Lakers/Thunder: OKC Shows Another Gear

Darius Soriano —  February 23, 2012

Tonight, we saw one contender, and one team that is scratching and clawing to try and be one but simply isn’t there right now. The result was a 100-85 loss by the Lakers in a game that saw them hold their own for as long as they could before finally succumbing to the speed, athleticism, and overall talent of the best team in the Western conference.

In many ways, there’s no shame in what occurred in this contest. The Thunder, even though they’re banged up, are clearly the better team. Their defense is one that utilizes rugged, long, and shot-blocking big men flanked by fleet, long, and rangy perimeter players. This combination led to tough sledding any time a Laker found himself with a shot in the paint, as shot blockers stood tall and jumped high to contest shots from every angle. It also meant every time the Lakers swung the ball around the perimeter, the quickness and length of the Thunder wings enabled them to rotate, run people off their preferred shots, or contest the ones that were taken. The end result was a 38.5% shooting night from the Lakers, including a 7-24 night from Kobe and a 5-15 night from Bynum.

The Thunder, meanwhile, did what they do on offense to every opponent they face. They put the ball in the hands of their three playmakers and told them to either go get their own shot or create a look for a teammate. Russell Westbrook only hit 6 of his 17 attempts from the field, but his aggression kept the Lakers’ defense on its heels all night. He attacked off the bounce like he was shot out of a cannon and either got all the way to the rim to earn FT attempts or stopped on a dime to shoot his ever improving pull-up jumper. When he wasn’t working in isolation, he used the P&R to collapse the Laker defense and free up Serge Ibaka for several makeable mid-range jumpers.

And when Russ wasn’t attacking, Kevin Durant was, flashing his efficiency and remarkable skill in the process. Though Ron was able to body Durant early in the game and disrupt his rhythm by crowding his dribble and forcing a few turnovers, it wasn’t nearly enough to knock him completely off track. Durant, not fazed by any defense these days, simply kept taking what the defense gave him and showing why he’s one of, if not the most gifted scorers in the league. When he couldn’t get into the paint, he’d rain a step back jumper. When he did get a step on his man but found a big contesting, he’d scoop up a shot under the arm of the shot blocker or flip up a floater before the big could fully step up. There are certainly many capable scorers in the game today (Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo, to name a few) but there isn’t a more natural bucket getter than the young Thunder forward. He’d finish the night with a game high 33 points on 12-22 shooting and most of it looked effortless.

And then, of course, there was OKC’s super sub James Harden. The beard would pour in 16 points on only 10 shots, using his natural understanding of pace and angles to find cracks in the Laker D and worm his way to the basket. As mentioned in the game preview (and by David Thorpe countless times), Harden reminds us of Manu Ginobili the way he can hurt an opponent off the bounce and with his jumper, and tonight the Lakers saw the evidence first hand.

As much as OKC deserves their praise – and this win – the Lakers shouldn’t be buried here. For the better part of two and half quarters, the Lakers held tight in this game despite the troubles of Kobe and Bynum. This team battled defensively, worked the glass, and hit timely shots to hang tough. The Thunder are such an explosive team, but the Lakers did well to close down the paint and contest every jumper, making it quite difficult for OKC to find that comfort zone that they so often tap early into early when playing at home.  On an individual level, Pau Gasol continued his strong play of late by scoring 22 points on only 14 shots while chipping in 9 rebounds and 3 assists. He took, and knocked down, the open jumpers that were there for him and also did some good work in the post (though he was clearly more effective shooting his elbow jumper). Ron also had a decent night offensively, hitting three 3-pointers for his 9 points on the night while also playing strong D (even though, as mentioned earlier, Durant was still able to hit some amazing shots).

Outside of those two, however, the only other Laker to hit even half his shots was Steve Blake (3-5 for 8 points) and that simply will not get it done. Not against a Thunder team that’s only lost one game at home; not against the team that’s the class of the conference. This contest showed that the Lakers don’t have the horses to keep pace with this team right now and while that’s not necessarily a surprise, it does crystallize their position at this time. The Lakers ultimately tired as a team and couldn’t keep pace with a young and athletic Thunder team that looked like they could have played 20 more minutes if they had to (and this, just as it was for the Lakers, was on the 2nd night of a back to back).

