In what can only be described as a first class butt kicking, the Lakers fell to the Thunder 110-89 in game 4. OKC out-hustled, out-muscled…really out-everything’d the Lakers in this game. So instead of attempting to pen some exquisite recap of the carnage, I think I’ll just relay some simple numbers from this game that (hopefully) tell most of the story.
24-2. This was the Thunder’s advantage in fast break points over the Lakers. The Thunder successfully pushed the ball at every opportunity and got easy buckets on the break. One one play in particular (and this basket may not even count in this stat), Kobe hit one of his pretty patented fade away jumpers from the right baseline over Thabo Sefolosha and then fell to the ground afterwards. When the ball was inbounded, Russell Westbrook raced the ball up court and proceeded to get a lay up at the other end. But it wasn’t just the Thunder’s athleticism that fueled their fast break chances, it was also the Lakers’ general lack of awareness and fundamentals in transitioning from offense to defense that aided OKC’s attack in the open court. On two possessions early in the game, Pau got caught with his back turned to a quickly advancing ball handler. On one possession, Durant got a dunk. On the other, Westbrook missed a lay up, but the Thunder got the offensive rebound (though they missed the putback). Since both of these plays happened in the first quarter, I was hoping that this would not be a trend throughout the game. It was.
42-48, 87.5%; 17-28, 60.7%. These were the free throw numbers for the Thunder and Lakers respectively. That’s right, the Thunder shot nearly fifty free throws and connected on an absurd percentage of them. Meanwhile, the Lakers shot their share of freebies, but were quite bad at converting. If you’re looking for a difference in this game, look here first. After the game, Phil Jackson said quite simply that before this game got away if the Lakers would “have made (our) free throws, like professionals are supposed to, (we) would have trailed by 5-7 points and been in this game”. Instead, the Lakers bricked away while the Thunder got to the line and made all of theirs. If there was one sequence that summed up the free throw shooting story it was on some of the opening possessions for each team to start the second half. On the Thunder’s first play, Sefolosha received a kick out pass and shot a three pointer in which Kobe fouled him on a late close out. Thabo proceeded to make all three from the line. A few possessions later, Derek Fisher went to the foul line after drawing a foul and missed both his attempts. After another couple of misses from the field by both sides, Kevin Durant got fouled and made one of his two FT attempts (he missed!) to push the Thunder lead to 14. At that point, the game was essentially over (though we wouldn’t quite know that yet). Many will make a lot out of the number of FT attempts that the Thunder got, and I share the frustration in watching a team have a parade to the foul line. That said, I do think that the Thunder’s ability to get out in transition and break down the Lakers off the dribble in the half court is playing a part in the number of FT’s that they’re taking. I also think that the Lakers aren’t doing as good a job of earning trips to the foul line. Are there missed calls that go against the Lakers? Are there plays where the whistle seems a little quick when LA is on defense? Sure. But those happen every game for and against the Lakers. I don’t think that had too much to do with what we saw tonight.
5-10. These were Kobe Bryant’s shooting statistics in this game. There will be plenty of fans and other folks in the media that look at Kobe’s number of field goal attempts and talk about/write the easy “payback” story. You know, where people attempt to read Kobe’s mind and then say that he purposely did not shoot the ball as some sort of backlash against the criticism that he’s been shooting too much. The ultimate proof will be that he didn’t take a single shot in the opening period. I can understand that, it’s the easy angle. However, what I saw was Kobe playing a controlled game where he was looking to get his teammates involved. When Kobe did look to be aggressive, he was doing so with the dribble by getting into the paint. However, when he got there he found himself surrounded by defenders with open passing lanes to his teammates. And rather than forcing jumpers (something that we all would like to see Kobe avoid), he made the right reads and passed the ball. This may not be what people want to talk about (it’s not nearly as sexy as the alternative), but it’s what I saw. If anything, Kobe’s FGA’s say more about his comfort level with his shooting at this point in the season than with any preconceived plan or hidden agenda. Kobe’s no dummy. He knows that even in his game 2 explosion that he didn’t shoot that well from the field and got one third of his points from the FT line. He also knows that the game plan is to exploit the team’s advantages inside and that establishing the post is this team’s number one priority. After the game, Kobe said that he was “controlling the game the way that he wanted to in the beginning”, but that the game “got away from them, with the run outs and transition baskets for them”. Again, this may not be the sexy story, but that makes much more sense to me than Kobe tanking a game by not shooting just to prove a point. We’re in the playoffs, you know.
18.2%. This is the Lakers field goal percentage on three point shots as they went 4-22 on the evening. Pure ugliness from behind the arc. Earlier I mentioned that Kobe was distributing the ball well in this game and really setting up his mates with good shots. Well, when he passed to open teammates behind the arc, those teammates didn’t make the Thunder pay with made baskets. Missing these shots is doubly painful because often times the long rebounds triggered the Thunder fast break chances (as we’ve seen all series). On one possession in particular, the Lakers had a fast (if you want to call it that) break of their own when Ron got a run out and the Lakers were on a three on two. Ron was dribbling up the sideline but didn’t have an angle to attack so he settled for a three point shot. Normally, this is an okay shot that I can live with because he was literally wide open and there was no advantage anywhere else on the court. He missed. It was just one of those nights for our “shooters” and especially for Ron (who was pretty bad again from the field going 2-9 including 0-4 from three).
50-43. This was the Thunder’s rebounding edge over the Lakers. Personally, I can live with getting out rebounded by a few boards in any given game. But, it was how the Lakers were out rebounded that was concerning. The Lakers gave up another 13 offensive rebounds while only grabbing 10 of their own. Commenter Snoopy2006 really said it best in the comments, so I’ll let him take it from here:
“How many times did Russell Westbrook beat our players to long offensive boards? Sometimes, the ball actually hit the floor before it was rebounded. I realize Westbrook is explosive, but he just had a hunger and nose for the ball that our players did not show. Westbrook was chasing down loose balls and long rebounds like his life depended on it.”
28.2 vs. 23. These are the average ages for the 9 rotation players for the Lakers and Thunder, respectively. If you take away Collision (29) and Krstic (26) the Thunder players’ average age drops even further. Tonight, those younger legs were the difference. You’ve seen the numbers for fast break points. You’re still shaking your head at the FT disparity. You just read what Snoopy said about Westbrook. Nearly every 50/50 ball went to OKC and it wasn’t just the bounce of the ball or luck. The Thunder got to those balls quicker and they forced the issue off the dribble with their younger and fresher legs. They beat the Lakers in transition and beat their rotations. They raced by them every chance they could and earned the advantages that come with those quickness and speed advantages.
I really don’t need to say it again, but the Lakers got their butts kicked and their hats handed to them in this game. And now, the series is tied 2-2 going back to LA with the series now sitting as a best of three between two evenly matched teams. We’ll have more on the series in the upcoming days but in the same way that the Lakers are on a long flight home, us fans have a long wait until Tuesday.