That right there is what you want to look like. Deadly shooters, excellent defense, strong rebounding, an elite superstar, top-notch contributing role players and overall awesome team basketball. Bold statement: The Lakers are a good basketball team. I want to be them.
From the opening tip, it was pretty obvious that Los Angeles was here to take care of business. They were focused, they were intense and they were clicking. OKC was in trouble from the get-go. And as someone watching the game, it was apparent early that this was not going to be a Thunder victory. In fact, OKC would be lucky to ever get within 10. So I put the winning thoughts away early and watched for things you could take with you.
- When Kobe was on the floor, the Lakers were +22. When he wasn’t, OKC was only +3. Kobe sat the entire fourth and the Thunder were even with the Lakers. OKC just never took advantage when the best player on the court sat down.
- You can’t fault the Thunder for not trying. The busted their butts tonight. Just nothing went down for them. Kevin Durant was off (4-13 in the first half), Russell Westbrook was scoreless with just one assist in the first half and the team only mustered 38 points at halftime. But to me, it looked like the were working hard. Just things didn’t go right. They gave up 37 first quarter points and the defense was bad, but it was just fundamentally bad. It wasn’t because they were trying. They were just overmatched.
- Maybe the most impressed I’ve been by KD happened with about 1:30 left in the third. Believe it or not, it happened on the defensive end and Durant didn’t even get his hands on the ball. The Lakers were ahead 90-70 and Durant had scored 13 in the quarter and was trying to get his team back in the game. L.A. came down with the ball with Durant on Jordan Farmer. The quicker and smaller Farmer tried to drive baseline but KD cut him off and Farmar backed out. Then Farmar immediately probed KD again and tried to drive. Durant, in an excellent defensive stance with his arms spread wide, cut him off again. Farmar passed it over to Pau Gasol and used Gasol for a screen to shed Durant. Farmar went high to the top of the key and Ariza cut through. Durant and Westbrook communicated perfectly with each other and made a flawless switch and KD picked up Ariza and denied him the ball, trailing him with his arms up. Ariza tried to post KD, but Durant denied him again. It was just obvious watching this whole sequence how hard KD was trying. Down 20 and having an off shooting night, Durant wasn’t going to budge. He wasn’t about to lay down for L.A. His defense has been criticized pretty heavily, but this possession he was textbook. He absolutely worked his tailed off, shuffling his feet, staying low, keeping his arms up and the Thunder paid it off by getting a stop. Plays like this show that he’s committed to being The Man and he’s going to be the superstar we’re dreaming about. Give him another year or two and he’s going to blow our minds.
- Speaking of quality defense, how about Thabo’s effort on Kobe? Two blocks and a forced airball. Bryant had just 19 on 6-18 shooting and never got anything easy. What a sequence when Thabo rejected Kobe at the rim (and I’m talking re-ject-ed) got the ball and led a fast break and capped it off with a saweet behind-the-backish type pass to Jeff Green. I really, really like Thabo Sefolosha.
- Westbrook needs to either start taking his first look or just pass and try again later. He’ll catch the ball in rhythm with an open look at the top of the key, head fake, jab step and then he realizes he’s still open so he’ll go ahead and take the jumper anyway, totally flatfooted and out of rhythm. He’s not a good jumpshooter (yet), and I’m not exactly thrilled about him taking a 22-footer at the top of the key with 18 on the shot clock in the first place, but at least give yourself a chance with it. If he wants to shoot, he needs to be decisive about it. I can almost see the wheels turning in his head. I’m open! SHOOT IT! Oh wait. How would coach feel about this one? Let’s see, 18 on the 24, I’ve got room… there’s rebounders under the glass, but I’m not really hitting my shots and this will make me like 2-8. Oh what the hey. Just chuck it.
- Some of you have been saying Thabo could be a Bruce Bowen-type player, specializing in defense and locking onto the other team’s main guy. But he needs a specialty shot like Bowen’s corner three. On back-to-back possessions Thabo swished open threes from both corners and had 10 points to go with seven rebounds. Another solid game for Blanks.
- It looked to me about halfway through the third, some of OKC’s players were visibly frustrated. They were begging for calls when they were out of control and turned it over. They threw up their arms when they lost the ball out of bounds on a rebound. The hung their heads when they missed an open look. I think the team really wanted to play well tonight. They kind of had this one circled as another, “Look world! We actually don’t suck!” game, but they just weren’t getting it done. And that understandably frustrated them.
- A growing problem with referees is what I’m calling the Reaction Call. A player may fall down on his own and travel with the ball, but because it “looked” bad, the ref blows it dead and calls a bogus foul. It happened to Westbrook once when Derek Fisher just ran out of his shoes and fell. Russ was whistled and he couldn’t believe it. Then minutes later, Westbrook was bumped out front in what looked to be a foul but it wasn’t called. Then Westbrook fell down and started to lose the ball and then the foul was called. Just call it when it happens. Quit waiting to see the result of the non-call that you started to let slide.
- What happened to Uncle Jeff? He carried the Thunder in the first half with 12 points on 5-7 shooting, but just took one shot in the second half. He only played like seven minutes and it just seemed like he disappeared. He had minutes in the fourth so it’s not like something was wrong, it just seemed like he got lost in the game.
- Out of the five key box score stats, the Lakers won three of five again (field goal percentage, three point percentage and turnovers). That makes five straight games L.A. has shot over 50 percent. That’s impressive.
- One thing about Westbrook is that it never really felt like he started forcing it in the second half. Sure he was 2-11 from the field, but I feel like a month ago he would’ve finished this game 3-18. His shot wasn’t dropping and so he did what he’s supposed to – attacked the rim. But instead of putting up tough layups, he slowed himself down and made a couple of really nice passes for easy buckets. He’s learning folks. He really is.
- Kyle Weaver needs minutes. He already looks like one of those smart, savvy veteran players that every good team needs. He made an excellent play doubling Gasol as he tried to spin baseline on Nick Collison, stole the ball and capped it with a slick behind-the-back pass to Collison for an easy two. It seems like he’s always getting his hands on passes or taking a charge. He’s not going to blow you away, but it seems like he’s consistently doing good things.
- I’m choosing not to be mad about tonight’s game. I realize some people probably will be, feeling like the Thunder didn’t show up and didn’t give max effort. And I would understand those qualms. But I feel like they gave great effort and tried their best, but just got whooped but a great team. We’ve seen the Lakers three times this year and I’m convinced they’re the best team in the league.
There’s really no specific reason for losing by 18 to tag to this game. OKC shot just 41 percent and turned it over more than they should, but in the end it was just a superior team asserting itself against an up-and-comer. It was just a schooling. The Laker bench never let OKC remotely back in it (unlike the Thunder in Minny or at home versus the Nets). Maybe OKC could take more from watching what the Lakers did right than watching what the Thunder did wrong.
Back to the road as OKC takes on the Raptors in Toronto on Friday.