Thunder Outlasts Lakers…In L.A.
Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday’s 120-106 win against the Los Angeles Lakers.
- A strange scene played out in the closing minutes Sunday. The visiting team inside the Staples Center stole the show. The boys in blue looked like the veteran bunch, the battle-tested troop. The Thunder was the team that got stops when it needed them, nailed shots with ease and efficiency and made life miserable for its opponent. We’ve seen that before. But not here. Not against these guys. For three seasons now, the Lakers have toyed with the Thunder in L.A, allowing Gung-ho OKC to stay within striking distance just long enough before showing it who’s boss. Not this time. Not tonight. The Thunder, if only for one night, looked like the veteran team, the playoff-tested team, the team that can crush a team’s windpipe when it needs to most and walk away with a win. As Russell Westbrook said: “We’ve definitely gotten older and gotten better as a team. It definitely showed.”
- The Thunder forced the Lakers into four turnovers in the final 2:50. The Lakers had just one meaningful made field goal in the final four minutes.
- But look what the Thunder did on the other end. Offensive execution, Halfcourt success. Ball movement and patience and high-percentage shots. The Thunder made 10 of 20 field goals in the fourth quarter, a period when most defenses typically tighten up and the best defenses dominant. Tonight, the Lakers couldn’t stop the Thunder. OKC outscored L.A. 32-16 in the fourth (although six of the Thunder’s points came from the foul line in garbage time.)
- We got our first look at how the new-look Thunder matches up with the Lakers. I’d say it was a mixed bag. There was an obvious improvement in physicality and athleticism by the Thunder. Kendrick Perkins was able to man-up on Andrew Bynum more than any other player we’ve ever seen. But Bynum and Pau Gasol were still able to do work on the inside, combining for 38 points (many of them contributing to L.A.’s 54 paint points) and 17 rebounds. Gasol, though, was held to four boards, and Bynum was held to 12 points, just two coming after halftime. The Thunder out-rebounded the Lakers 38-34. It could have been much worse. We’ve seen it when it was much worse. All things considered, the Thunder’s bigs get a passing grade.
- Serge Ibaka had trips tonight where he helped Perkins when he didn’t have to. Ibaka joins Sefolosha in that department. Soon, these guys will realize Perk is good down there.
- Kobe Bryant after the game reiterated his affinity for Kendrick Perkins: “He’s a great team defender,” Perkins said. “I’ve always said he’s the best low-post defensive player in the league. It makes them better obviously.”
- It was interesting to see Thunder coach Scott Brooks go with Nick Collison down the stretch over Ibaka. Can’t argue with the results. Collison did his job wonderfully. He crashed the boards. He was opportunistic on offense. And he did his best to body up Gasol. Brooks said he felt Collison’s girthwould help slow Gasol and just made the decision to go with that over Ibaka’s athleticism.
- If you would have told me that the Thunder would have only nine fast break points against the Lakers tonight, I probably would have told you OKC would lose.
- But the offense was clicking tonight because the Thunder shared the ball and was patient and took good shots.
- Oh yeah, Westbrook and Kevin Durant both played like the All-Stars that they are. The duo combined to score or assist on 15 of the Thunder’s final 17 points. Westbrook finished with 26 points. KD scored 31. They closed the game by playing together and taking and making gutsy shots. When Durant canned his jumper to push the lead to 108-104 with 2:21 remaining, you just knew it was the Thunder’s night. And when Westbrook sent the fans home with a four-point play, he puffed out his chest and pounded it as he stared down the L.A. crowd. Right then, you knew these guys had bulldozed the last bit of the mental edge the Lakers had held over them.
- In a way, a potential meeting between the Thunder and Lakers in the postseason this year could be more entertaining than last season. The newness will be gone. So will the young, happy-to-be-here, nothing-to-lose outlook the Thunder had. But the basketball would be better. And the matchups more riveting. It could again be one of the best matchups in the playoffs.
- Kobe was testy tonight. First, he jawed with Sefolosha. Then he got into it with Perk. Although, let’s be honest, Perk started it. But don’t you just love having a player on your team that doesn’t care about delivering a two-handed shoved to the game’s biggest superstar’s chest?
- The physical play didn’t stop there. Perk and Pau were exchanging blows throughout this one. If you watched closely, you could tell they clearly wanted to get a shot in on each other no matter how it came.
- OKC was whistled for two more technical fouls tonight. Perk got his 11th tonight for mixing it up with Kobe. Sefolosha got what must have been a respect for the game T. And I got a great idea. Someone should research the Thunder’s tech count before Perkins’ arrival and what it is since his first game with OKC. It’s got to be more in 15 games than it was in 65.
- L.A. had one turnover through three quarters. That’s got to be some kind of record.
- The Thunder ran Durant off more screens early. And it worked. He was able to get into a rhythm and old man Ron Artest wasn’t able to keep up. Might want to keep that in mind next week.
- Kobe got shots up early, apparently three hours before the game. I saw him on the court 2 1/2 hours prior to tip-off. Normally, people make a huge deal about stuff like that when Kobe does it. What seems to never get mentioned is how, at least tonight, Daequan Cook was doing the same down at the other end.
- Nazr Mohammed, once again, can easily become the forgotten man. But his three jumpers early in the fourth was unexpected and downright kept the Thunder in it.
- Thunder now trails Dallas and the Lakers by one game. What do you want, Thunder heads, the fourth seed, third seed or second seed? Who do you want in the first round? The Nuggets, Blazers or Hornets? Well, I think I know the answer to that last question.
Message Sent Successfully
Be Sure to Check Out Our Top Headlines
Back to share with a friend form.
Add More Recipients
Send me a copy of this email.