Thunder 100, Lakers 85
Nuggets from my notebook from Thursday’s win over the Lakers.
- Tons of credit goes to Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed for the job they did on Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. That Lakers duo has been a perennial pest to the Thunder, but the way the bigs bodied them up and made them take tough shots set the tone and helped keep them relatively quiet.
- Led by Ibaka (game-high 13 boards) and Perk (nine boards), the Thunder out-rebounded the league’s best rebounding team 44-41 and held the Lakers to just eight offensive rebounds. Extremely big key to tonight’s win.
- Thanks to a solid defensive rebounding effort by the Thunder, as well as just 12 OKC turnovers, the Lakers attempted only one more shot than the Thunder. This thing had the potential to get ugly if the Thunder allowed L.A. to play volleyball at the rim. But that didn’t happen largely because of the big boys.
- Said Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “Our bigs, you know, you’re so proud of them every night. They come and give you everything they have. They defend, they rebound, they set screens. They are the unsung heroes of our team.”
- No Nick Collison tonight. He missed his third straight game with a quad contusion. I don’t know for sure, but I assume he’ll be ready to go Tuesday at Philadelphia. The fact that the Thunder controlled the middle without the help of Collison was impressive in itself.
- Ibaka did some serious work boxing out Gasol at the free throw line. Ibaka didn’t seem to care one bit about actually getting the rebound. His sole mission was to keep Gasol from getting it by any means necessary. Gasol didn’t want none of that.
- The Lakers are far from an offensive juggernaut right now. But you’ve got to be impressed that OKC held L.A. to 38 percent shooting.
- A big part of that poor field goal percentage was Kobe Bryant was held to 24 points on 24 shots. Who needs Thabo Sefolosha? (Kidding). Daequan Cook, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and even Kevin Durant did a great job of tag-teaming on Kobe and using their length to force him into some tough, tough looks and prevent him from getting anything but contested shots.
- Harden actually played through a wrist injury. Apparently it happened in Wednesday’s game against Boston. He had his left wrist heavily tapped and had some sort of contraption on it while he was on the bench. He finished with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots, a steal and five turnovers. Gritty effort by Harden.
- Harden doesn’t seem to like Kobe. Every single time they meet there is jawing and pushing. Tonight, they had to be separated late in the game. It looked like Harden took exception to something Kobe said. Harden wouldn’t let it go. He just kept getting in Kobe’s face. Neither guy looked like he really wanted to fight. Kobe was even smiling and laughing while talking to Harden and KD at the other end while the refs reviewed a shot by Derek Fisher.
- While the antics by Harden did have a slight stench of a guy just trying to make a name for himself, it did show some of what this Thunder team has become about. Oklahoma City is a confident group of young guys that is on its way to taking over the league, and they don’t care one bit who they have to run through to do it. Rarely will Thunder players put that mentality on display like Harden did in the final minute and a half. But rest assured it’s in them. Said Brooks: “I don’t coach the perfect players or the perfect team, and they’re not coached by the perfect coach. But one thing we don’t do is we don’t back down.”
- When asked about his exchange with Harden, Kobe said “It was a good, friendly conversation.”
- Kobe always has nothing but praise for the Thunder whenever OKC is on L.A.’s schedule. Tonight was no different. He again called Perk the best low post man defender. He said Ibaka’s emergence, particularly his mid-range shooting, makes things tough on the Lakers. And of course, he had high praise for Westbrook and Durant.
- Kobe on Westbrook: “I don’t know what the media is doing out here, but everybody needs to just lay off of Russell. That’s a bad little dude, man. That’s a bad little dude, man. You guys are fortunate to have him. You guys have two explosive scorers here. I like how he’s playing. He’s going to have to just keep doing his thing.”
- Kobe was then asked if he sees similarities in Westbrook and himself. “He’s got the same type of dog that I had in me an that I still have in me, when I was coming up playing with Shaq. He’s got the same fight.”
- Ron Artest (his mama named him Clay, Ima call him Clay) still has it on defense when he decides to bring it. His hands are still lightning quick, and his strength still flusters opponents. On several occasions tonight, he created turnovers by poking the ball away from Durant and Westbrook.
- Durant didn’t have nearly as much trouble tonight as he’s had in the past against Artest. There were a few possessions where Artest would get in Durant’s chest and body him up. On those sequences, KD struggled a bit to get the ball. But overall, I’d say this was an encouraging performance by Durant. He got the shots he wanted and got to his spots to shoot a efficient 12 of-22 from the field. It would have been better that that, too, if Durant didn’t take eight 3s and miss six of them.
- It’s officially time to start watching the Lakers box scores. If KD is to secure his third straight scoring crown, he’ll need Kobe to cool off. Kobe entered tonight’s game with 942 points. KD came in with 915. KD outscored Kobe by nine, 33 to 24, to pull within 27 points (966 to 939) of Bryant. Every little bit helps.
- The skip pass play failed tonight. Harden tried skipping it to Cook. Pau picked it off, though. Hard to execute, I s’pose, with a 7-footer playing Monkey in the Middle. Some have already said it was doomed from the start because Collison wasn’t the one setting the pick.
- The Thunder played with great effort tonight, but it looked like the players were tired. The four games in five nights seemed to have taken a toll. Jumpers were short. And the Thunder seemed to turn down several opportunities to run and score in transition.
- Brooks all but admitted there was some fatigue. “I think we had a good week of basketball,” Brooks said. “I think everybody came in and mentally and physically prepared themselves to play five good games in seven nights. We all know that’s a very difficult thing to do, but we all challenged ourselves individually and as a team to come out and do it every night. And after this week, I think we all need a break, fans included. They came out every night. It’s well-deserved. It was a great week of basketball in Oklahoma City. Everybody deserves the All-Star break.”
- Brooks also said he is pleased with his team’s first half. “I think we’ve played good basketball,” Brooks said. “There’s room to get better. But we’ve done a good job. Guys have really done a good job of competing every night and practicing when we’re able to practice and finding ways to get better on the fly. I think we’ve had a good first half. Our guys don’t rest. They want to keep moving forward. Like I’ve said, rebounding, passing and turnovers is something that we will continue to work on and try to get better at and we should.”
- With the win, the Thunder goes into All-Star Weekend tied with Miami for the league’s best record at 27-7.
- That’s now 12 straight home wins.
- Perk had a follow-dunk tonight!
- At the start of the second and fourth periods, the Thunder had what typically is three third-teamers on the court together: Reggie Jackson, Royal Ivey and Cole Aldrich.
- Way too many Lakers fans in the house. It’s like that in every arena in the NBA. But I assumed the Thunder’s fan base had grown into something more special. It was pretty nice to hear the home fans drown out the Lakers fans during intros, though. I can’t stand when a visiting team’s fans take over at a road arena. That goes for any team.
- Another missed dunk by Westbrook tonight. Another missed dunk that made you jump halfway out your seat.
- Up next. All-Star Weekend fun. Enjoy the break.
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