Lakers/Thunder: Down The Stretch, OKC Seized The Win

Darius Soriano —  April 10, 2011

For the first time since the 2006-07 season, the Lakers are losers of 5 straight. The Thunder came to Staples and pulled out the win by the count of 120-106, pulling away down the stretch while the Lakers faltered. A pretty frustrating way to end the night considering the tenor of the game at the start of the final frame. To pour salt in the wounds, this loss puts the Lakers’ seeding into further flux as they’re now tied with the Mavs in the loss column and only sit one game ahead of the surging Thunder.

Below are a few positives and negatives from this game. Since the Lakers were on the wrong side of the result, we’ll get the negatives out of the way first…

Negatives:

*The Lakers didn’t do a very good job guarding the Thunder in this game. OKC shot 55.6% from the field, including a blistering 8-17 from the three point arc. And while I don’t expect the Thunder to shoot that well from the field consistently (Durant and Westbrook hit some tremendous shots – shots they’re capable of hitting – but some of them were well challenged), it’s not a stretch for NBA players to hit the shots that are wide open. And the Thunder had too many of those for the Lakers’ liking. On several possessions the Lakers left Daequan Cook wide open and he made them pay with 2 made three pointers. Serge Ibaka (a better mid-range shooter than given credit for) was also left open too often and he too made the Lakers pay with made jumpers. The Lakers also surrendered too many driving lanes to every OKC ball handler, but Durant was especially active off the bounce as Ron too often allowed him to escape dribble to his right hand and then get into the paint for runners and all the way to the rim for finishes at the hoop.

*Continuing on the defense theme, the Lakers also ushered the Thunder to the foul line for 35 FT attempts – 33 of which were knocked down. Too many times the Lakers reached in on the wing or got beat and just delivered a dumb foul that sent the Thunder to the line. James Harden was particularly appreciative of the Lakers want to grab and reach in as he took 10 FT’s himself, sinking 9 of them. The Lakers’ inability to play defense without fouling or at least their inability to play specific possessions without fouling really was one of the major keys to this game that won’t be remembered a week from now. I mean we’ll all remember some of the spectacular shots that Durant & Westbrook made, but those 33 points that OKC got at the line were killers.

*What also killed the Lakers was their penchant  for turning the ball over in the 4th quarter. The Lakers coughed up the ball 9 times and most of them were of the careless variety. Players dribbling off their own feet or simply losing their handle when trying to drive. Players diving for the ball (good stuff there) but then throwing the ball away rather than calling a timeout or just settling for the jump ball. Being lax against the trap and throwing a cross court pass that gets picked off. Kobe was one of the main offenders here but he didn’t commit all these turnovers on his own. The entire team was just too casual with the ball and it allowed OKC to build a lead and hold onto as the Lakers couldn’t possess the ball long enough to even get up shots.

*The bench players not named Steve Blake left a lot to be desired tonight. Offensively this group couldn’t find a rhythm and struggled to score for most of their time on the floor. Their first half stint coincided with a big OKC push that the starters then had to try and dig their way out of when they came back into the game. Shannon Brown, sadly, deserves special recognition for his poor play in the first half as he found himself unable to contain James Harden on D (ultimately getting pulled for Luke Walton with Matt Barnes then sliding over to guard Harden), and did little of note on offense to make up for it. But Shannon wasn’t alone. Lamar also had a rare off night doing little in the way of scoring or rebounding and Matt Barnes didn’t record a basket even though he had a few good looks at the rim. In the end, just a poor night from most of the reserves in a game where an effective game from them would have gone a long way.

Positives:

*Pau Gasol was fantastic tonight. He played aggressive, smart basketball and took it to the Thunder on nearly every play. Better yet, he seemed to have a plan on every possession. Rather than hold the ball and wait for something to develop, he acted quickly and decisively to exploit the Thunder D. Considering the Thunder’s size upgrade (and the insertion of Serge Ibaka into their starting line up) has been noted as a reason for optimism in  match up with the Lakers, tonight that wasn’t relevant to their win at all. Gasol had his way with Ibaka for most of the night and had him hesitating on D late in the game after showing him different aspects of his arsenal for most of the contest. In the future Pau may not have as easy a time as he did tonight, but this game is certainly something that Gasol can build on if these teams face off again in the playoffs.

