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Lakers 99, Thunder 96

by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 19, 2012

Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s loss at Los Angeles.

  • I originally predicted the Thunder to win in five.
  • I still think it’s going five.
  • Still, tough loss for the Thunder. OKC was right there and had the game in hand with less than three minutes to go. Close out this one, and it’s highly likely the Thunder would have finished off the Lakers on Saturday.
  • OKC had a five-point lead after a fantastic steal by and breakaway dunk by Russell Westbrook. At that moment, it looked like this was going to be the Thunder’s night. But who knew what was about to unfold down the stretch?
  • In the final 2:55, the Lakers got to the line 10 times. The Thunder got there zero. That was the story of the game. Those last 175 seconds were a microcosm of what ultimately made the Lakers victorious. And when studied closely, it’s a shame. Yeah, I’m going there, to that place you rarely ever will find me. The refs took this game out of the Thunder’s hands. Plain and simple.
  • Final score. Lakers 42, Thunder 28. That’s the one that mattered. That was the free throw attempt count. Never mind the “99-96″ you saw on the scoreboard.
  • Here are the fouls that led to the Lakers’ final five trips to the foul line.
    1. Serge Ibaka was whistled for fouling Pau Gasol as he came across the lane for an entry pass.
    2. James Harden was whistled for fouling Kobe as the two battled for position.
    3. Westbrook bit on a Kobe pump fake on a baseline isolation.
    4. Westbrook was forced to foul Metta World Peace after KD was “stripped” on a putback attempt.
    5. Westbrook was forced to foul Kobe with 9.8 seconds left to give the Thunder one last shot to win.
  • Now let’s take a closer look at those five fouls.
    1. It doesn’t get more ticky-tack than this one. Ibaka made incidental contact while trying to push Gasol off his spot, something big men do on every possession in the post. Matter of fact, Ibaka didn’t even do a good job of it. The contact was so light that it looked like bad defense. Play easily could have continued.
    2. Again, breathe on Kobe and it’s a foul. Harden simply was battling for position and trying to make it tough for Kobe to catch it in his desired spot. Again, the type of defense that is played on every single possession in the NBA. And yet, even though Harden caught the brunt of the punishment in the form of a Kobe elbow to the head, it was Harden who got penalized for the physicality.
    3. Westbrook got duped into jumping. Shame on him. There wasn’t much contact even when Westbrook got in the air, but it was an understandable call.
    4. About that “strip.” Durant was absolutely assaulted. By World Peace and Gasol. And the refs swallowed their whistles. The result was costly. Instead of the Thunder potentially going up by one at 95-94 on what should have been a pair of KD free throws with 14.5 remaining, OKC ended up trailing by three with 12.9 seconds left. This oversight changed the complexion of the game.
    5. Had to take this one to give the Thunder one last chance.
  • So let’s review. Out of five foul calls on the Thunder in the final 2:55, two were questionable to say the least (No. 1 and No. 2), one should never had been needed (No. 4), one was legit (No. 3) and the other was out of necessity (No. 5). That’s a pretty crummy way to lose a game.
  • Here’s the impact of those fouls: The first cut the Thunder’s lead to three. The second gave the Lakers a one-point lead. The third gave the Lakers a one-point lead. The fourth gave the Lakers a three-point lead. And the fifth gave the Lakers a three-point lead.
  • With all that said, the Lakers deserve a ton of credit for stepping to the stripe and sinking their foul shots. They made 41 of 42, which has got to be somewhere close to virtually impossible among NBA feats — especially with seven different players attempting at least two free throws. The Lakers made their first 28 free throws before Bynum split a pair.
  • If I was Thunder coach Scott Brooks, I would have gladly opened up the wallet after this one. I would have spent my entire post-game press conference ripping the officials. Somebody asks to comment on an exciting game. “Joey Crawford sucks.” Somebody inquires about how to get past this one. “The NBA ought to be ashamed of itself tonight. I’ve never seen such a poorly officiated game.” Somebody wonders about the free throw discrepancy. “I thought you’d never ask. It was bull****. Bottom line. Grade A garbage. The fix was in.”
