Thunder 119, Lakers 90
Nuggets from my notebook from Monday’s win over the Lakers.
- Because of the blowout, the biggest news of the night is the status of Kendrick Perkins. The big man aggravated that hip injury early in the third quarter and had to be removed from the game. He was immediately taken to the locker room and, although he returned to the bench, he did not return to the game. He’s likely to again be listed as day-to-day and a game-time decision for Game 2 Wednesday. His health ranks near the top of the list of the single most important factors in OKC taking care of business in this series. If he’s unable to play, or is limited, because of this nagging injury, advantage Lakers.
- In Perk’s absence, Nazr Mohammed stepped in and stepped up in a big way. His post defense was commendable, especially considering he hasn’t played meaningful minutes in about three weeks. If there’s any reason why Perk can’t go Wednesday or throughout the rest of this series, Naz is going to have to step up big time to keep the Lakers’ bigs from bullying OKC in the paint. This is again the most significant development in this series.
- Russell Westbrook’s all-around dominance goes down as the second most significant development in Game 1. The Lakers threw Kobe Bryant at Westbrook from the start, and Westbrook still managed to do work. In the process, he put the Lakers on notice that Bryant may no longer be able to consistently stay in front of him and slow him down as he did in the playoffs two years ago. Coming into this series, that was supposed to be an advantage the Lakers held over the Thunder. It doesn’t look to be so anymore.
- It’s too early to say Bryant can’t check Westbrook. I’m not about to bet against one of the greatest players ever to play the game. But when Westbrook is ducking behind ball screens and swishing his mid-range shot and slicing through L.A.’s pick-and-roll coverage and setting up teammates as he was tonight, he’s virtually unstoppable. Good luck to whomever has to cover the Honey Badger at that point.
- Westbrook’s final line: 27 points, seven rebounds, nine assists, two steals, one turnover, 10-of-15 shooting.
- You read that right. Nine assists. One turnover. That was easily the most impressive aspect of Westbrook’s performance tonight. He was under control. He displayed great decision-making. He played with terrific pace. And he didn’t force anything all night. He took what was there and his assist-to-turnover ratio bears that out.
- Westbrook when asked how this Game 1 against the Lakers felt different from his playoff debut in 2010: “I just feel a little more experienced. I feel a lot more comfortable. My teammates do a great job of getting me open and getting me to the spots where I can be effective. I’m just feeling a lot more comfortable. This is my fourth year now.”
- Lakers coach Mike Brown on Westbrook: “I thought he was good. I thought he was good in pick-and-rolls early on. And then I thought he was good in the post as the game went along. So he had a great performance on both ends of the floor.”
- As a team, the Thunder dished out 20 assists and had just four turnovers, an Oklahoma City-era low.
- The Thunder had just one turnover in the first half! That helped OKC build a seven-point lead after one quarter and a 15-point lead at the break. Get this. OKC’s second turnover didn’t come until 5:18 was left in the third quarter! That’s darn near impossible, especially for this team, especially in the playoffs. I don’t have to remind most Thunder heads that this team lead the league in turnovers in the regular season. Fantastic job by the Thunder tonight of taking care of the ball.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks on the turnovers: “With the turnovers we’ve had throughout the season, it’s good to see the last series and tonight that we only had four turnovers. That’s huge. We’ve had four in the first six minutes of games sometimes.”
- Metta World Peace was booed mercilessly when he was introduced as a starter and every time he touched the ball. Impressive lungs Loud City has. But maybe Thunder heads want to put a lid on them. Because World Peace was pretty darn good in the face of the hostility. On his first three touches, he knocked down two 3s and had an assist. He finished with 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting and had two rebounds and two assists. His defense on Kevin Durant also was solid, but KD got his anyway. World Peace is the last guy the Thunder can afford to get going. Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are enough of a load. If MWP gets hot that could spell trouble for OKC.
- As expected, there were no handshakes between James Harden and World Peace. Hopefully now we can all move on. That was the most overblown story line of the playoffs so far. Should World Peace have sought out Harden before the game and apologized? Perhaps. But should he have made a point to do it in the middle of the game? Not at all. Even if you think he should have, you have to keep in mind two things: 1) We’re talking about Ron Artest, and 2) he already has apologized, numerous times. Let’s move on.
- Can’t say I didn’t think ‘Here we go again,’ however, when World Peace took down Harden by the head in the fourth quarter. This time, MWP had Harden in a half headlock, with Harden’s head essentially in his armpit. What are the chances those two get tangled up again?
- When I walked into the Lakers locker room before the game, there was 59 minutes on the countdown clock to game time. A few Lakers were sitting at their lockers watching film of the last regular season meeting between these two teams. And it just so happened that as I walked in, the game was at the elbow play. And since it was the actual ABC broadcast from that game, not some spliced film, the replay of the elbow kept showing over and over and over again, just like you remember on that Sunday. Sadly, I looked around and caught a pair of Lakers laughing while looking in the direction of the screen. I don’t want to say they were laughing at the play. But it appeared to be just that.
- Durant’s dunk on Bynum at the start of the game? Amazing. KD looked like Stretch Armstrong on that dunk. He just kept going higher and higher until he got where he needed.
- Rust? What rust? Despite an eight-day layoff, the Thunder showed its rhythm is right where it needs to be.
- KD on the lengthy layoff: “I think we needed a few days, to be honest. With the way the season was going, we were playing almost every other day. So a few days did help.”