*Kobe was also pretty efficient on the night and had a good game against Thabo Sefolosha. Early on Kobe struggled in getting his jumper off cleanly, but over the course of the game he found his rhythm and quickly found gaps in the defense to attack the paint to get to the rim. This aggression got Kobe 10 FT attempts on the night and overall his ability to operate 15 feet and down was a great sight to see considering how often he’s been relying on his jumper of late.

*Overall, on offense, the Lakers had a bit of a bounce back game. They shot well from three point range (7-15) and had a lot of good sequences in this contest. Once they started to go inside with consistency they found their groove and I don’t think that was a coincidence. They had 23 assists on their 38 made baskets and also had a very good night at the FT line by going 23-28 from the stripe. If they would have stuck with their inside game for longer (and gone to it earlier) I think they would have had a better chance in this game, but considering how poorly they played on offense in the previous 4 losses this game was a definite step in the right direction.

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In the end, I don’t like the fact that the Lakers lost and I have a few concerns about this team moving forward (most notably the bench play). But I also see some positives in this game that shouldn’t be completely dismissed just because the team lost. As mentioned, the offense was better tonight and even though the defense was sub-standard, OKC hit a lot of shots that I just tip my cap to them for knocking down (none more so than Thabo’s 3 pointer that gave them the lead down the stretch). There are surely things to clean up, but I’m more encouraged after this game than I was after the Warriors and Blazers losses for sure. This game looked nothing like those games in that the Lakers actually played well but ran into a team that played better. In the previous losses the Lakers played very poorly and with little energy and were ran out of the gym. Even though the Blazer game was a single digit loss and this game was a 14 point defeat, it’s clear which game was actually closer and which game the Lakers actually played better in. And while I understand the seeding implications that this loss now puts into play, the Lakers still control their fate in securing the #2 seed. At this point, that’s all I can ask for and I won’t worry about slipping into a lower slot until it actually happens and we see what all the seedings look like for all the teams. So as crazy as I’m sure this sounds, I feel better about this team than I did yesterday. We’ll see if that feeling is warranted on Tuesday when the Lakers play the Spurs.

Darius Soriano

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20 responses to Lakers/Thunder: Down The Stretch, OKC Seized The Win

  1. It bothers me that a 7-game loosing streak to end the season could happen with games at SAS and (possibly) the last ever game in SAC which the King will no doubt get up for.

    Dallas play a tough Houston squad then NOH.
    OKC play SAC and the Bucks.
    So, could LA slip as low as fourth seed?

  2. I still think Phil is too rigid in his substitutions. Against teams that are susceptible to dominant center play, or those who practice same, we need Andrew in the game at the end. Pau is simply not able to stand up to or deliver a pounding down low and he is not a natural shot blocker or shot changer. That is not a criticism of Pau, just an understanding of how he plays the game.

    When we need a dominating big, Andrew needs to be in the game – dam* the rotation sequences.

    This wasn’t exclusively why we lost this game and I don’t claim we would have won if Phil had jiggered things so that Andrew would play the last 4 minutes of the game, but I think our chances would have been a lot better. I will leave who plays with Andrew and Kobe and who sits to Phil, but he does need Andrew there in the crunch – now for practice and in the playoffs for real. There are opponents when Andrew doesn’t need to be in the game at the end, but OKC isn’t one of them.

  3. Dreams of 3peat over..

    Bye Phil and Kobe.Time for you to vanish into the night.

