At the end of Darius’ game wrap-up, he asked the question: In the end, was this a pretty game? Of course, his short answer was an abrupt, “no,” and I generally agree with that sentiment. Although the Lakers played with an amazing defensive game plan on Kevin Durant that slowed down the whole Thunder offense, yesterday afternoon’s game showed that the Lakers are still playing sloppy basketball and exposed some things that the Thunder will have the opportunity to take advantage of.
1. Russell Westbrook went after the Lakers in transition, and will be able to continue to do so throughout the series simply because he’s immensely faster than anyone else on the Lakers’ roster. The Lakers just don’t have an answer for Westbrook on the open floor. They’ve struggled to create walls for opposing point guards in transition all season, and I just don’t think this is a problem that the Lakers are going to suddenly fix overnight.
2. The Thunder started fronting both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, making entry passes much tougher. This resulted in a couple of turnovers – but most importantly it forced the Lakers to go away from feeding Gasol and Bynum on a regular basis. The Lakers have shown that, if they have just a little problem making entry passes, they will move the ball around the perimeter and take jump shots (and they’re not a good shooting team) instead of trying harder to get the ball to the post. It’s clear that the Lakers’ biggest advantage lies in their two 7-footers, the Thunder understand that they can off set this advantage by making the Lakers take jump shots.
3. The Lakers bench actually wasn’t terrible yesterday. They came in and didn’t lose leads while the starters took a break, but they did turn the ball over five times as a unit. I don’t expect the Lakers’ reserves to outscore the Thunder reserves every game, and if they can’t outscore the Thunder reserves AND still account for nearly 42 percent of the Lakers’ turnovers, that could spell trouble for the Lakers as a unit.
There were some positives that we can take from this game, too. Again, like Darius said, Ron Artest did a fantastic job in defending Kevin Durant, who couldn’t have been pleased with his inaugural playoff game. I wrote this in a Game 1 recap for Talkhoops.net:
There were points in last nights game where it felt like Durant wasn’t even on the floor. Although this series is far from over, this will be a great learning opportunity for Durant as he’s on the floor with Kobe, someone who always leaves his stamp on the game. Even though Kobe only shot 31 percent from the field, there was never a point during the game where his presence wasn’t felt. He was active defensively, finishing with two blocks and two steals, and was making the extra pass. The extra pass didn’t always lead to an assist for Bryant, but it kept the defense honest. Durant is going to have to learn to do these things for the Thunder to be more successful during this post season.
Also, Andrew Bynum returned to play with a big 13 and 12 double-double while Pau Gasol finished with a solid 19 and 13 double-double of his own. As I mentioned earlier, the Lakers bench DID outscore the Thunder bench, mainly because of Lamar Odom’s presence, but a reserves-victory is hard to come by, so I’ll take it. What’s most important is the fact that the Lakers won the game. Teams who win Game 1 in a seven game series end up winning the series 79 percent of the time – and PJ is undefeated in playoff series after winning the first one. Before I get into the links, relive that monster block Kobe had on Durant in the third quarter. Classic moment.
My post over at Talkhoops: Andrew Bynum’s health is clearly going to play a huge role in not only this series, but for the Lakers hopes at repeating as NBA Champions. After missing the Lakers’ final 13 regular season games, Bynum made his return to the court in the Lakers first playoff game of 2010 and dropped a 13 and 12 double-double with four blocks in an eight-point Lakers win. The Lakers jumped all over the Thunder early in this game, taking advantage of the tense youngsters getting their first taste of playoff experience. Oklahoma City’s first four possessions read: Kevin Durant missed three; Nenad Krstic missed 20-footer; Durant missed layup; shot clock violation. On the other end Lakers gave the Thunder a heavy dose of looks in the paint, getting Gasol and Bynum going early, and not scoring outside of 15 feet until just over three minutes left in the first quarter, ultimately leading to a 27 to 13 lead for the Lakers after one.
From Silver Screen and Roll: We suspected this wouldn’t be pretty. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder have some transcendently talented offensive stars, but the season-long identity of both teams has been grounded in their defensive play. To their own selves the Lakers and Thunder were true on Sunday afternoon, as they kicked off their first-round playoff series with a clutchy, clangy Game One. The Lakers prevailed, 87 to 79, a final score that warms the hearts of anyone nostalgic for the Knicks-Heat playoff series of the late ‘90s. Jeff Van Gundy no doubt felt right at home.
From Hardwood Paroxysm: This was one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever watched and I’m not even a fan of either team. So I can only imagine what it was like for Lakers and Thunder fans. For a while, it looked like the Lakers were going to do what we all expected them to do. They were punishing the Thunder inside. They were trying to teach them a lesson. The lesson was “we’re happy for you that such a young team was able to make huge improvements, win 50 games, get Matt Moore cake and be one of the most surprising defensive teams in the league but we’d like to show you that none of that means anything unless you’ve got size and power and we’re going to show you that we have size and power.”
