For the second time in a week the Lakers have beaten the Thunder, this time a 130-127 victory in OKC. Like the last time these two teams played, this was a grind it out game that saw the Lakers hold on late. How the teams got there, though, was different than Tuesday’s game in Los Angeles.
In OKC, the Thunder were better in the early part of the game, not allowing the Lakers to seize control and instead keeping things close and even leading on the scoreboard for most of the first half. By the time 24 minutes had elapsed, OKC actually led 67-66 and it would have been more if not for a last second 3 by KCP (more on him later).
In the 3rd quarter, the Lakers seized control of the game, however, going on the type of run they’ve typically been able to put together against teams with losing records this season. By clamping down on defense and turning those stops into good offensive possessions in transition and early clock sets, they strung together made baskets. Within the blink of an eye, the Lakers rattled off a 10-0 run and it looked as though they’d step on the Thunder’s necks to build a cushion they could ride until the end of the game.
That wasn’t the case, though. Much like the game earlier this week, OKC hung tight and showed the type of fight that they’ve displayed most of this season. The Lakers got a little sloppy, the Thunder hunted good shots, and this game became the type of back and forth affair that is both entertaining and stressful as hell.
During the stretch that started around the halfway point of the 3rd quarter through the end of the game, I thought OKC did well to simply play hard and attack the Lakers in the screen game, spreading them out, and then forcing them to make multiple rotations in the same possession that, on what looked like some heavy legs, they did not execute frequently enough. The Thunder also did well to force some switches on those picks and then attack LA’s bigs off the dribble to get to the basket and finish where the help was not there to contest or deter shots.
The Lakers, even while surrendering baskets, were up to the task offensively to match what OKC was doing. In the closing minutes AD and KCP hit some big shots — including a 4 point play from Davis1His 2nd of the game! — that kept the Lakers ahead and in the driver’s seat. And while the Lakers were stagnant offensively on their final few meaningful possessions, they did enough to maintain the lead, hit their FT’s when it became a game of fouls down the stretch, and hung on.
Overall, I thought this was a game the Lakers relied too much on their offense and were not attentive enough defensively for longer stretches than we’ve seen in most games this year. That was good enough to beat the Thunder and I’ll take that.
In the big picture, it’s good the Lakers can win games like this, but it’s also something I’d prefer not happen too frequently. The Lakers have the record they do mostly on the backs of their defense and their stars being stars when needed most. In this game, the latter was certainly true, but the former was not. A game here or there when that happens is fine. Allowing that to become more of a trend would be problematic. Just something to keep an eye on.
Now, for some notes…
- I said this on twitter, but this looked like a game where LeBron was looking for shortcuts on how to win the game rather than putting in all the extra effort needed to really dig in and beat OKC via high level execution. His defense was not sharp, with rotations that were not as crisp and not as attentive as they’ve been most the year. Offensively he settled a fair amount, looked for calls from refs, and complained more than what I’ve seen most of the season when those calls didn’t come. In saying all that, LeBron had 23 points, 14 assists, and 6 rebounds. He hit 9-20 shots and had a big assist late on the aforementioned 4-point play by Davis. LeBron is held to a ridiculously high standard and I can forgive some lax effort in year 17 when he carries such a burden offensively and when he’s played so well defensively over the course of the season’s first 3 weeks.
- Anthony Davis was a monster with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists. He hit 4 of his 7 attempts from beyond the arc and was huge down the stretch hitting 4 straight clutch FT’s when this became a fouling game and the Thunder hoped for misses to give them a shot at tying or winning on a final possession. Yes, there were times I thought AD looked tired — particularly defensively. The otherworldly level he’s reached so often on that end was not summoned on a few possessions and, honestly, I found myself getting a bit irritated in the moment. That said, it speaks to how great AD is on that end that not making superhuman plays stands out as the outlier because he does it so easily and makes it normal. If nothing else, this game served as a nice reminder for me to not take what he does for granted. He’s really just so damn good, you guys.
- Shout out to KCP. 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. 5-9 shooting overall including 4-5 from behind the arc. He had an absolute dagger late in this game and, as mentioned earlier, hit a buzzer beater to close the 1st half. Many fans killed KCP early in the year for not playing well…he’s turned that on its head in the last 5-10 games.
- Shout out to Danny Green, too. I showed him some love the other day and he repaid that with a 14 point night on 5-8 shooting, including 4-6 from deep. Between Green and KCP, the Lakers got 31 points on some high leverage deep shooting. They do not win this game without both playing as well as they did.
- I’ve said some nice things about Rondo this season, but today is not going to be one of those days. When these teams played earlier this week, AD and Dennis Schroeder had a bit of a kerfuffle after AD finished a lob dunk and inadvertently kicked Nerlens Noel while hanging on the rim. Schroeder came to his teammate’s defense and everyone exchanged some words. Fast forward to this game and Rondo seemed extra willing to be confrontational with Schroeder. Early in the game Rondo and Schroeder got a double technical for getting face to face on an inbounds play and needing to be separated by the refs. Then, in the 2nd half, Rondo and Schroeder were jockeying for position and Rondo clearly raised up his leg to create some separation, but did so in a way where he kneed Schroeder in the groin. From the replays, Rondo was clearly trying to be discreet, but what he was doing was pretty clear and when you consider all the backstory I detailed above, I understand fully why the refs gave him a flagrant-2 foul and ejected him. Rondo, for all his competitiveness and smarts, can cross the line and I don’t care if he plays for the team I root for, this just isn’t acceptable. It shows a complete lack of discipline and a slant towards trying to sneak being dirty…and there’s just no way to support that as a fan. I’m glad he got tossed, honestly.
- The Lakers hit 17 of 31 from deep this game as a team, good for 54.8%. During their 6 game winning streak they’re shooting 42.5% from distance. I don’t expect this type of accuracy to be the new norm, but as I’ve been saying, it really is great to see the Lakers shooting trend up.
- Tough game for the Lakers bench this game. None of Dwight, Kuzma, Cook, Caruso, or Rondo had a positive plus-minus overall and none seemed to be able to be a difference maker during their minutes. I thought Kuzma was the best of the bunch, offering good scoring and showing some nice effort on defense. But none of them could really integrate into lineups that produced positive results overall. This was a game where I thought Vogel’s subs and lineups left a little to be desired — which flies in the face of early season trends. Regardless of whether it was rotations or just the guys not playing as well, though, this was a game where the bench, as a group, wasn’t a positive difference maker they’ve been most of the year.
That’s it for this one, ya’ll. Get ready for Memphis later today.