Here are five observations from the Thunder’s 107-103 win in Los Angeles on Thursday night:
1. KD closes it out - A fitting final act to Kevin Durant’s masterpiece of a first half. Through three quarters, he wasn’t good, going 9-of-22 from the field, 0-of-8 from three and committing six sloppy turnovers. “I was out of it, man, I was out of it,” Durant said. But he rendered those first 36 minutes moot with a dominant, game-changing fourth quarter. Durant started it off his first three, a 27-foot bomb which sparked a 20-2 Thunder run over the next six minutes. And he closed the game with a pair of clutch free throws, giving him 19 of his game-high 43 points in the fourth quarter. Defensively, the Thunder collectively cranked up the energy, limiting the Lakers to a ton of low percentage looks. But offensively, the comeback was all about Kevin Durant. Making plays for himself and making plays for others. A final line of 43-12-7. A vacation to New Orleans well-earned.
2. Energy problems - Kendall Marshall played well (14 points, 17 assists) and the Lakers were pesky, but the reason this game was competitive had more to do with OKC’s lack of energy from the tip. Minds elsewhere. Worried about their All-Star break plans. Whatever you want to attribute it to, they didn’t have it. You could just tell. And so could Scott Brooks, who made a telling substitution mid-way through the third quarter. With his team in need of an energy boost, he inserted rookie Andre Roberson. And it worked.
3. Roberson move - Roberson didn’t play particularly well. After entering, he immediately got dunked on and, in his 13 minutes, committed four fouls and two turnovers. But as Brooks hoped, Roberson gave the team a shot in the arm with his energy. The dude is in constant motion, flying around the court, tipping passes, bothering shooters and acting like his paycheck rides on every rebound. Just read this Kevin Durant quote for an idea of his impact:
Durant: “Andre Roberson gave me energy by just how he played, how he came out and got rebounds, cut behind the defense, kept basketballs alive…He’s a mature rookie. He knows his role. He knows what he can do. That’s defend at a high level, rebound the basketball and keep the defense honest by cutting to the rim. He did a great job of that tonight. I’m proud of Andre, that’s my rook. I’m glad to see him get an opportunity.”
4. Rough road trip - Serge Ibaka had to cool off some time. His jumper has been nearly automatic over the past month and, lately, he had been averaging around 20 points per game on 65 percent shooting. Unsustainable numbers, as shown the past two games. After laboring through a 3-of-11 night on Tuesday against LaMarcus Aldridge, Ibaka was quiet again on Thursday. In 36 minutes, Ibaka had 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting. He still contributed, with five blocks. But he didn’t give the Thunder nearly the offensive presence they had been used to of late. Rough two-game road trip, but that doesn’t spoil what was a big-time first half of the season from Ibaka.
5. The ageless one - For Thursday’s paper, I wrote about Derek Fisher and his steady production over the last couple weeks (You can read that here). He’s been one of the Thunder’s most consistent players. And it was more of the same against the Lakers. Facing his former team, Fisher had 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and three steals in. He hit a pair of monster, momentum-swinging threes. And, most telling, Fisher was a +19 in his 22 minutes. That’s now 16 of the past 19 games in which he has been a positive in that category. During that stretch, OKC has outscored opponents by 116 points with him on the court. He keeps this up, Thunder fans may start a ‘One more year’ chant for the retiring veteran.
TRAVEL GUIDE: Los Angeles - Not exactly a traditional Laker squad greeting me for my first game in Staples. But even with the team in full rebuild mode, at 18-35 and an entire starting lineup full of injured players, I was impressed with the crowd. The arena was packed and the fans were into it throughout. In most road arenas, there’s a strong contingent of Thunder fans, most of which are rocking KD jerseys. Not in LA. Surprisingly cool atmosphere. And the area surround Staples Center (LA Live) is lively. As far as the two-day trip goes, it was fun. Tough to not have a good time in Southern California, where it was sunny and 75 both days. The only issue was traffic. It’s as terrible as you’d expect. Gridlocks everywhere, even the back roads. I’m not patient enough to live here.
-Postgame, Kevin Durant was asked about the recent ‘back-and-forth’ between him and LeBron James, with James being quoted on an almost daily basis about something to do with KD. Here’s Durant on the subject: “It’s no back-and-forth. I haven’t said anything. It’s just him talking. No back-and-forth with me, I just go out there and approach the game the right way, prepare the right way and give it my all and play the best I can every time I step on the floor. And that’ll do my talking. So no back-and-forth with me.”
-KD was then asked if he followed what LeBron has been doing: “How can I not? It’s everywhere. Social media, especially, it gets it out there quick.
-Stars spotted sitting courtside in LA: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Ryan Seacrest, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and, of course, Jack Nicholson right next to the Thunder bench.
-The Thunder was 19-of-46 in the first half and 2-of-12 from three.
-Reggie Jackson had a decent final line: 16 points, five rebounds, three assists, 7-of-15 shooting. But it didn’t feel like he had a very good game. And once again, his was exploited on defense (Kendall Marshall: 14 points, 17 assists).
-The Thunder is 17-1 this season when at least five players score in double-figures.
-If that’s the last game OKC plays without Westbrook this season (a BIG if), it will finish with an extremely impressive 22-8 mark.
-The Thunder has won 15 of its past 17 games.
-Winner of weirdest photo of the night:
-Up next: Seven days off for the All-Star break and then a can’t-miss showdown with the Heat in OKC next Thursday. The question between now and then is if Westbrook will be healthy enough to play.