- Another thing the Thunder will miss if Perk can’t go is his screen-setting. I’m sure most people are tired of hearing about what a great screen-setter he is (whether they’re legal or not). But he freed up Westbrook and Durant for a good amount of shots tonight. Don’t underestimate that factor in the Thunder’s ability to run sound offense.
- At halftime, I tweeted that the Thunder was shooting 53.3 percent and probably would cool off. Then the Thunder came out and shot 70.6 percent in the third quarter.
- Wonder what Kobe we’re going to see in Game 2. It seems that’s always a question with him. Tonight, he was in more playmaker mode. In fact, his first official shot didn’t come until 4:14 was left in the first quarter. He got a pair of free throws earlier when Thabo Sefolosha fouled him on a shot attempt. But Bryant and the Lakers made it a point to go inside to their big man. For a time, it was working. Gasol and Bynum were producing and, as a result of touches, staying engaged on the glass. But it quickly fell apart for the Lakers. Bryant then came out in the third quarter more aggressive, which sometimes works and sometimes is the absolute worst thing for the Lakers offense. I’m extremely curious to see how Kobe will feel he needs to approach Game 2.
- The Thunder’s runs tonight sealed the deal. OKC closed the first quarter on a 16-5 spurt to turn a four-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Then, with the Lakers within six, OKC went on a 9-2 surge in the second quarter to go up by 13. And again in the third quarter, the Thunder started the period on a 9-0 run to bump its lead to 24.
- The Thunder led by as many as 35 tonight, which is the largest lead of the season.
- Kobe on what most concerns him about the Thunder and what the Lakers have to change: “It’s their explosiveness. When they go on runs, they go on big runs. We have to do a better job when those runs take place and cut that water off right away. Once they get going, it goes downhill quickly.”
- OKC had a beautifully-executed inbounds play at the end of the first quarter that led to a Daequan Cook buzzer-beating jumper from the left corner. Cook was the inbounder. He got a screen from Mohammed and immediately got it right back to catch and shoot with 3.1 seconds left.
- Is Harden the most beloved Thunder player? Seems like a silly question seeing as how there’s a guy named Kevin Durant and another guy named Russell Westbrook on this team. But think about the ovations those that pack the Peake have given Harden lately. The guy is absolutely adored. And he’s got the whole beard thing working for him, which has fans showing up with phony replicas. Tonight, the cheers could have blown the roof off the place both when he was presented the Sixth Man of the Year trophy just before tip-off and when he checked in for the first time to a standing ovation.
- I guess Game 2 would be the only time for the “Sweep L.A.” chant. If it’s to happen, the Thunder will have to win Games 3 and 4 in L.A. so Loud City won’t have another shot to do it.
- Bench scoring tonight: Thunder 50, Lakers 26. And that’s probably not even indicative of the respective bench production. At one point, the Thunder’s bench was outscoring L.A.’s 20-2. The Thunder has the clear edge in bench play. Can its second-unit guys keep it up?
- We got not one obligatory Cole Aldrich monster dunk in a blowout but two!
- And two Nick Collison dunks.
- Two things I didn’t like by Brooks tonight. Sitting Serge Ibaka for so long in the first half, and taking out Sefolosha midway through the third quarter. For some odd reason, Derek Fisher was in there at the 2 while the Thunder was giving up rebounds and paint points. Meanwhile, Ibaka was buried on the bench. Then, in the third quarter, when Sefolosha was excelling on Kobe and making his life a living hell, Brooks put in Harden for Sefolosha. Bad timing. Those are two players who can be game-changers in this series. Obviously, in a 29-point blowout win, you can’t complain too much. But it’d be nice to see Brooks stick to what’s working.
- It’s like the officials didn’t know how they wanted to call this game tonight. They went from blowing the whistle on ticky-tack fouls to just making downright bad calls.
- This was our first experience with the new PA announcer tonight. If I had to hand out a grade, I’d give him a B. Finally, the incessant demands for chants of “D-FENCE” and noise were gone. Aside from that, you really couldn’t even tell a new guy was behind the mic. That’s a good thing. There was only one gripe. The new guy announced a technical foul on a player, I think it was World Peace. But it was just a personal foul. And when he corrected it, it was only a whisper. Everybody makes mistakes, so it’s not the blunder that bothered me. It’s how he handled the blunder. Gotta speak up in that situation. All in all, nice job.
- My thoughts and prayers go out to the alleged victims of former PA announcer Jim Miller and their families. That continues to be a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching story. No kid should ever be subject to such vile behavior.
- I can’t help but harken back to 2008 when thinking about the allegations against Jim Miller. Back when the NBA was preparing to plant permanent roots in our city, there were more than a handful of citizens that didn’t care for the NBA. Unfortunately, a small segment senselessly rooted their arguments in race. Those select few seemed certain that the NBA’s arrival would drive up the crime rate, bringing million-dollar babies and, worse, “thugs” to town. The opinions were offensive, however misguided. Yet, here we are, four years in and not one Thunder player has had his name on the police blotter in Oklahoma for breaking the law. The first NBA-related arrest in Thunder history went down as a middle-aged white man. A teacher. A coach. A family man who many presumably considered harmless. Turns out the NBA and these players, particularly here in Oklahoma City aren’t so bad, huh?
- Up next. Game 2 on Wednesday.
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