Coming into tonight’s match up against the Thunder, it’s hard to expect the Lakers to record only the fifth win for a road team in Oklahoma City this year. The Thunder have been nearly unbeatable at home — and in two of the three games this season — have been much better than the Lakers on the floor.
As Phillip noted in the game preview, winning this game was always going to be a tough task. The Thunder are a fantastic team and beating them at home is difficult for any team, not just a Laker squad who’s finding their stride but still not playing at an incredibly high level. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the final score (122-105) favored OKC.
The Lakers lost this game early, coming out too flat without the needed level of energy and focus on execution they’d need to keep pace with the Thunder. Even though OKC wasn’t as sharp as they could have been — they missed several open jumpers — they still had an edge on a Laker team insistent on committing turnovers and not hitting their own open shots. The first quarter closed with the Lakers trailing by 9 and that was just the beginning of the hole they’d find themselves in early.
In the 2nd quarter, the lead would swell to 16 as OKC found their stride with their 2nd unit by pushing the pace and keeping the Lakers off balance. Reggie Jackson and (gasp) Derek Fisher provided steady play from the back court and really played to their team’s strengths while the Lakers floundered defensively and grasped at straws offensively by playing too much isolation ball and walking that fine line of relying too much on their outside shooting.
The back drop to all this was the fact that in the 1st quarter Kobe hurt his elbow and was clearly affected by what’s being called a bruised ulnar nerve. Kobe battled through this ailment and still had a good scoring night, but it was obvious he was in pain and needed help to try and prop up the Laker offense in those first 24 minutes. The problem was, he simply didn’t get it. At least not from his starting mates.
In that first half, both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash went 1-7 from the floor, scoring a paltry 9 points on those 14 shots. Add in Ron’s single point on 0-2 shooting and three-fifths of the starting lineup simply couldn’t buy a basket. Combined with 11 first half turnovers, those missed shots lead to fast break chances that put undue pressure on the Laker defense that they couldn’t stand up to. And, after 24 minutes, the Thunder had 71 points and a lead that they’d never surrender.
So, even though the 2nd half was better in terms of pace, structure, and non-Kobe contributions, the hole the Lakers dug themselves via their early struggles were too much to overcome. Yes, Nash played a very good 2nd half (16 points, 6-8 shooting) and Ron really found his stride on offense (15 points, 5-9 shooting). And, yes, Kobe continued to battle through his elbow issues to stay assertive and hit some much needed shots. The push they made was admirable and the fact they got as close as 5 points was a huge boost for the entire team.
But it wasn’t enough tonight. Not against one of the very best teams in the league on their home court. Not when they played so poorly early on. Winning this game would have been the ultimate luxury and the Lakers almost stole it (or at least put themselves in position where it seemed possible). But the loss only reinforces the fact that the games they should win that remain on their schedule really are necessities. On that note, it’s on to the next one.
- In a season full of ups and downs, this was one of the low points for Dwight. His 1-7 stat line for the first half ended up being his final line of the night, with only 2 FT’s taken in the 2nd half augmenting his offensive output for the game. And while he had 16 rebounds for the game, the 2nd half also saw him only grab 7 of those (and not a single one on the offensive side of the ball) — many of those of the flatfooted variety. Dwight also didn’t have much impact defensively, often reaching (and fouling) on drives and not showing his recent spring to challenge shots around the basket. In the 2nd quarter he looked to bang his shoulder again and maybe that was the cause of his struggles. But, overall, the Lakers needed more from him tonight — especially on offense — but didn’t get it.
- Earl Clark ended the night with solid numbers but his first half turnovers were problematic. He had 5 of the Lakers 11 miscues and also took a couple of ill-advised shots. He did settle down as the game went on, but Coach D’Antoni still started Antawn Jamison in favor of Clark in the 2nd half. This move didn’t seem to affect Clark in the 2nd half, but we’ll see is this is a strategy that D’Antoni uses moving forward.
- Russel Westbrook was fantastic in scoring 37 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and handing out 5 assists. His work on the offensive glass was particularly impressive, grabbing 4 on the Lakers end of the floor. His ball handling also stood out, using a fantastic hesitation dribble to get himself into the lane against Kobe on multiple occasions. The way he moved looked like he had a strobe light on him, with herky-jerky movements allowing him to freeze his man and free him up as he drove. He really is a special talent.
- Durant was also very good even though he had an off (for him) shooting night. What was clear, though, is that the Lakers really don’t have a good option to put on KD as he left Ron and Clark in his wake with slick ball handling all to often. And while several of those shots he created off the dribble didn’t fall, he still shook free to attempt them and down the line, if the Lakers see them again, they probably won’t be as lucky.
- After the game both Kobe and Nash commented that the team really missed Gasol in this game and it’s easy to understand why they’d say so. Pau is a fantastic release valve on offense and someone who can create shots for himself and others from multiple spots on the floor. When OKC pressured the ball in the P&R or when the wings had to go to isolations, Pau could have really aided their offensive flow as another option. Not to mention with Dwight playing so poorly on offense, Pau could have anchored the pivot and been a more reliable option on that end of the floor.
Overall, I thought the Lakers fought hard to come back and showed spirit when climbing back from the hole they dug. It’s that fight that will aid them in the coming weeks when they push to try and make the post season. But the Thunder are too good a team to spot so many points and the Lakers were reminded of that fact again. On to New Orleans on Wednesday.