After one quarter, Oklahoma City trailed the defending champions 27-13. The Thunder were 5-19 from the floor, scored a season-low 13 points and just looked completely lost. They were rattled. They were visibly shaken and nervous. The game had a look and feel of a pending blowout.
And I don’t blame them. They played like a bunch of 21-year-olds playing in their first playoff game ever. In Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers, no less. Heck, I was shaky and all I was doing was watching on a TV 1,300 miles away. I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt if I had to walk onto a court and try and get all that anxiety out while playing excellent basketball. So after 12 minutes, Oklahoma City looked overmatched. They looked a little scared. And I feared the worst for this Game 1.
But then the Thunder did something fairly amazing. They outscored the Lakers 66-60 for the next three quarters.What’s even more amazing? They did it with Kevin Durant shooting 7-24 from the floor, Jeff Green 4-12 and James Harden going scoreless. How they stayed in the game, I really have no idea. Well I do have an idea and it was by playing extremely hard and by defending. OKC was a couple stops and a bucket away from getting this two one possession. They cut it to six multiple times, but just like the great teams do, LA came up with a monster bucket every time on the other end.
You can play the “if” game all day long, but if Durant snaps out of a funk or Jeff Green and James Harden just hit a couple wide open looks, this game is nip-and-tuck all the way to the end. So despite the Thunder playing down to about the worst possible scenario, they were in this. It felt like they were down 50 at times, but a shot or two drops and there they are. Of course, I realize the same could be said for the Lakers. Ron Artest was just 3-11 from the floor and missed some really good looks. Had he made a few, maybe the Lakers pound OKC by 15 or 16. But I think my point is, when both teams are playing like themselves, these games will be tight.
People will surely talk about KD’s bad night, but at the same time, Kobe was just 6-19 from the floor. So both stars kind of canceled each other out. It was the big men of LA that hurt OKC inside, scoring in the paint and grabbing offensive rebounds. Pau Gasol hurt OKC in every way and Andrew Bynum was dominant. Together, they grabbed 25 rebounds and scored 32 points. The Thunder doesn’t have an answer right now, but Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka probably did the best job on the duo.
Scott Brooks went with a lineup we haven’t seen much of down the stretch, using Russell Westbrook, KD, Green, Ibaka and Collison. Thabo and Nenad Krstic played just a handful of minutes in the second half. Green spent most of his time guarding Kobe. I think Brooks realized that even though Jeff Green has been a capable four at times this year, he’s just not going to match the Lakers inside. He was overmatched and Brooks realized it. I’m curious as to see where Brooks goes with this in the next few games.
Westbrook was the bright spot for the Thunder. At one point he scored 17 of 18 points for the Thunder (the one coming on a defensive three seconds free throw). Westbrook finished with 23 on 10-16 shooting and eight assists. And he did it all basically in the second and third quarters. He was non-existent in the first 20 minutes, but scored eight quick ones to get OKC within eight going into the half. Then he dominated the third, scoring a bundle on drives to the bucket. We saw what we all knew would happen: Westbrook was able to dominate Derek Fisher. Problem was, Russ disappeared in the fourth as OKC tried to force the ball to Durant. KD got some looks, but nothing fell. Ah, the pains of the youngest team in the postseason.
- Think about this for a second: Multiple times for extended minutes, OKC had three rookies on the floor at the same time tonight. Just think about that for a minute.
- OKC’s offense was just bad. Too many jumpers, not enough movement and a lot of end-of-the-shot clock heaves. Jeff Green settled for his jumper all game long, as well as Durant. Westbrook was really the only guy that attacked.
- The Lakers really set the tone early going inside to Bynum and Gasol on the game’s first two possessions. In fact, the Lakers scored their first 10 points inside the lane.
- LA took only six more shots than the Thunder and both teams shot under 42 percent. And OKC only turned it over nine times. Three more offensive rebounds were big for LA, as well as the 18 extra points they got from 3 over the Thunder.
- I think in Game 2 OKC needs to run more. In transition, Russ abused Fisher and Durant got better looks. In the halfcourt sets, Artest was able to bully Durant and push him off the spot he wanted to be. Plus, for whatever reason, Durant was hesitant to put the ball on the floor against Artest.
- I could not believe the non-shooting fouls called for Durant. Twice KD pulled the rip move and twice drew fouls. But for whatever reason, they weren’t called in the act. I was dumbfounded. Then Kobe pulls the same move later and gets two free throws. It honestly made no sense.
- On KD drawing fouls: KD shot 11 free throws, but every foul he drew, Phil Jackson was more demonstrative than on any other call. He’s definitely making an effort to get in everyone’s head. He’s definitely got Laker Nation behind him on it. Every foul KD drew, the fans booed.
- Nenad Krstic only played 20 minutes, but he honestly looked the most comfortable, especially on the offensive end. He had eight points and seven rebounds, but just couldn’t match Bynum inside.
- I don’t think Scott Brooks’ hair was ready for the postseason. He went with the soft, non-hairspray look and during an interview before the second quarter, it was all over the place. Brooks has gone with the gelled/hairspray look almost all year, yet he mixes it up today. GO WITH WHAT GOT YOU HERE MAN.
- Ibaka played 21 minutes, but didn’t see any time in the first. I think Brooks dropped the ball a bit not shaking things up a little in the first.
- After OKC cut LA’s lead to six right before the start of the fourth, KD committed a horrible foul on Odom that gave the Lakers two free and an eight-point lead going into the fourth. Really an underrated huge play.
- Durant is a great player. There’s no doubt. I found it funny the people tweeting and commenting and emailing that this revealed KD was a fraud and overrated. He had a bad, bad game, yet netted 24. KD will snap out of it. But he also has to make an adjustment. He’s got to drive, be aggressive and score in the paint a little. Taking eight 3s and hovering around the perimeter the entire game just didn’t work. But give Artest credit, there’s a reason he’s one of the game’s best. He’s just a perfect defender for Durant.
- The pace was an incredibly slow 82.0 tonight. Like I said, OKC needs to run a little more in Game 2.
OKC is down 1-0 and lost by eight on the road. And I actually feel relatively encouraged. All the hype and anticipation is gone for the Thunder and now they can play. I’m bet Scott Brooks’ message to his guys is what I’m trying to get across here: You played bad but you were still in the game. Play like yourselves, play together and you can beat these guys. You played your worst quarter of the year in the biggest game of the year and almost were able to recover. That should tell you something about the poise and fortitude of this young team.
I never had illusions of seeing OKC win this series. But I think my instincts about it have been affirmed. The Thunder are going to give LA everything they want and will steal a game or two. But it’s going to take playing their game and playing to their ability. Heck, five more baskets from reliable sources and that “stolen” game comes tonight.
Next: At Staples Tuesday night. Series 1-0, Lakers.