There’s a reason Kobe Bryant is like, awesome. On two separate occasions the Thunder closed to within one of the Lakers, but somebody was inconspicuously missing from the court. Like a coiled snake, Kobe sat patiently, waiting to get his chance to strike again. The camera flashed over to him and with the Ford Center rocking and the Thunder riding a monster wave of momentum, Kobe’s face was expressionless almost like he was saying, “It’s cool. I got this.” And when the Mamba returned, L.A. scored on nine straight possessions and took control of the game, pulling away to a 107-93 win. It’s just what he does.
One big thing to take from this game for OKC – and it’s been a theme in other games as well – is to seize the moment. Kobe Bryant is sitting on the bench and you’ve closed to within one. The crowd is ROARING and you’ve got the ball. Realistically, you could maybe go ahead four or five points, forcing Phil Jackson to reinsert Bryant well before he wants to. But instead, OKC throws the ball away, kicks it out of bounds and misses wide open jump shots. It’s like they sensed the urgency of the moment and tried too hard to make the big play. It’s one of those things that you snap your fingers and just chalk it up to the youth of the team. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
The most major key in the game: The Lakers hit open shots and OKC didn’t. Simple stuff. But that’s why they’re the best team in the league and OKC is third worst. The Thunder shot 42 percent and L.A. hit 53 percent. Jeff Green was off (4-14), Earl Watson was himself (0-4) and Nenad Krstic was off (2-8). Kevin Durant and Kyle Weaver were the only Thunder-ers to consistently hit shots (another 32 for KD along with 10 rebounds and six assists, making that nine of 10 he’s scored at least 30). OKC missed a ton of open looks and I counted 11 point blank misses at the rim with most of them being clean looks. That’s a potential 22 points. I just headbutted my coffee table.
But I do love the way that OKC doesn’t ever tap out. The Thunder played much better defense and cranked up the intensity to get back into the game. It wasn’t enough, as it’s not a lot of times, but that’s something to really like about this team and it’s something that we’ll remember as a building block in their path to becoming a contender.
Last time these two met, the Lakers’ rebounding advantage was really the difference. Not tonight as the Thunder outboarded L.A. 45-30 and allowed just three offensive rebounds for the Lakers. Not a single Laker reached double-digits in rebounds. It was a team effort as Nenad Krstic grabbed 11, Kevin Durant 10, Jeff Green nine and the guards combined for 12 rebounds. Instead this time, the Thunder turned the ball over 15 times. And while it may not seem like a ton (considering some games OKC has turned it 20-25 times), most of them were either really stupid or really crucial.
Obviously Kobe Bryant is awesome – like totally, unbelievably awesome – and had a really nice game (36 points), but I thought Thabo Sefolosha did a pretty solid job on him. He got tacked for a couple of questionable calls and did a nice job pestering Bryant and contesting shots. And just like last time, Durant did a really good job on Kobe. I counted seven times (that number very unofficial) the two matched up and Kobe didn’t score a single time on KD. Durant’s length was able to get into Bryant’s patented jab-step-fadeway jumper and Kobe really never tried to drive around him.
A lot of Bryant’s points came against Kyle Weaver who just doesn’t have the reaction time developed yet to really bother Kobe’s shot. But Weaver continues to impress (16 points, 3-4 from three). This is the guy I thought we drafted. He’s knocking down open jumpers and playing with a lot more confidence. He’s not hesitating on open looks. Instead he’s not thinking at all and just triggering (copyright: Brian Davis) when he gets space. Confidence is one of the most important factors for any athlete and Kyle Weaver is finally developing some. I thought before the season he might be able to be a guard off the bench that could stretch defenses with a perimeter game. If he continues to build on this, he’s going to be an awesome piece to the puzzle.
And I’m not trying to complain here (actually yes, yes I am) but I realize in this league some guys have “earned” calls because of who they are. I get that. It’s the way it goes. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for the opposing team to deal with. Kobe Bryant gets the benefit of the doubt when he drives the paint. Thabo reaches for the ball and Kobe hollers and flails and boom, he’s at the free throw line. But Jeff Green or Russell Westbrook go driving in the lane and Lamar Odom reaches into the crowd and pulls out a steel chair and clubs Uncle Jeff in the face like the Undertaker and we get nothing. I think I heard Jim Ross yelling “Good God! Good God! Somebody stop the match!” at one point. But play on boys.
I know I called victory and I know I was extremely wrong. I do think the Thunder played better this time around against L.A. even though the score looked worse. They had chances. Every tipped ball seemed to find a way to go off a Thunder player or land in the hands of a Laker. The missed looks. The untimely turns. The Lakers got it done and some may say they didn’t have to break a sweat and that’s fine, but I thought OKC did a pretty good job fighting and clawing to hang tough. But for whatever reason, they just couldn’t ever get over the hump. And that’s a tough, tough hump to get over when you’re playing the Lakers.
Next game: Mavericks Friday in Dallas.