Around the World (Wide Web): Thunder Growing Pains

Phillip Barnett —  April 21, 2010


We’re witnessing the ostensible growth of a young team that is going to be VERY good in a few years. The seeds have been planted through draft picks, they’ve been fertilized with a 50-win regular season and are being watered with their inaugural playoff series as a unit and franchise. All we have to do is wait and watch it grow. For the Oklahoma City fans out there, you just have to be patient – patient like we were with Kobe and Shaq in their first two seasons together. No, I’m not saying that Oklahoma City will be home to the next three-peat, but it will be the home of something special.

Special like Kobe Bryant giving his fans in Los Angeles (and across the world) another great playoff performance. He scored 39 points, 15 of which came in the fourth quarter, on a night where his father watched him play live for the first time in five years. Bryant’s 15 in the fourth was the difference in this one, as the Lakers were able to pull out a three point victory in Game 2.

Pau Gasol also had a big night, scoring 25 points with 12 points, his second double-double in as many playoff games. Outside of Kobe and Gasol, no other Laker scored more than six points. Much of this can be attributed to the Thunder raising their collective defensive intensity, recording 17 blocks as a team and turning the Lakers over 16 times.

What this game boiled down to the execution down the stretch – something that Darius (with the help of Kurt) touched on a few days ago:

Second is the fact that the Thunder aren’t the best executing team in crunch time and have had trouble this season closing out the tightly contested games.  The Thunder are 7-11 in games that are decided by three points or less and are 1-4 in overtime games.  As Kurt told me:

When games tighten up and defenses get tougher at the end of games, the Thunder tend to tighten up as well. Durant is still Durant, but he gets less help and their offense becomes more about isolation, and with that they often become stagnant and they go through dry spells. It’s a learning thing, they won’t do that in a couple of years.

Last night we saw the same lack of execution and tightness that Darius and Kurt talked about. With about 4:30 left in the game, Ron Artest was called for a foul which put the Lakers over the limit. At that point, you would expect it to be Kevin Durant time and for him to attack the basket relentlessly knowing that he’s getting free throws every time he’s fouled, but the opposite happened. He took a contested 18-footer, and after being called for a charge, didn’t take another shot until that three he took with 15 seconds left. In the same amount of time, we saw Kobe do what he does best: close out the game. He scored seven points and shot six free throws after the Artest foul.

The difference between the Lakers and the Thunder last night was definitely the experience. With time, Durant is going to learn how to take advantage of the situation, but for now, he should spend this series learning from the guy who’s been doing it for over a decade.

With the win, the Lakers go up 2-0 in their first round series and are now just 14 games away from the ultimate goal. Here are some of the best links on last night’s game:

From Silver Screen and Roll: I’m not sure what to write regarding Game 2 of the 1st round series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the OKC Thunder.  The Lakers won the game in a tight contest 95-92, and the game will be remembered one of two ways, depending on how this series (and any subsequent Lakers playoff series) goes.  Winston Churchill once said “History is written by the victors”, and I can’t help but think the way this game will be remembered is based entirely on how the Lakers perform in the rest of this postseason.  The reason for that is because there are two significant, and completely opposite, truths one can take from this game.  The 1st is that Kobe Bryant is absolutely still capable of willing his team to a victory if the situation calls for it.  The 2nd is that the Lakers, as a team, Kobe included, look old and tired right now.

From Yahoo! Sports: The locker-room doors swung open, and Kobe Bryant marched down the Staples Center corridor wearing big shades and bigger defiance. He ingested the relentless proclamations that his battered body had cut too deeply into his greatness, that his fragile state demanded that for the good of the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship chase he turn them over to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Everything balled up inside Bryant and ultimately uncoiled in Game 2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. “After 13 years,” Bryant would tell Yahoo! Sports on his walk to the interview room, “you’d think [bleepers] would know better by now.”’

From Hardwood Paroxysm: You could say the Oklahoma City Thunder made progress with the three-point loss to the Lakers on Tuesday night. They took what was for the most part a frustratingly mediocre game in the first part of this series and turned it into a two-point game with a Kevin Durant three-point attempt for a series tie heading back to Oklahoma. He didn’t make it. He clanged off the iron and eventually the Thunder had to settle for a missed Jeff Green three-pointer to try and send this game into overtime.

From NBA Fan House: No one was talking. Not even the talking heads. Jeff Green slowly put his bright blue tie in place on top of his matching shirt at his locker. Thabo Sefolosha softly slapped cologne on his neck nearby. In the corner of the dispirited Oklahoma City locker room late Tuesday night at the Staples Center — where the Lakers outlasted the Thunder 95-92 — veteran Kevin Ollie consoled James Harden in hushed tones.

From SLAMOnline: Someday, the Oklahoma City Thunder will look back on this series with newfound appreciation on what it takes to win a Playoff game. If you had told them before the game that Kevin Durant would score 32, the defense would block 17 shots, and they would have the lead with two-and-a-half minutes left, they would’ve felt pretty good about themselves. And they should feel pretty good about themselves, because they played their hearts out last night. But it wasn’t enough. That’s the thing about beating the champs; you have to go above and beyond what, on most other nights, would’ve been good enough for a victory. In the end, the Lakers made the plays they had to make, the Thunder didn’t. Advantage L.A., a 2-0 series lead after a 95-92 win.

From The Daily Dime: It always seems personal for Kobe Bryant, a continuous quest to test himself against the sport like a golfer taking on the course. A year after he realized his vision of winning a championship without Shaquille O’Neal, he suddenly had to prove himself all over again, to demonstrate that he can still steer the Lakers to a single playoff victory even with more than 37,000 NBA minutes on his odometer.

This is a fantastic look at how the Lakers defended the Thunder final three point attempt from NBA Playbook (With pictures and video): After a Kobe jumper, the Thunder were down two points with two minutes left in the 4th quarter.  Now Scott Brooks’ late game playcalling has been a source of much discussion around these parts, so I was real interested to see what Brooks would do in the playoffs needing a bucket. This is what Brooks came up with:


Phillip Barnett