What this game also showed me, though, is that the Lakers need a rest. The first half of this season has been a grueling test of physical resolve for all teams, but that’s especially been the case for the Lakers. Their Big Three log heavy minutes and Kobe, especially, has looked gassed these last two contests — shooting flat jumpers and showing little explosiveness when working off the dribble. In addition, this has been a mentally taxing campaign. From learning new schemes on the fly, to the trade rumors, to the statements to and from the front office, the Lakers have spent as much mental currency as physical up to this point of the season. And while they’ve done a very good job of compartmentalizing and in some cases even using the drama to fuel them forward, a break is welcome.

So now, while this loss may fester for a day or two, it’s time to recharge. Yes, Kobe and Andrew are going to Orlando for the all-star festivities, but they all get to step away for a few days. And while there still may be change on the horizon, that stuff can wait until next week and into the middle of next month.

Darius Soriano

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27 responses to Lakers/Thunder: OKC Shows Another Gear

  1. No real surprises here. The league is changing and the power is shifting to the athletic young talent. This team must be blown up for the future. Apologies to all the Kobe lovers.

  2. Watch the game on NBATV and see what happened in the 2nd qtr.

  3. Kevin-
    We get the point that you are trying to make. You blame the Lakers issues on Kobe. That’s plain to see. At least every other post you make on this board is some kind of subtle/not-so-subtle dig about Kobe. You are the new Aaron of the board.. Congratulations!

    I’m not trying to be rude, but you didn’t watch the second quarter very well. Kobe took 5 shots in that quarter and never shot more than 2 possesions in a row. I also fail to understand what you mean by “the Lakers had the game in hand,” when Kobe entered the game in the second quarter we were up by 1 point. Then every Laker proceeded to miss shots.

    I don’t know why I even bother because you are obviously a troll, but I like fighting the good fight though.

  4. Good recap, Darius. OKC is 27-7 for many reasons.

  5. KenOak: Kobe’s long contested bail out jumpers led to layups that then turned momentum to OKC. When Kobe goes Iso 6-7 times in a row it freezes his teammates and lets the defense set.

    Answer me this What justifies Kobe shooting 24 times a game? Espicially when he has 2 7 footers?

  6. Yup it freezes out his teammates. That’s what Jordan did. That’s what Barkley did. That’s what Kareem did when they passed to him every single time. Yup. Freezes out his teammates. Kobe is guilty of this, but not in the second quarter like you’ve been claiming.

    I won’t answer any other questions from you until you go back and rewatch the second quarter so you can see that Kobe only had 5 shots and not more than 2 shots in consecutive trips down.

    ps…rr already answered that question anyway, but I guess you didn’t read his post.

  7. KenOak,
    Just because someone point something that is obvious out shouldn’t be boring or upsetting. But I just hope Kevin realizes Kobe isn’t perfect and will never be perfect. On nights when he is wore down he will just keep attacking. He isn’t a Gasol who will realize its not working and back off. That’s why he was great. On nights like this I just keep hearing Phil Jackson’s voice uttering last year “I don’t want to coach Kobe when He stops being Kobe.” I have to say… Has it come to this? It seems the Lakers go as far as Bynum takes them offensively. When he is shooting poorly and not creating a lot of shots for his teammates the Lakers seem to lose everytime.

  8. anti Dwyer Abbott February 24, 2012 at 12:36 am

    wow,ESPN and this ”Lakers” blog always have been a Kobe hating ground -excuse my direct bluntness-but this has become a witch hunt and ”shoot the old wolf he must be dead” mentality.
    Haters have attained gazillion names here,very ungrateful towards a 7 time finalist and one of the most entertaining athletes of NBA.
    Sad and pathetic.

