coasting through the game and passing up perimeter shots. He’s still finds a way to score because, well, he’s still Kobe Bryant. But I counted one dunk for him tonight and a bunch of shots he passed up, some of them to get a better look, some of them because he didn’t appear to trust his touch. Injury concerns for the Lakers is why I picked the Thunder to get two games in this series.
- Brooks went with Green to defend Bryant in the fourth quarter over Thabo Sefolosha. A little bit of it goes back to needing to the more effective Ibaka against Bynum and Gasol rather than Krstic. Brooks had Ibaka and Collison out there and likely didn’t want to sacrifice more offense by replacing Green or Durant with Sefolosha. And so Sefolosha sat the final 16 minutes and Green had to check Kobe.
- The Thunder has got to find a way to get out and run more. For as good as the defense was, there didn’t seem to be nearly enough fast-break opportunities. Westbrook did a good job of pushing the tempo when the lights came on for him in the second quarter. But that’s got to be the whole game for the Thunder if it wants to avoid struggling to find offense in the halfcourt.
- All in all, it was an encouraging first game for OKC. The Thunder can’t be satisfied with the loss, but the team can definitely be proud of the way it competed. The Thunder came back from a 17-point, second-quarter deficit, played a terrible offensive game, saw its best player score 24 points on 24 shots and still lost by eight points. The Lakers, meanwhile, talked afterward about how well they played and how they executed things they weren’t able to do in the regular season. Doesn’t quite sound like David vs. Goliath to me.
- I’ll have much more later and leading up to Game 2.
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