Only against a select few teams can you feel good about playing a solid game and losing. One of those teams is definitely the Lakers, especially with the game in Los Angeles.
The Thunder were in a tough spot tonight. The Lakers had just dropped a bad one against the Clippers and were in the market for redemption. The game was of course in Staples, where things tend to lean the yellow way. And for the most part, especially in the half court, the Lakers present a pretty tough matchup for Oklahoma City.
Still though, it feels like one slipped through the cracks here. It feels like an opportunity to beat the Lakers in Los Angeles just barely squeezed through the Thunder’s fingers. Statistically, across the board, the Thunder really were right there. Field goal percentage wasn’t a big gap. The Lakers only outrebounded OKC by one. Only nine turnovers for OKC compared to LA’s 15. Both teams made 18 free throws. Everything was pretty much even, sans one category. Three-point shooting.
The Thunder went just 2-22 from deep. That’s nine percent. The Lakers went 7-14, but it was more the fact that OKC missed 20 3-pointers. Jeff Green was 0-5. Kevin Durant, 1-8. James Harden, 1-6. OKC isn’t a good 3-point shooting team to start with, but they aren’t nine percent bad. Had two, maybe three of those dropped for the Thunder and we might be talking about what a wonderful win this was.
I kind of liked what Scott Brooks did down the stretch though. Since I’m sort of an eternal optimist, let’s harp there for a second. First off, after Kobe Bryant checked back in the game with six minutes left, I fully expected Brooks to go back to Thabo Sefolosha who had sat most of the second half. Instead, he stuck with Harden and The Beard promptly drilled a big 3. A good move by Brooks hanging with Harden and going with a little added offense down the stretch. Finally.
Second, Green sat most of the fourth until it was obvious Andrew Bynum wasn’t checking back in. So with three minutes left and the Thunder needing some kind of offensive spark, Green checked in for Nick Collison. The lineup of Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Green and Ibaka really matched up pretty well with the Laker five on the floor and gave OKC a chance to win.
Third, I liked the pick-and-roll with Serge Ibaka in crunch time. But only sort of. Westbrook and Ibaka ran it pretty well, but where the Thunder fell short there wasn’t an added dimension to it. Westbrook needed another option once the pick-and-roll didn’t work to go to. The problem with the Ibaka-Westbrook tandem is that KD kind of was taken out of the offense. Like I said, there needed to be that extra option to get KD the ball.
OKC never let the Lakers put the game away completely, which is a huge credit to how much fight this Thunder team has. The Lakers ripped off a 14-0 run in the third and appeared to have put the Thunder to bed early. But OKC pulled out its own 14-2 run late in the quarter. Then late fourth, L.A. stretched it out to 10 with three minutes left. But a couple good defensive possessions and some great playmaking by Westbrook and the Thunder had it to four with a minute left. The ball swung to Jeff Green who had an open look at a 3 from the corner but fittingly, the ball just bounced wrong for the Thunder. Green’s 3 hit the rim four times before the Lakers secured the rebound and essentially the game.
- Kobe left the door open briefly for the Thunder by missing three straight free throws. Westbrook got to the line with 40 seconds left and OKC down five, but had a huge double-miss. Could’ve been a big swing.
- The plus/minuses tell a pretty big story tonight. All five starters for OKC were minuses with Jeff Green at a -17, Nenad Krstic a -18 and Thabo a -16. Every player on the Thunder bench was a plus. Nick Collison was a +12, Serge Ibaka a +11 and James Harden a +12.
- I would’ve liked to see OKC at least try Green in the post on Lamar Odom late in the game. It probably wouldn’t have worked, but it was at least something else to try.
- KD scored 16 points on six shots in the first quarter and it looked like he was about to explode. The he missed eight straight shots and finished 8-24 for 24 points. He had some looks, but just didn’t drop ‘em.
- Kobe defended Russell Westbrook again in this one and Russ torched him. Westbrook had 32 points, 12 assists and five rebounds and seriously zoomed past Kobe a number of times. Big time impressive stuff from Russ in this one.
- However, Westbrook tried to do a bit much at times. But that’s such a hard line to draw for him. He’s taking over a game, hitting big shots and big plays. But then he takes a forced shot or tries to do it all himself. It’s easy for me to say that he’s got to work it more there and I understand the mindset he was in as he was really the main thing working for OKC, but he’s got to work it a bit more in some situations.
- As poorly as Jeff Green played and shot the ball, tell me you didn’t think that 3 with a 45 seconds left wasn’t going in.
- A three second in the lane call doesn’t exist in Andrew Bynum’s world. I think he could sit down in the paint for the entire possession and he still wouldn’t get whistled.
- Kobe blew by Thabo a couple times. Thabo seemed to be a little too intent on defending Kobe’s jumper and just gave him the dribble-drive. Thabo made some nice defensive plays, but much like OKC’s overall defense this season, was inconsistent.
- I thought Harden did a pretty nice job on Kobe. Contested everything and never let Kobe beat him. Kobe made shots, but that’s what Kobe does.
- I don’t think the Thunder should ever shoot as many 3s as free throws. That feels like a recipe for a loss.
- I feel like KD was fouled two, maybe three hundred times tonight.
- KD went 7-7 in the first half from the free throw line. He didn’t attempt one in the second half. Imagine me typing that sentence with a hint of sarcasm and one eye brow raised.
- I loved the way OKC handled the Lakers hot start. The Thunder never wavered, never showed any kind of fear or intimidation. OKC just lost to a good team. Didn’t matter who the opponent was or where the game was being played. The Thunder didn’t back down a bit.
- Ibaka was really good in this one. 11 points, 10 rebounds and a block in 31 minutes. And a ton of energy. How about those two alley-oops he finished from Westbrook? Great catches and he had to have some speedy hands to get the ball to the rim before his feet hit the ground.
- Derek Fisher had a season-high 15 tonight. Of course.
- Kobe was really good in this game. Only 12 shot attempts but 21 points. The game was always in his hands and he controlled everything even without scoring. The Lakers are good when he does that.
- Royal Ivey leads the league in standing up and clapping on the bench. He does it after everything.
- Score by quarter: 28-28, 30-27, 23-20, 20-19. OKC never won a quarter but you can see that this thing stayed close throughout.
It was the type of game where a loss wasn’t going to sting that much and a win would’ve been wonderful. But after the fact, the loss kind of stings just because it felt like the Thunder missed a chance. The Lakers are a better team and have a more traditional plan to beat you. The Thunder relies very heavily on talented players making big plays and when that’s working, OKC is really, really good. The Lakers have options. They have an offense. They can put five players on the floor that are able to beat you multiple ways. OKC kind of has to go with Russ and Kevin and hope someone else hits a jumper. It’s not an ideal plan, but it works to a pretty good degree. But it certainly didn’t tonight and won’t always against really good teams.
Next up: At Denver Wednesday.