Five. That’s how many games the Lakers have won in a row after dispatching the Thunder 112-107 in a hotly contested game. Twelve of thirteen. That’s the number of games the Lakers have won since their opening night loss to the Clippers. This team is playing well enough to win and not well enough to look like a juggernaut, which is just fine for this observer — a person who wants this team to be great in June and understanding that being great at the point likely requires a certain amount of merely looking good in November.
Enough about me, though.
On twitter I compared the Lakers win over the Thunder to “walking around with a rock in your shoe”. This game was uncomfortable, annoying, and just something I wanted to be over with during multiple points of what ended up being a 5 point victory. Credit the Thunder for making it this way.
While the Lakers never seemed like they’d lost their grip on the game, the Thunder definitely pulled the Lakers closer to the middle in the tug-of-war than was anticipated. They, basically, never folded and countered every Lakers push with one of their own to ensure this game would mostly be played to a standstill. The Lakers aided in this with fits of defensive lapses and indifference offensively, for sure. But OKC also did a lot of little things well, including setting hard screens, moving the ball onto open teammates when the Lakers were stuck in rotations, and, most importantly, hitting key shots.
It is a make or miss league and OKC, despite some pedestrian offensive numbers so far this year, made them to the tune of 47.5% overall from the field an a blistering 22 for 25 from the foul line. And while OKC didn’t shoot well from beyond the arc,1They went 9-28, 32.1% they did hit some timely 3’s and had a couple of standout performances — particularly from backup point guard Dennis Schroeder who scored 31 points on 12-20 shooting.
The Lakers, though, still came out on top. And they did so, in my humble opinion, for 3 reasons.
First, they had Anthony Davis. In my game preview I said I wanted the Lakers to target Davis early and often, hoping to get him on track after a couple of consecutive subpar scoring games. The Lakers did just that, featuring Davis on multiple first quarter possessions via P&R’s and quick hitting passes both in the half court and in transition. Davis got it going early and ended the night with 34 points on 13-24 shooting, including going 3-5 from beyond the arc.
Second, the Lakers had LeBron James. Bron played his usual brand of brilliant basketball, pouring in 25 points while dishing 10 assists and grabbing 11 rebounds. This triple double earned LeBron the distinction of the only NBA player in history to tally a triple double against every NBA team which is sort of mind blowing while also being strangely totally expected. In any event, LeBron played set up man early and scorer late, hitting some key baskets in the 2nd half to hold off a Thunder team that really did have alligator blood.
Third, the Lakers took forced OKC into a lot of mistakes and capitalized on them for easy baskets. The Thunder’s 15 turnovers doesn’t seem extravagant, but turned those miscues into 24 points. The Lakers scored 30 fastbreak points as a team and many of those were direct results of steals and blocked shots the Lakers took the other way in transition.
There’s other details to this game, but we’ll leave it here. The Thunder did really well to hang tight in this one, but the mistakes they made and the star power the Lakers brought to the table were just a bit too much to overcome. I’ll be very interested in seeing how the rematch between these teams goes on Friday.
And now, for some notes…
- I mentioned the Lakers running more P&R with AD above, and while I do not have the stats in front of me, it looked like the Lakers went to Bron/AD P&R’s more in this game than they had in the previous 4-5 games combined. This didn’t always lead to wonderful results, but it did get Davis going some offensively with a couple of shots at the rim, a couple of pick and pop jumpers, and some nice opportunities to make passes out of the short roll to shooters. This was a very nice development and something I hope to see more of.
- Kyle Kuzma left this game after being poked in the eye pretty badly during his first shift. He was clearly shaken up, noticeably bleeding, and when he returned from the lockerroom had a swollen eye that looked pretty bad. Kuz was available to return, but Vogel never called his number again and explained post game that he wanted to be cautious considering how Kuz looked. I don’t blame him.
- 14 more made threes for the Lakers this game on 31 attempts, good for 45.2%. For the season the Lakers are only shooting 34.2% from distance, which ranks 18th in the league. But in their last 5 games that number is 39.9%. I like this trend.
- Rajon Rondo showed the full package of why fans both like and dislike him. On the latter front, he had some defensive miscues, had some really ball dominant possessions offensively, and his shooting was not good. For the former, he had some wonderful plays in transition, had some really good passes, and was unfazed when running the offense with a comfort level that some of the other Lakers guards did not possess. Overall, I thought he was good. Not great, not “wow, I’m so impressed!”, but good. I’ll take good on most nights.
- Shoutout to KCP, man. For the 2nd straight game his play in the 4th quarter made a big difference, this time with a huge 3-pointer in the final minutes to give the Lakers a cushion they really needed when OKC had closed the gap to a single basket. After an offensive rebound, KCP got a swing pass, saw no one closing on him, took a rhythm dribble, and fired away. Nothing but net. KCP has been much maligned this year, but he’s been playing well of late and really seems to have a comfort level that was lacking earlier in the year.
That’s it for this one.