Thunder 77, Lakers 75
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday's win over the Lakers.
- We've seen this before. Plenty of times, in fact. The Thunder has shown throughout this season that a seven-point deficit in the final two minutes is nothing. Is anyone really surprised OKC pulled this one out? At some point, you knew there was going to be a steal here and a fast break bucket there. It was only a matter of time. This is what the Thunder is prone to do, for better or worse. But, boy, is it a spectacle when it's successful?
- The Thunder flipped a 75-68 deficit with two minutes remaining into a 77-75 win. That's a 9-0 run in crunch time. Against the allegedly almighty Lakers. In a second half the Thunder had no business being in.
- OKC shot 33 percent in the second half, making 11 of 33 shots and turning it over twice as much in the final 24 minutes (eight times) as it did in all of Game 1.
- With two minutes left, the Thunder had scored 20 points in the second half. OKC had nine points in the final two minutes. Four of the Thunder's 11 second-half field goals came in those final 120 seconds.
- Lakers coach Mike Brown: "We felt like we let one slip away."
- Kevin Durant was passive all night. Too passive. He took just 15 shots, four more than Serge Ibaka. Yet when the game was on the line, Durant did exactly what he had to do to deliver a win. He guarded Kobe Bryant. He came up with a huge steal. He streaked three-quarters court for a fast break dunk. He buried the go-ahead bucket, a 7-foot runner that received a friendly roll reminiscent of his dagger in Game 1 against Dallas.
- Coach Brown on Durant: "He is a great player and that is what great players do. He had a great game, especially the lat two minutes of the game. Defensively and offensively, I thought he was huge for them."
- Durant on the comeback: "We just kept fighting. This team is tough, on defense and offense. In our DNA, it's always 'Keep pressing and keeping our composure.'"
- Kobe Bryant on the Thunder comeback victory: "It's a tough loss, but the biggest thing for us was that we found some things out defensively that we feel we can do that's effective. They did a great job. It was a great comeback by them in the last two minutes. They got themselves a gritty win. Now it's up to us to go back home and defend our home court."
- What did the Lakers figure out defensively? Aside from switching a few matchups, they were more engaged in the pick-and-roll and got much more effort by their big men and everyone else in the help positions. A few times, the Thunder still made shots or knifed into the lane for layups or drive and kicks. But the Lakers were more physical tonight, and that threw the Thunder off its rhythm. It's not something that the Thunder can't counter. There were still huge holes in the Lakers defense and plenty of opportunities for OKC to make them pay. But the Thunder missed a ton of quality shots tonight. You could make the case that they were the shots the Lakers wanted the Thunder to take, shots that L.A. can live with if they go down. Therein lies the adjustment that the Thunder now has to make. The role players must be ready. It's a tall task that now must be carried out on the road inside Staples Center. But Thabo Sefolosha and Ibaka and even Kendrick Perkins have to be ready when the ball hits their hands. That trio went 7-for-21 from the field tonight. Coupled with Russell Westbrook's poor shooting night (5-for-17) and an uncharacteristically off night from James Harden (3-for-8), it's no wonder the Thunder tied a season low for points and shot just 42 percent.
- The Thunder was two minutes away from making Monday's feel-good blowout completely and utterly meaningless. Had this series shifted to L.A. deadlocked at 1-1, there's no telling what would have happened, although there's plenty of reasons to believe the Thunder can win in L.A.
- Score another for the Thunder in style points. This team just keeps finding ways to come out victorious regardless of style of play. In the four-game sweep of Dallas, the Thunder won on a last-second shot, with defense down the stretch, notched a blowout and in comeback fashion. Tonight, we saw three of those ingredients. But the recipe for this win substituted the blowout with an awfully impressive ability to win a defensive slug fest. We already know the Thunder can run teams out of the gym. But tonight, the Thunder showed for the first time in these playoffs that if you try to slow it down and grind it out, OKC can do that too, even with a nightmarish second half. That, ladies and gents, is what championship teams are made of.
- Having said that, this team still has a ways to go. One offensive trip proved as much. It was a shot by Durant. After Andrew Bynum missed a bunny, Durant grabbed the rebound with 2:36 left to play and raced up the court. This was when the crowd was getting antsy and the Thunder knew it was running out of time. OKC had just missed its last three shots and turned it over on another possession. A moment of panic then set in. In seven seconds, Durant dribbled to his half of the court, planted his feet and launched a 3-pointer. It was a bad shot and a bad decision. There was plenty of time to run a set. Plenty of time to get a good shot. That's what experienced, veteran teams do. Instead, Durant let it fly, taking a swing-for-the fences type cut that in only his fantasies would have erased his team's five-point deficit. He missed. And the Lakers gathered the rebound, ran some clock and then got it in to Bynum who bumped the lead to seven with a turnaround jump shot. Fortunately for the Thunder, it was the last bucket L.A. would score. But next time, the Thunder might not dodge that brief moment of clouded judgment.
- Perk looked great. I can't begin to imagine what kind of discomfort he must have been in. Just go back and watch how much he was wincing after re-injuring himself early in the third quarter of Game 1. But he played and played admirably. He wasn't so effective against Bynum (20 points, nine rebounds), but he tried. Regardless of what you think of him, you've got to appreciate Perk being there for his team.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he though Perk was "really good." "Going into today, not really sure he was going to play tonight," Brooks said. "But like I said yesterday, the guy just gives everything he has to his team. You can never discount the heart of a champion, and he has the heart of a champion. I'm proud of him to come back and play. He is banged up. He will never tell you that. He understands that in NBA basketball, you have to put yourself out there and help your team win, and he did that tonight."
- Unfortunately, I don't expect Perk to be healthy for the rest of this playoff run. As long as he's out there bumping and banging -- especially against big ol' Bynum -- that hip is never going to get healed.
- I liked the every-other-section thing with the T-shirts tonight. Based on the feedback I got on Twitter, so did you. Nice job, Thunder marketing people.
- Westbrook's defense on Ramon Sessions...Brilliant! On several occasions, Russ wouldn't even let Sessions receive the inbounds pass after a made Thunder bucket to bring the ball up. He was absolutely smothering tonight.
- Sessions' final stat line: four points on 2-for-10 shooting with four rebounds, three assists and two turnovers...That's not tonight. That's his stat line in Oklahoma City!
- Harden got a small measure of payback on Metta World Peace with he caught him with a little elbow to the grill late in the first quarter.
- More importantly, Harden and Sefolosha were fantastic on Kobe tonight. Kobe had a stretch where he went off a tad bit and started draining those tough, Kobe Bryant, contested shots. But even those handful of shots were played well defensively.
- Don't breathe on Kobe, though. It's a foul.
- My favorite defensive possession with Harden on Kobe came, I believe, late in the third quarter. Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated aspects of Kobe's game is his deception. He has incredible footwork that throws you off, a hesitation game that's out of this world and, of course, a series of pump fakes that even the best defenders still fall for even when they know they're coming.
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