Thunder 116, Lakers 101
Leftover observations from the Thunder’s 116-101 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night at Staples Center:
- Three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant scored a season-high 42 and shot 16 for 25 from the field despite missing three of his last four shots. Metta World Peace defended Durant, as did Kobe Bryant and Earl Clark. Perhaps there were more, but no one seemed to be certain afterward. Durant was big-time good, but beauty often is in the eye of the beholder. Here is how various people saw in Durant’s performance:
- Durant: “Just worry about shooting a good shot and making a strong move, that’s all I worry about. It doesn’t matter who’s guarding me. Different guys were guarding me tonight I just tried to get to my spots and shoot the shots I normally shoot. Just try to let it fly.”
- Bryant: “I don’t think it was a game where he was on fire. I thought we just gave him very makeable shots. When you give guys that are that good at shooting the ball makeable shots he’s going to make them.”
- Lakers point guard Steve Nash: “I think if you watch the tape of course you could pick it a part. Say we could have done this and that better but it’s one of those nights where I think he made some tremendous shots. He took mismatches into the post, made some jump shots, there were even some loose balls that came back to them and there he was for a layup. He was terrific tonight. We could have maybe played him a little better but he was still on pace for 30-something no matter how we played him.”
- Lakers forward Earl Clark: “Anybody that scores 40 in this league you have to tip your hat to. He takes a lot of shots, he’s one of the top scorers in the league and it’s going to happen. He just had a good night tonight.”
- Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni: “We had a few mistakes on Durant and when you make just a little mistake on Durant, he is punishing you. And he did that. We didn’t switch at the end of the second quarter and there was a three there. It came down that they played a lot better than we did. But, I am not going to focus on that, I am going to focus forward and get ready.”
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “Kevin got hot and we made some good plays and the 3 at the end of the half was good. I just thought we had a bad stretch of turning the ball over and not defending and we took care of that in the second quarter, we kind of regrouped later in that quarter, but we made some shots. Anytime we make shots, we always play with a lot of enthusiasm, and it was just a good game for us.”
- Brooks on Durant and Westbrook: “They’re good players and they deserve all the credit.” Sure, a simple quote, but Brooks truly means it. OKC players talk admirably of how Brooks constantly defers to his players when it comes to handing out credit.
- After the game, Durant said he and his teammates prefer not to make comparisons to last year’s team, which advanced to the NBA Finals and lost 4-1 to the Miami Heat.
- Brooks was asked about the differences between this year’s team to last year’s team: “Well, we have some good experience, the last few years with all of our guys. When we made the trade (Houston’s Kevin Martin in exchange for James Harden), we knew that we we’re still going to be a good team. Kevin Martin brings a lot of good offense and he’s a solid defender, he gives us another experienced player, but our players are better. They came back better this summer. I thought the Olympic experience for all of them, even Serge (Ibaka) with team Spain, everyone came back a little bit better. We pride ourselves on defense and as long as we have our defensive mindset, we’re going to always be a team that’s going to compete for wins.”
- Durant on what freed him up to score 42: “We moved the ball so well. We were finding open shots, guys were getting to the lane. We got so many guys that can drive and kick and get a bucket on their own so we’re just moving the basketball. Once it gets moving the defense gets moving and it makes it easier for everybody.”
- For a team that supposedly now plays second-fiddle in LA to the Clippers, there sure were a lot of media on hand Friday. One veteran local reporter said the Lakers are still covered far more intensely than the Clippers. The Thunder drew a large contingent itself. Roughly 50 reporters crammed into the tiny visitor’s locker room to do interviews.
- Unlike last Monday’s loss at Washington, the Thunder locker room was all smiles after the victory over the Lakers, complete with ribbing between teammates about who wore what. Center Kendrick Perkins took center stage with some rapid-fire off-the-cuff (and off-the-record) observations.
- You know all those quotes Perkins shares about the importance of team chemistry? He’s not lying. Reporters frequently comment on the laid-back atmosphere found inside the Thunder locker room. Then again, winning the game always helps. OKC is now 10-5 on the road this season.
- Kevin Martin on the team’s other Kevin: “He’s a special player. He’s the heart of our team and we just like to follow his lead. He brought a lot of intensity and you see your superstar bring intensity like that everybody else better bring it also.”
- The Lakers cooperated by missing their first 12 3-point attempts. Steve Nash made the team’s first trey at the 6:35 mark of the third period and LA rocketed up to 21.4 percent beyond the arc by making 6 for its final 16.
- Ibaka suffered a chest contusion in the third quarter and played just 24:01. He left for good with 7:47 left in the third quarter and finished with seven rebounds, six points and one blocked.
- The Thunder led 64-48 at intermission, scoring 39 second-quarter points, which was capped by a Durant 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left off an in-bound play. The margin would have been even greater had the Thunder not shot just 7 for 14 from the free-throw line in the first half. OKC shot 12 for 14 from the line in the second half.
- The Thunder jumped out to a 25-14 lead in the first quarter, but the Lakers closed the period with an 11-0 run in the final 2:39 as OKC missed five straight shots and had four turnovers.
- OKC is now 8-0 in games where Durant scores 35-plus: LA Clippers (35 points); Philadelphia (37); Houston (37); LA Lakers (36); New Orleans (35); Atlanta (41); Dallas (40); LA Lakers (42).
- Other than an 11-0 spurt by the Lakers to close out the first quarter, OKC often made this LA mission look easy. “It wasn’t easy,” Westbrook said. “I just think we did a good job of playing team basketball and defensively it showed for four quarters.”
- The Lakers were incredibly short-handed with no Dwight Howard (shoulder), Pau Gasol (concussion), Jordan Hill (hip) and Steve Blake (abdominal muscle), but Durant insists Friday’s game was no gimme: “Coming in here, it’s tough to win no matter what. We did a great job of just playing together at both ends of the floor all night and not taking those guys lightly. They’ve got two of the best players in the world out, so we just wanted to come out and have a good game.”
- Don’t bury the Lakers just yet, said Westbrook: “They’re not done. They have a lot more games (46) left, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to find a way to get it together.”
- Bryant on his team’s mental state: “We’re just very frustrated and upset about what we’re going through right now, and how we’re playing. We’re going to have to make some big adjustments if we’re going to be successful. We gave up about 120 points tonight, and a lot of them were just layups and easy looks at the rim.”
- I’m a huge fan of Nash. One of the greatest point guards ever. But I have to admit, I barely noticed him Friday. He finished with seven points, seven assists and had zero impact. Still love the guy, but a non-descript showing against OKC. Keep in mind, he signed a three-year deal with the Lakers.
- The Lakers (15-21) have now lost six straight, which hasn’t happened since 2007. Home games Sunday and Tuesday against Cleveland and Milwaukee are up next, followed by a Thursday game against the world champion Miami Heat at Staples. “I told the team, the biggest thing is our season starts Sunday,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve got to make a run. We’ve got one shot at it, and everybody needs to get ready mentally and physically. From there on, we can’t make any more false steps. That’s just how it is. We put ourselves in this ditch, and we’re the only ones that can get it out, and hopefully we can get some guys back and start our season Sunday.”
- The Thunder and Lakers meet again at Staples on Jan. 27. OKC also visits Staples to play the LA Clippers on Jan. 22 and March 3. The Lakers visit OKC on March 5. The Thunder plays only three games against the Clippers.
- This being LA and all, there must be some sort of news with a TMZ flavor, and here it is: Before the game, Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, announced they have called off their divorce proceedings. Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce in December 2011.
- Next up: at Portland (20-16) at 8 p.m. on Sunday.
- John Rohde
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