“I think we've played good basketball,” Brooks said before the game. “There's room to get better. But we've done a good job. Guys have really done a good job of competing every night and practicing when we're able to practice and finding ways to get better on the fly.
“I think we've had a good first half. Our guys don't rest. They want to keep moving forward. Like I've said, rebounding, passing and turnovers is something that we will continue to work on and try to get better at and we should.”
In its final statement before All-Star Weekend, the Thunder put on a defensive clinic against L.A., holding the Lakers to 38.5 percent shooting and limiting star guard Kobe Bryant to 24 points on 24 shots. OKC also out-rebounded L.A., the league's best team under the glass, and had little difficulty scoring against the Lakers' twin towers of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
But nothing illustrated the Thunder's rising supremacy better than an exchange late in the game between Bryant and James Harden. The two began exchanging words at the end of a Lakers possession, and words quickly turned into a stare-down. The two eventually had to be separated.
The message, though, had been sent.
“We don't back down,” Brooks said. “I don't coach the perfect players or the perfect team, and they're not coached by the perfect coach. But one thing we don't do is we don't back down. You don't fight in this league. You have to play basketball. You have to compete and you have to make your opponent respect you by outworking them. And we have a team built on work and effort and energy. And our guys are continuing to get better and continuing to play better.”