From The Daily Thunder: After one quarter, Oklahoma City trailed the defending champions 27-13. The Thunder were 5-19 from the floor, scored a season-low 13 points and just looked completely lost. They were rattled. They were visibly shaken and nervous. The game had a look and feel of a pending blowout. And I don’t blame them. They played like a bunch of 21-year-olds playing in their first playoff game ever. In Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers, no less. Heck, I was shaky and all I was doing was watching on a TV 1,300 miles away. I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt if I had to walk onto a court and try and get all that anxiety out while playing excellent basketball. So after 12 minutes, Oklahoma City looked overmatched. They looked a little scared. And I feared the worst for this Game 1.
From Welcome To Loud City: I can’t say I’m surprised. Nobody can say they were surprised. Not even the most die-hard Thunder fan really expected us to win and would be devastated by this loss. And obviously, the local media is going to do all it can to iterate that this was a good loss, a learning experience, a blah this and a blah that. In truth, though, it was just a loss. It was bad. We could have won, and we should have won. But, admittedly, the reason we did lose was because we were young.
From Land O’ Lakers: Was there a switch to flip? A magic button? An enchanted lever? No, but the Lakers turned in a quality effort to take Game 1 against the Thunder… There will be fans, I’m sure, lamenting a lack of style points. But Kobe Bryant, even while acknowledging the need to continue improving, made the bottom line pretty clear. “At this stage,” he said, “you’ve just got to win games. It doesn’t matter how you win them.” Who are we to argue with Kobe Bryant?
From the Los Angeles Times: Round 1 to the Wacko. “I couldn’t tell you what kind of job I did,” said Ron Artest, looking completely confused after complete domination. Round 1 to the Ron-O-Lantern. “I’m not going to fool myself into thinking I did anything special,” said the carrot-topped Artest after handing the Lakers their opening playoff victory on a silver platter of elbows and effort. Round 1 to the Anti-Ariza.
From the Los Angeles Times: Turns out it had nothing to do with the Lakers hitting the switch as much as getting Andrew Bynum back on the floor. We’ll get to Bynum’s talking about what he’s learned from reading the “Life of Pi,” his efforts to teach himself Spanish and Sunday’s cheap shot, but first — have you noticed how different the Lakers look with the big kid in the middle?
From the OC Register: This was the sort of controlled dominance expected but so rarely displayed by the Lakers this season. In their playoff opener as defending NBA champions, the Lakers never trailed and never had the mental letdown so frequent in their 25-loss regular season. They defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, 87-79, on Sunday at Staples Center, getting a big bounce-back effort from center Andrew Bynum in his first game in a month.
From the OC Register: The most black-and-white player in the NBA suggested he’d bring more color before the Lakers are done with these playoffs. Multiple colors, in fact. That’s what Ron Artest hinted at Sunday after covering the league’s top scorer with everything but that dye he used to turn his hair a lovely shade of Corn Flake. And why, exactly, does Artest occasionally decide to go with the flowery ’fro? “I like,” he explained, “when people talk bad about me.”
From NewsOK: Kevin Durant said it felt the same. Said this playoff stage seemed like just another game. But who believes him? Who believes that a 21-year-old who over five months has gone from star to supernova didn’t feel the weight of the NBA world on his spindly shoulders as he walked into the Staples Center on Sunday? For the Thunder to scare the world’s most famous basketball team, to avoid turning into a caviar appetizer for the Lakers’ celebrity crowd, to take this series back to Oklahoma City with a sliver of hope for an historic upset, Durant has to play well.
From NewsOK: Scott Brooks couldn’t be happier with his team’s effort against the daunting defending champions on Sunday afternoon inside Staples Center. If only the Oklahoma City Thunder’s coach could have gotten his players to execute. Brooks saw Game 1 of the Thunder’s first-round series against Los Angeles go to the Lakers after the Thunder struggled mightily to muster anything of substance on the offensive end.
ESPN AND NBA
From ESPN Los Angeles: Kevin Durant was showered, dressed and ready to get out of Staples Center and put his first career playoff game behind him as quickly as possible. He didn’t play poorly, but he didn’t exactly take over the game — or the series — like he has so often and so prolifically this season. Twenty-four shots to get 24 points. Four turnovers, 1-for-8 from behind the 3-point line and the sight of Ron Artest’s bleach-blonde hair still lingering in his head.
From ESPN.com: If Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol hugged like they did Sunday at any point in the last month, Bynum would have a pile of ruined dress shirts lying on the floor at the back of his closet, as his strained left Achilles tendon kept him out of uniform and in street clothes since March 19. The two 7-footers, who play so much bigger than their combined 14 feet when they’re on the court together, held their sweaty embrace, celebrating the Lakers’ 87-79 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder that served as a welcome-back party for Bynum. It just so happens that the team’s oft-missing championship swagger decided to crash the party as well.
From NBA.com: On a play away from the ball in the first quarter, Andrew Bynum may have very well set the tone not only for himself, but for the rest of the series. After getting tripped up on a previous defensive play by Oklahoma City’s Jeff Green, Bynum bounced up and barreled into Green’s chest. No whistle. No harm. But it was a play Bynum felt he needed to make.”I wasn’t going to just let that happen without retaliating,” said Bynum following the Lakers wire-to-wire, 87-79 victory against the Thunder in Game 1 of the first-round Western Conference playoffs.”That’s just part of being aggressive and letting people know and having a presence out there.”