  4. This is serious. The Lakers have lost many games in the last two minutes during this losing streak and they always coincide with Phil taking Amdrew Bynum out of the game. Once again it was a two point game with two minutes to go and Phil pulls the only Center the Lakers have out of the game. Forget that Drew is the second best Center in the game. Within twenty seconds of the substituition the Lakers were down eight points. This is getting serious. Phil would be blind not to see this. I wonder why he is doing this. Maybe he wants the team to lose these games?

  5. Great post game write-up Darius, with lots of facts and statistics. Since the Lakers are still in control of the 2nd seed out West, I guess that worrying about it would not help or be needed. We just have to win (must win) the next two games this season, period. I am also curious why Bynum is not playing the close-out minutes.

    “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

  6. @2

    You have a point, but I feel pretty strongly that Phil will do what he does to the end of his run. The only way I could see changes is if the Lakers get put on their heels in a playoff series–down 2-0 or 3-1. Barring that, I think he will finish games with Odom no matter what and go with the same player usage patterns. He did pull Brown for Walton after Brown’s succession of defensive errors.

    Perkins and Mohammed, and starting Ibaka, make a huge difference for OKC.

  7. I’ve written over and over about NBA coaching, and Phil is the most glaring example of them all.

    NBA coaches seldom, or even rarely, adjust the usage for each player in a game to game basis. While in some games I understand using LO to finish the game, in others you just need to keep that physical presence inside. And the best part of it all is that Bynum can actually knock down FT’s better than LO. There’s a reason for him being in the starting lineup (defense, offensive rebounding, toughness, etc.). Last night what the Lakers needed was defense, not offense, so it really puzzles me that Phil is not adjusting properly.

    Maybe he’s looking for a new challenge? Winning it all while only having HCA for the 1st round? I don’t know…

    The worst part about this is not this loss. It happens, OKC is a good team and can knock down tough shots. But maybe now they can understand the need to win against the Cleveland’s, Utah’s and Milwaukee’s of this world…

  8. It’s crazy how things change so fast in the NBA. Just a couple weeks ago we were talking about how this team looked liked the 2001 team that went 16-1 in the playoffs. Now,I just hope they can win the next 2 games to secure the 2nd seed.

    The only thing I know for sure is that this team can be incredibly inconsistent. I also know that Phil has 11 championships and Kobe will not let this team go down without a fight. This is the healthiest the Lakers have been going into the playoffs since Pau has been in LA (knock on wood) so I am still hopeful that Kobe can match Jordan and Phil can complete his 4th 3-peat.

  9. Just to clarify, to fall to the 4th seed:

    Lakers 0-2
    Dallas 1-1/2-0
    OKC 2-0

    1 win for the Lakers means no lower than 3 seed, as both the Lakers and OKC are both division winners, so the first tiebreaker won’t break the tie, but Lakers are 2-1 versus OKC this year giving them the 2nd tiebreaker. One can only hope that they can at least beat the Kings.

    By the way, for how quickly things change, recall that collective sigh of relief or exclamation of joy when the Lakers beat Dallas and everyone thought that such was the win that would ensure that the Lakers would be the 2 seed.

    For one more, I also recall when some were saying how they didn’t mind the loss as the playoff match-ups were expected to be just so. Careful with that whole playoff seeding expectation thing, since the worst result here would be: Lakers 3 and Blazers 6, to match up in round 1, Dallas loses while OKC wins in round 1, with the Spurs winning 1st and conference semi-final rounds, which would give the Lakers a path to the finals of Blazers, OKC and Spurs. And don’t rule that out, since if Dallas goes 1-1 while OKC goes 2-0 over the last two, then OKC takes at least the 3 seed, since they are a division winner and win the first tiebreaker against Dallas, which could leave Dallas at 4 to lose to no. 5 Denver in round 1. We’ll see what Dallas does against Houston and New Orleans, since I expect OKC to win out against the Kings and Bucks.

  10. I think in the playoffs we may see an eight man rotation from the Lakers, with Brown and Walton getting little or no burn. I also think Bynum will be closing out some games.