  • Of course, I’m not Brooks. He’s a much bigger man than me. So, naturally, he took the high road. “We fouled too many times,” Brooks said. “That’s the bottom line. Forty-two is a high number. That’s more than they average, a lot more than they average. We were using our hands and fouling too much. We’ve got to do a better job. Forty-two free throws and 41 makes, it’s hard to win on your opponents home court when you do that. We have to do a better job of not fouling, defending, rebounding and getting out and running.”
  • Sadly, that rundown is just the start of how ridiculously bad the refs were tonight. How about the crew swallowing their whistles when World Peace ducked under Durant as he took and missed a jumper with 1:18 left to play? How about Harden getting called for barely bumping Kobe as the two transitioned to the Lakers’ end of the floor? How about World Peace being able to remain in the game despite video replays clearly showing him kneeing Westbrook in the nads at the end of that skirmish with 4:14 remaining in the second quarter? How about Joey Crawford slapping Perk with a tech simply for showing emotion after, surprise, surprise, a foul call went against him with 1:38 left in the second quarter?
  • Here’s what’s crazy. NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver actually both were in the building watching the whole thing go down.
  • Here’s something else that’s crazy. The Thunder actually landed in the bonus with 7 minutes, 16 seconds left to play. Wanna know how many foul shots OKC attempted in the final 7 minutes, 15 seconds? Four.
  • After taking that five-point lead with 2:55 to go, the Thunder went 2-for-8 from the field the rest of the way. L.A. went 1-for-4 over that same span.
  • The Thunder good good looks down the stretch. Of the six misses, Harden came up short on a pull-up jumper, KD had a shot rim out on that no-call when World Peace undercut him, Durant barely missed a potential game-tying 3 and Ibaka was blocked by Bynum on the final shot of the game. The late-game offense gets a pass
  • It’s the other two misses that were troublesome, all because Durant decided to pass the ball. Twice in the final two minutes, Durant drove and dished. And not to shooters salivating on the perimeter. But to big men Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Not good decisions by Durant. First, Perk got blocked by World Peace. Then, Ibaka had to take a tough jumper (which Durant rebounded before getting mauled only to not get a whistle). Buckets on those possessions could have put the Thunder up five and one, respectively.
  • Durant on over-passing: “I trust my teammates even if they miss 20 shots in a row. I was just picking and choosing my spots. I got to the paint and wanted to take a good shot, but they were tough defensively. I think I got to the spots I wanted to. Sometimes I should have shot it when I passed it. But like I said, I believe in my teammates that they’re going to make shots and I’m going to continue to make the right play.”
  • What on God’s green earth Ibaka was thinking when he went back up with it after rebounding KD’s missed 3 instead of immediately kicking it out to a shooter will forever be a mystery in Thunder history. Ibaka said after the game that he should have kicked it out and that it would have been best for the team. So at least he recognizes his mistake.
  • Despite all the, let’s call them extenuating circumstances, the Thunder still had opportunities to close out this game. But allowing the Lakers to grab two offensive rebounds on one trip in the final minute was a major breakdown. First, Kobe missed a pull-up jumper and Gasol gathered the loose ball (after Bynum went over Perk’s back, without being called for it, to tip it toward Gasol), and then Bynum tapped out another miss by Kobe, this time to Steve Blake. The trip finally ended with Westbrook biting on the pump fake. Had the Thunder closed out that possession with a rebound, it could have extended it’s lead to three with a 2 or four with a 3. Missed opportunity.
  • Westbrook missing consecutive 3s hurt, too. Had one dropped, it would have turned a three-point lead into a six-point lead with just less than four minutes remaining.
  • Steve Blake hit two huge shots that saved the Lakers. Harden had just capped a 7-0 run with a steal and gutsy wing 3 in transition to put OKC up by five. Blake then answered with a pull-up and a 3 to tie the score at 83-all with 5:57 left. I’m convinced that if those don’t fall, the Lakers are staring at a 3-0 hole.
