LOS ANGELES — That was a thoroughly entertaining affair.
If you’re not a Thunder fan.
Notice the use of the word affair, not game or contest, which the Thunder’s 101-85 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers never was on Sunday night. A clinic, maybe, but far from a contest.
But that’s the beauty of a Lakers game at Staples Center. The home team doesn’t just play basketball, the Lakers put on a show. And when making your way to the glitzy arena on Figueroa Street, you never know when you’ll be treated to something special, something you’ll remember forever, like an 81-point outburst or an impromptu concert by a Grammy-Award winning artist.
Will.i.am provided the latter Sunday night, turning a boring rout into a boisterous party during a timeout early in the fourth quarter when he recited the lyrics from the Black Eyed Peas hit, “I got a feeling.” The sold out crowd of 18,997 rose to its feet and gladly sang along, no doubt enjoying what was a good night for the hometown fans. Longtime Los Angeles media members and NBA executives even gushed over the scene, assuring that they’ve never seen anything like it.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, the scene that played out with 8:58 left to play only added insult to what at that moment was a 26-point blowout that soon would go down as Oklahoma City’s worst performance this season. The Lakers toyed with the Thunder for 45 minutes and sent it to Salt Lake City searching for answers.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks told me before the game that the key to the game would be ball movement on offense and stops on defense. The Thunder, Brooks said, needed to refrain from one-pass-and-shoot possessions. Sadly, many of the Thunder’s early possessions didn’t even get to the one-pass phase. Turnovers doomed OKC from the start, six alone in a first quarter that led to eight Lakers points and a quick 35-16 advantage for Los Angeles.
The Thunder had two assists in the period. The Lakers had 10.
All the shots that the Thunder made against the Wizards rimmed out against the Lakers. Kevin Durant was 0-for-5 in the first quarter and held scoreless as Ron Artest bottled him up. Russell Westbrook was 1-for-4 from the field and James Harden missed all three of his shots in the opening period. Collectively, the Thunder was just 6-for-21 and the rout was on.
“When you get down like that, it’s tough to try to fight back,” Durant said.
Thankfully, when the Thunder proved it couldn’t and went on to see its deficit increase to as many as 28 points against the defending champs, Will.i.am and his celebrity friends kept Sunday night interesting.
- Serge Ibaka notched his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 13 rebounds while adding five blocked shots. Thunder coach Scott Brooks promised Ibaka would play more, and the rookie made the most of his 32 minutes.
- Ibaka was 3-for-3 from the field in the first three quarters. He was 1-for-9 in the final period. Seven offensive rebounds for Ibaka, though. Big time.
- Ibaka got major minutes in part because Nick Collison sat out with a knee injury. It isn’t believed to be a major setback. Collison took part in pre-game shooting and is listed as day-to-day.
- I don’t know if it was evident on television, but the game was extremely chippy in the fourth quarter for it to be a blowout. Several players were barking at each other and pushing late in the game. I have no idea why, but if it had anything to do with the Thunder’s pride kicking in at that point then I’m all for it.
- Here’s how embarrassing things got Sunday night — the Lakers raced to a 19-point lead after the first quarter and Adam Morrison started the second period.
- Kobe Bryant evened the score with Thabo Sefolosha tonight. Bryant had his way with the Thunder’s defense and didn’t have a single turnover.
- The Thunder missed 20 3-pointers tonight. 20! It came just one game after OKC made 11 of 21. Maybe that’s why Brooks said this team isn’t built for a shootout.
- The Thunder has no answer for Andrew Bynum. The Lakers center does whatever he wants to do against the Thunder and is a walking example of why everyone who is high on OKC immediately follows up any bit of praise with, ‘They’ve got to get a big man.”
- Bynum will, I repeat, will, win the Most Improved Player award if he stays healthy.
- Ron Artest didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but I thought he bothered Kevin Durant with his defense.
- Ryan Bowen got his first action and gave as much energy and effort as he could in 7 minutes, 54 seconds. What if he’s a secret weapon that not even Brooks knows about? What if Bowen could come in when the Thunder is stuck in a rut and turn the tide by pestering opponents with his hustle? What else does Brooks have to lose when he’s watching his team go down 25-8 in the opening minutes?
- The Thunder will forever live in Shannon Brown’s personal highlight collection. The alley-oop dunk he threw down was unreal.
- James Harden must have felt this entire game was his heat-check moment. He took 10 3-pointers and missed all 10. He made only two of 15 shots. He said the coaches and his teammates are instructing him to shoot more and that there is no point of him being on the floor if he doesn’t shoot. Maybe he took that advice a little bit too far. He was rushing shots all night, it seemed, just so he could get one up. One of his very first attempts was in transition and he never got his feet set and it didn’t even look like he knew where he was on the court.
- Still, I liked Harden’s aggressiveness. The Thunder will need that out of him. He attacked the rim hard a few times and created contact.It was a good sign.
- And lost in Harden’s 0-for-10 shooting night from behind the 3-point line alone was his six assists. Dude can still make a play for others even when his shot’s not falling.
THEY SAID IT
- Scott Brooks on the Lakers: “We played against the best team in basketball. We didn’t handle their physical toughness tonight. They got into us, we set the offense too far out and turned the ball over. And they capitalized on every mistake, and that’s what they do. It’s a talented team and some of the best players in basketball.”
- Brooks on looking forward: “We’ve got to continue to get better. That’s where we are. We have to take this as a lesson learned and get better tomorrow at practice and against Utah play a much better ball game.
- Jeff Green on the Thunder’s turnovers: “I don’t know how many turnovers we had. Over 10, I know. Nineteen. That’s why we lost. And the Lakers probably had about eight, nine. The turnovers we had, that gives them extra possessions and it takes us out of the game.”
- Russell Westbrook on what went bad: “It was a lot. We started off bad. Tough loss. We got to bounce back the next game.”
- Kevin Durant on the Lakers defense: “They always play hard. When you get down like that, it’s tough to try to fight back. Good job to the Lakers. They played well.”
- Kobe Bryant on if he’s ever made this many “H-O-R-S-E” type shots: “No. It was pretty crazy tonight. Pretty crazy. We had our rabbit foot on.”
- Shannon Brown on his alley-oop dunk: “I honestly didn’t know how high the ball was. I knew he was going to throw it, so I made eye contact. I saw him make an undercut on one side so I did an undercut on the other side and when he threw it up there I just tried to get it.”
BY THE NUMBERS
5: Blocked shots by rookie Serge Ibaka, a career-high.
9: Turnovers by the Lakers.
13: Rebounds for Ibaka, a career-high.
15: Blocked shots by the Thunder, tying a franchise record.
19: Turnovers by the Thunder.
28: L.A.’s biggest lead.
60: Points in the paint by the Lakers.
18,997: Announced attendance at Staples Center, a sellout.