With about 6:38 left in the game, Kevin Durant found himself wide open and knocked down a three-pointer that gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a one-point lead. In recent games, recent months and even recent seasons, a back breaking dagger after a missed defensive assignment would have meant the end of Lakers chances moving forward. Especially in games against the Thunder. Down the stretch, Oklahoma City has simply been better than the Lakers. Russ had previously been able to knock down his 15-footer, Durant was able to get anything he wanted and the defense was able to create the turnovers down the stretch that led to easy baskets which put the Lakers in compromising situations.
Instead, the Lakers kept at the calculated approach they had in the previous three and a half quarters. There would be no desperation threes, there would be no forced Kobe jump shots, there would be no more easy layups for the Thunder. The Lakers continued to run one of three sets down the stretch: 1) A Kobe iso from the right wing which allowed him to read what the defense was giving him and make decisions based upon what his options were. This directly led to three of Kobe’s last four assists — and he had 14 on the game for the second straight night. 2) They ran horns on considerable amount of their possessions. Pau’s assist numbers weren’t astronomical, but he did pass the ball well out of horns and was able to knock the 15-footer from the elbow when Thunder left him open. 3) They didn’t run it as often, but the Nas did run the 1-4 and 1-5 pick and roll a few times that either led to a Nash layup or a Gasol/Howard field goal attempt around the rim.
After the Durant three, the next two Lakers offensive possessions were a ridiculous Artest 15-footer that he drilled and Kobe driving baseline and hitting a cutting Earl Clark for a dunk out of a Kobe wing iso. From that point, the Lakers never gave back the lead. As the rest of the game unfolded, everyone on the floor contributed. Howard would go to the bench with his fifth foul with about 6 minutes left to play and Earl Clark came in and did a great job defensively on Kevin Durant. He forced him into some tough jumpers and worked hard to try to keep the ball out of his hands. Steve Nash took a Kobe pass and used a nice hesitation dribble to get all the way to the rim. A couple of plays later, Nash hit a cool running floater from 18-feet out.
Pau also did a great job defensively with Howard off the floor. There was one possession in particular where Westbrook had gotten a gain of steam heading toward the basket, Gasol slid over, got his hands up and changed the shot. On the other side of the floor, he had another solid game off the bench. He recorded 16 points, four rebounds and four assists — which should have been a bit higher accounting for a couple of missed shots and shots that led to free throws.
They benefited from a few missed calls from the refs (both Durant and Westbrook got clobbered on the head on field goal attempts), they shot an abysmal 55 percent from the free throw line and lucked out with Durant and Westbrook missing a lot of shots that they normally knocked down, but even with all of that, it was still a huge win and a well played game from the Lakers. The Lakers now have one more home game before they hit the road for their Grammy trip. New Orleans is up next with their first three road games coming against Phoenix, Minnesota and Detroit. This is definitely a win they can build on, and in a perfect world, they will.