  9. Kobe hating ground

    There are a lot of Kobe fans here.

    I don’t mind criticism of him; I like many lit him up after the 6/28 in Denver, and I have said, many, many times, as have others, that it is clear, both from observation and from the Synergy data, that he needs to work more off the ball and closer to the basket. He needs to be threat from deep to keep defenders honest, but that should be a small part of his game. He needs to adjust and could do that more easily if the Lakers had a real PG.

    But the pattern I have seen over the years from people who think everything that happens to the team is about what Kobe does and his personality and how many shots he takes is simply false.

    For example, the Lakers are currently 30th in the NBA in turnovers forced, 27th in 3p%, and 21st in opponent offensive rebounding. All three of these things contribute to easy baskets for opponents and the Lakers get very few easy baskets. These are team and roster issues and all indicate things we all know: the Lakers need more shooting and more quickness and speed surrounding Pau, Andrew and Kobe.

  10. On Kobe

    He is who he is. A shooter. Not a passer. A shooter. At this point in his long career if you think he is going to turn to Steve Nash you are not thinking. He feels he is the best in the world and will continue to shoot.

    The fact Lakers are now a middle of the road team(11th best record) is not Kobe’s fault. It’s Jim Buss for not surrounding our superstar we NBA type talent. Fisher, Metts, Blake, Kapono, Walton, McRoberts, Murphy, Eubanks. REALLY!

    Look at this pile! A bad d-league team. A 4 th place college team Contracts no one else with half a brain in the NBA would take. Bad players!

    It dosen’t help to hire a coach who is scared to control his superstar. But WE knew that from his past. Jimmy apparently never read or watched Cavs news.

    It’s not Kobe’s problem no more then it was Brett Farve’s his last year or Jordan’s in Washington or Kemp in LA. No one can win by themselves, especially when their ego is bigger then the weak coach standing there watching or the non-basketball front office that pulls the strings.

    When you surround quality with garbach, no matter how good they are or were, the smell ends up winning. Lakers will be a 5th to 10 place team for the next three years of his contract. It is what it is. Even Kobe can’t shoot his way out if that reality.

  11. I’m not a Kobe hater I’m a realist. The fact is Kobe shooting 24 times a game hurts this teamwhile avg. only 5 ast. He looks off teammates every game, refuses to pass to wide open teammates, breaks off plays. The way they played vs Dallas, Portland was the right way and they won. When Kobe shoots minimal 1 game the next he’s jacking up shots no matter what to the detremine of the team.

    What’s the problem with Bynum getting 20 shots in a game? Why have 2 7 footers if they don’t use them?

    Kobe avg. 24 shots a game. Pau and Drew avg. 30 together.

    Kobe shooting 39% avg. 3 ast in 12 games in Feb but you want him to keep shooting. Have we forgotten Bynum, Pau, Metta won Kobe his 5th title.

    Spurs won in 99 with Avery Johnson at PG because they used their strengths 2 bigs. It’s proven this formula works.

  12. 1/2decaf1/2regular at #11.
    You’re absolutely right. Well said.

    Kevin-
    This sentence right here tells me everything that I need to know about you.
    “Have we forgotten Bynum, Pau, Metta won Kobe his 5th title.”

    I’m done responding to you after this post. The two 7 footers that the Spurs had were David Robinson and Tim Duncan! Both are hall of famers. Both had killer instincts. Both could get their shots whenever they wanted them. Our two 7 footers are not hall of famers. They can not get their shots whenever they want them. Both get pushed around or off their spots. Pau is good/sometimes great, but he is not an alpha dog and he comes up small. Bynum sometimes is an alpha dog, but he doesn’t dominate all single coverages. Kobe used to, but he is slowing down because of injuries, fatigue, and most definitely age.

    Don’t compare Bynum or Pau to Tim Duncan or David Robinson. Not now. Maybe not ever.