  • You can’t help to be happy for Blake for coming up big in a big moment that. If you haven’t heard, Blake and his family received death threats immediately following Game 2, when he missed a last-second shot that potentially would have won it for L.A.
  • Lakers coach Mike Brown on threats to Blake and his family: “That shouldn’t be a part of life…It’s a doggone shame.”
  • Brooks on threats to Blake and his family: “It doesn’t make sense. It is a game, and it is an important game for both teams. But it’s not that important.”
  • OKC should take a ton of positives out of this one. Durant overcame some fantastic defense by World Peace to still dump in a team-high 31 points on 12-of -23 shooting. Westbrook and Harden didn’t have the greatest shooting nights but willed their way to 21 points apiece. The interior defense did a great job of keeping Bynum and Gasol in check, holding them to a combined 27 points on 6-for-21 shooting. The turnovers were down again; just nine tonight and only three in the second half. The Thunder withstood a sizzling start by L.A., battling back from a quick 8-0 deficit that soon swelled to 16-4. And, of course, OKC nearly overcame the refs, too.
  • Of course the Thunder has the advantage in the back-to-back scheduling. The Lakers went just 9-9 in the regular season in the second night of a back-to-back. The Thunder has more young legs and went 14-6 on the second night of its back-to-back sets.
  • Leave it to Lakers fans to boo Harden when he checked in.
  • Keep an eye on Westbrook in Game 4. I gotta feeling he might have one of his best performances of his career. This loss, coupled with Brooks benching him midway through the opening quarter, might fuel him to come out and go bonkers from the start.
  • Had it not been for Harden and Fish early, the Lakers might have run away with it. When the Thunder got down 18-6, those two went on a 7-0 run to keep the Thunder in it. They combined to score 12 straight Thunder points from late in the first quarter to early in the second.
  • At first, it looked like that little second-quarter skirmish was no big deal…until I saw a replay. Still can’t understand how World Peace wasn’t ejected. Other than his knee to Westbrook’s nads, it was just intense basketball, with both teams going hard to save a possession. It could set the stage for something more in Game 4, though.
  • Underrated aspect of this Lakers win: their assists. The Lakers did a terrific job of sharing the ball. One game after registering 11 assists and only three at halftime, L.A. came out with crisp ball movement that led to numerous good looks. The Lakers finished with 20 assists on 27 field goals. They had 14 assists on their first 16 field goals.
  • Old friend Nate Robinson was at the game.
  • Ibaka is starting to drift out a little too far on offense. He took a corner 3 in this one. Serge has range and solid form to someday consistently make 3s, especially corner 3s. But now is not the time for him to do it. There’s just no need.
  • OKC blew a two-for-one opportunity at the end of the third quarter. After KD got two free throws with 35.3 seconds left in the period, Fish inexplicably backed off of Blake and allowed him to let the ball roll up the court without the clock running. Then, when Blake picked up the rock, Fish foolishly fouled him in three seconds. With the Lakers in the bonus, Blake got a pair of free throws and successfully executed an improbable two-for-one for the Lakers. After Harden missed a 3, the Thunder fortunately saw Kobe turn it over, leading to a missed step back by KD. So, essentially, it ended up being an ugly and unintentional 3-for-2 for the Thunder. But attention to detail in moments like those has to be better.
  • Early on, it looked like Bynum and Gasol were going to have big nights. But the Thunder gradually did better and better on them. Bynum and Gasol at one point had 14 points on 14 shots, then had 18 points on 18 shots. Bynum in particular took a pounding. The Thunder made his life miserable on the low block, pushing him, leaning on him, bodying him, whatever needed to be done to prevent easy looks.
  • No reason Fish should have been on Kobe. I’ll leave it at that.
  • Kobe on Fish guarding him: “The same result as all the times we’ve played one-on-one in the gym by ourselves. No different. I love him, but he’s a midget.”
  • Since Game 5 is now necessary, it will be played on Monday at 8:30 p.m. back in OKC. A limited number of tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday at thunder.nba.com.
  • Up next. Game 4 on Saturday night.

-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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