LOS ANGELES — Jeff Green was asked how many NBA players could start a game defending 7-foot forward Pau Gasol, then switch onto the 6-foot-6 Kobe Bryant. Green pondered the question and smiled. "Only a handful,” he said. Then Green laughed. "I’m one of them." The Thunder’s third-year forward flaunted his flexibility in Sunday’s 87-79 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, proving he could guard both Gasol and Bryant. Bryant had a team-high 21 points, but the Lakers’ All-Star guard netted just six points on 2-for-5 shooting while matched up against Green in the fourth quarter. In the second quarter, when Bryant also was defended by Green, Bryant went 1-for-4 with two turnovers and got five of his eight points at the foul line. Gasol, meanwhile, had 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the first and third periods while being defended primarily by Green. And few of Gasol’s baskets came easy. "I love being in that position to guard guys like that,” Green said. "It’s some of the best players on that team. It was fun for me, a great challenge. I handled my own.” With the Thunder staring at a 0-1 hole with Game 2 tonight at 9:30 inside Staples Center, Green knows he must turn in an even better performance this go-round. The Lakers shot just 41 percent and didn’t put away the Thunder until the final minute because of Oklahoma City’s determined team defense. And on Sunday, no player’s effort embodied the Thunder’s commitment to team more than Green’s willingness to wing it. In one quarter, the 6-foot-9 Green needed to overcome a three-inch height and 15-pound weight disadvantage in the post on Gasol. And in the next, Green had to surmount Bryant’s superior athleticism, skill and quickness. "It has to change quick,” Green said of his mindset. "You have one guy who’s mainly on the block. He’s long. You have to try to keep off the block and try to make every shot for him tough. But then go to a guy like Kobe, who gets it in different ways. He can shoot any shot on the floor. It’s tough. But you just have to make that switch and make the change quick.” It’s something Green has been doing all season. With the Thunder three losses away from summer vacation — and Bryant and Gasol arguably the best in the league at their positions — the importance of Green having a positive impact has never been more vital. "That gives us a big advantage, being able to switch and being able to put him on Kobe and on (Lamar) Odom and on Gasol,” said Thabo Sefolosha. "I think he showed (his effectiveness) yesterday and throughout the whole season. Whoever he goes against and guards, he does a pretty good job at it...There’s not that many guys that can do it. But he’s really athletic, and he has the size and the length to do it.” Although Thunder coach Scott Brooks isn’t buying it, and Green wouldn’t admit to it, some of Green’s offensive struggles in Game 1 could be attributed to being worn out from his work on the defensive end. Green made just four of 12 shots for 10 points Sunday. He went 1-for-3 from behind the 3-point line. Green’s shot was flatter than it’s been of late, and he appeared to have lost his legs. "That’s part of being an NBA player,” Brooks said. "And we expect and demand that our players play both ends of the floor. And Jeff does that. He’s the third-leading scorer on our team. He missed some open shots. But Jeff is going to be able to knock those shots down.”
Thunder at Lakers→When: 9:30 tonight →Where: Staples Center →TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722), TNT (Cox 31, HD 730) →Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM. →Join the conversation: Log on at NewsOK.com/sports to join the Press Row live chat tonight.
On NewsOKOklahoma Matters with Ed Kelley In his latest video commentary, Oklahoman editor Ed Kelley says the Thunder is rewriting the image of the city. Watch the video at newsok.com/multimedia/video/78840961001.