  13. The Lakers have various issues. Those issues combine together to create an entire dynamic that is often missed by us fans (myself included). Most of us are have our on particular perspectives we see things from. Some harp on the bigs not doing enough to establish position. These people ignore the fact the Lakers have bad shooters (often with bad spacing) who, in turn, allow defenses to pack the paint. Bynum usually has one guy behind him and another in his lap. Ditto for Gasol when he is in the post.

    Others harp on the bigs not getting enough touches in the post. But when the paint is crowded it becomes reckless to try and force feed the post. The two best ways of breaking up the muck in the paint is driving to the rim and forcing the defense to move or shooting (and hitting) a few jumpers. The problem is the Lakers have no real threats to drive to the rim. They almost have to try to shoot to pull the defense out of the paint. Of course they aren’t making those shots. See where this is going?

    Having Kobe shoot only 15 shots per game is not about to turn the Lakers into a team the can beat OKC in a seven game series. And imagine trying to force feed the post to get Bynum or Gasol 20+ against a team like Miami. The Heat would probably break a record for transition points due to all the steals they would get. The fact is the team, right now, is not good enough to beat the best teams. This group can change offensive systems, they can change their offensive focal points, and they can change their defensive schemes. But at the end of the day they lack talent. Us calling Kobe a ballhog, or Bynum lazy, or Gasol soft is not changing that.

  14. Let us remember that Hakeem had shooters spaced around him. Duncan had (and still has) shooters spaced around him. It is kind of easy to go to work in the post when the defense has to worry about shooters consistently making them pay.

    And Shaq had a young Kobe. No explanation needed there.

  15. T.Rogers 15/16

    Very well said. This isn’t just a Kobe issue or a Bynum/Gasol issue. It is a team issue. We lack shooters that make a defense pay for sagging back into the laps of our bigs. We lack anyone who can drive into the lane. (Kobe doesn’t have the burst that he used to.) This is just a recipe for disaster and is why we should trade either Bynum or Gasol, unless we can somehow get a penetrating guard and another shooter. Otherwise we are just good enough to get to the playoffs.

    Then we will lose.

  16. You guys are in denial. When Kobe moves the ball everyone else does. Kobe’s EFFICIENCY is the problem. I have no problem with Kobe shooting it ‘s when he shoots 5-6 times in a row in Iso situations. It’s been proven this year players are able to lock kobe up than in years past.

    Who can guard Pau 1 on 1?
    Who can guard Bynum 1 on 1?

    Pau and Bynum didn’t come up small game 7 2010 finals. Nobody in the league can guard both Pau and Drew that is our strength. All Kobe has to do is throw the ball in the post. Instead he looks them off gets a screen set for him so he can Iso weakside.

    Kobe wants to win but be the reason they win there lies the problem.

  17. KenOak/Kevin,
    You guys are both right!!!!! Don’t you guys see that??? It’s almost hysterical.

  18. vs Portland played inside out 8-19 threes, at Dallas played inside out 8-20 threes, vs Atlanta played inside out 8-17 threes, vs Clippers played inside out 8-16 threes.

    When you play inside out the defense shrinks towards the paint therefore opening up space on the perimeter.

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/SAS/1999.html

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/BOS/1986.html

    NOT comparing. These teams are similar 1 dominant perimeter player 2 unstoppable bigs. What’s the difference you ask these teams utilized their size and had great BALL MOVEMENT w/o a dominant PG. Point is this formula has worked.

  19. Aaron: you’re right.. my rant is over lol

  20. Actually, T Rogers is right. Kevin is just obsessed. Guys like Kevin forget that basketball is a team game, and Kobe is just one guy.

  21. I think T. Rogers said it right, the Lakers as a team have lots of issues. Last night was a glaring example that they’re not competitive against a young vibrant team. I saw that kind of failure too when they were against the Heat when athleticism, speed and defensive transition are in play. What are the remedies? A lot and I don’t think we are qualified to coach this team last night and say that we could have won the ball game. We were leading in the 1st Q because the energy of the Lakers were still high and sealed all possible openings. However, in the 2nd half it was like a picture of a tired fighter who could no longer keep his arms up in depending his vital parts, it was all a matter of time when game would be over and done. In the words of the late Chick, it’s all over except the expletives shouting of the true Laker fans. Give us a true PG, a support cast who will bury the 3′s, that will equal the Thunder’s advantage. Compare this to the time when Lakers were winning b2b or dynasty, they dominate their opponents and do not miss shots nor steps in a rugged see saw battle.