    I still wonder if the Lakers have enough left in the tank for a title run. Kobe can’t carry this team anymore. They need at least four or five guys playing really well each game, not one or two (which they could get away with in the past). And that has been the source of their inconsistency – not enough guys stepping up on any given night.

    If the Lakers can slow down the pace, they can still win, but I am not sure they have the will and discipline right now. At this point, the West is wide open.

  11. With the one-seed locked up, San Antonio – as Kobe pointed out – will likely be resting guys.

    The Lakers are tired. They need the post-season break. One win and we’ve got the #3 locked up. I don’t think that’s a problem.

    I would LIKE to get the #2 though.

  12. 1) WAY too many turnovers
    2) Blake played well…but I am not extremely impressed with him
    3) Shannon and Lamar need to get it together NOW! Whatever they were doing earlier this season…they need to get back to it They have to be huge in the playoffs
    4) I think all playing time for the bench (outside of Lamar) will be decreased greatly

  13. what goes up must come down except for the 72-10 bulls and the 69-13 lakers circa ’72.

    this streak does suck and is so unexpected after the
    wonderful 17-1 run post all-star games…however, thats the way its been with this team. don’t forget that as bad as they have looked its more than likely that come playoff time we shall see a team that resembles the 17-1 team more than this 0-5 team.

    and don’t forget that come playoff time some of the teams that have been playing loosey goosey with nothing to lose will suddenly realize they are in the nba playoffs…

  14. I was actually pleased when Luke Walton went in for Shannon Brown, that’s how little I think of Brown’s game right now.

  15. It’ll be nice to get to the playoffs. This team needs rest.

    Also, once we hit the playoffs, we’ll have more time between games, and the Lakers play well with more time between games.

    The post-Allstar-Break run saw a nice schedule for the Lakers up to the close win in Utah a little over a week ago.

    That was the first game where we all started to see cracks in the Lakers, so I decided to break the post-allstarbreak run into Before and After that game.

    Before that game, the Lakers played a game every ~2.5 days (if you count the six days of rest going back to the Cleveland game). That game was the second of a back-to-back, and with that no-time-off included, the Lakers have since averaged a game every ~1.7 nights.

    Even if you throw out the 6 days of rest before the first post-Allstar game, the Lakers were playing once every 2.25 days prior to the Utah back to back.

    This team runs on rest. The playoffs will be very nice.

  16. Agree with Archon. I actually miss Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic. At least Farmar could drive to the hoop (Blake doesn’t) and Vujacic was annoying on defense (Brown isn’t). So much for the supposed upgrades. We just look old and slow against some of these squads.

  17. totally agree with #17

    I loved that Farmar actually drove through the lane – which is something I think we are really missing as Kobe gets older (but was great to see on sunday).

    Brown should be able to do this but his handle is too off – this should be what he works on this summer as he will most lilely be back in LA after having an unstellar year, no way he is opting out.

    It is a little bit too late but I would love to see more of Ebanks (injured I Know) and Character – what would harden do with a 6″9 ebanks (Ariza Clone) on him – nothing – plus he would stay in the offense since he knows he would not get any slack for doing his own thing

  18. Agree with #18.

    I do not understand why Shannon does not drive to the rim more, your shot has left you..so try something else. Oh and Im sure he isnt opting out.

    #19

    I would not goes as far to say that I would prefer Luke than Shannon…not at all. However, the Lakers do lack a back up center and a real point guard…they need to go after youth, athleticism, and speed this summer.

  19. The Lakers are still the same team that won 17 of 18. The difference is this team can not sustain prolonged effort. Their overall age, and the amount of basketball they have played over the last three years prevents them from doing so. We are simply witnessing a team that peaked too soon. I still think they can beat Dallas and San Antonio in a series. The Spurs didn’t get any bigger inside, and the Mavs are still lacking intestinal fortitude. But OKC should scare the heck out of every Laker fan. They had me concerned even before yesterday’s win. That team would be favored against LA in a series if they have HCA.

    Let’s hope the Lakers can get it together. It would be nice to get two more wins and hold on to the second seed.