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Game-changers: Tough tandem Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison give Lakers fits when they come off bench

By Darnell Mayberry, Staff Writer, Modified: April 24, 2010 at 9:20 am •  Published: April 24, 2010

Hit ’em and get ’em.

It’s a basketball adage focused on fundamentals, instructing defenders to put a body on an opponent before chasing down rebounds.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks stresses the strategy, but his team has abided by the adage in the most unconventional way.

With two players.

Nick Collison hits ’em. Serge Ibaka gets ’em.

Together, the odd couple has given the Los Angeles Lakers fits whenever they’ve checked in off the bench throughout the first three games of this first-round series.

"They’re great opposites,” Brooks said. "Serge is a guy that’s going to go after every ball above the rim, and Nick is a guy that’s going to take every charge down the lane. It’s good to have two guys that complement each other very well.”

The Lakers have started each of the first three games by toying with the Thunder’s starting unit with their tall and talented frontline of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. L.A. has outscored Oklahoma City 80-53 in the first three games’ first quarters.

To put it bluntly, the Lakers have come out and bullied the Thunder on the low block, lobbing passes over the top of the defense and making their halfcourt offense resemble a game of "Keep Away” against their little brother.

But things change as soon as Collison and Ibaka check in.

Shots become altered, if not blocked. And players are pushed farther away from their desired spots and are forced to adjust to more physicality. Combined, it disrupts the Lakers’ timing and rhythm, making Gasol and Bynum think twice about attacking rather than doing what comes naturally.