    However, this is not a lost season. There could be some solutions if they recognize the perceived weaknesses, not bury the head on the sand or saved pennies for the TPE$’s. We don’t have to address Gasol softness, Bynum’s timidity and Kobe ball hog plays, all of them combined were not just competitive on whatever they were doing.

  22. rr-

    Exactly. He is obsessed with proving that Kobe is the root of all of our problems. While I agree that he is part of our problems, I will not/can not agree that he is the root of them. It’s no secret that when our shooters are hitting open shots that this team is tough to beat. It is also no secret that when a smaller team cannot single cover Bynum/Pau that our shooters will get tons of open shots. Neither of those things was the case against OKC. Perkins and Ibaka can play Gasol or Bynum straight up and not get dominated.

  23. I almost think that Kevin is Aaron in disguise…he sets up his straw men in the same way and then changes the argument when you call him out on it. First it was the second quarter that Kobe completely sabotaged the Lakers who were “handling” OKC at the time. Then it was oh, but in the last four games such and such happened. Then you prove him wrong and it is oh, but Bynum, Gasol, MWP, won Kobe a championship in game 7 of teh finals1!1! Why can’t Kobe play the “right” way!?

    Should we respond to him? No, but it’s hard to let crap like that go by without saying something and if we let it keep going without refuting it, then it will corrupt other nice FB&G’ers!

  24. Did my last post at 26 get removed Darius? I cannot understand how this moderation thing works when some people out and out call people idiots and know nothings and do not get moderated, but then when we call them out on it- we do? Is this like the whole whoever retaliates gets caught?

  25. #27. This isn’t directed to you, per se, but I’ll respond to you here because your comment is indicative of what’s been bothering me lately (not you personally, but a trend I’m seeing)…

    I’m tired of all this bullshit. Commenters come on this board and bitch after every bad play and every loss. They use flimsy opinions and state them as facts and then argue with everyone when someone disagrees. Then the argument dominates the comments and all anyone is doing is essentially calling the other person dumb but not using the word dumb. It’s effing ridiculous that this comment board – one of the most respected ones around for many years – has become a place where people simply come and word vomit at each other multiple times a day over nonsense.

    Arguing over who’s more athletic and who’s the best at some dumb skill and on and on. Calling players worthless or a corpse or wishing injury on a guy. Bitching about the front office about the coach about player X and player Y…bitching about everything. Even wins get discounted with comments like “Dallas is old” “Portland didn’t even try” it’s utter nonsense and I’m sick of it.

    If this board is simply going to become a place for people to attack each other, everyone can go somewhere else and do it. Seriously, I’m sick of this crap.

  26. It’s funny when Lakers win nobody brings up the missing pieces except for Ken.

    When Lakers were a doing good with the Orlando 1in 4out offense everybody said we had the pieces to compete. Same vs Portland and Dallas recently.

    Look at the reason why we lose. NO BALL MOVEMENT. You don’t need a PG to pass the ball. Spurs won in 99 with Avery Johnson.

    Look at LeBron’s roster in Cleveland roster they had mo williams but why did they win BALL MOVEMENT.

    It’s like the guy at your job who takes too much coffee all the time leaving the rest too little or having to make more. Wouldn’t you get frustrated at him.

    Or your family member who ALWAYS over stuffs his plate and DOESN’T CARE about everyone else. Kobe is that guy who only cares about him and pisses off his co-workers.

  27. KenOak,

    Good points. In analyzing any particular game, it is always important to look at the OTHER team, as well as at the Lakers. Seems obvious, but people forget to do it.