Kobe Bryant has gushed about Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in general over the past year after the terrific six-game opening round series. After this one, he may be done singing the praises. No longer are the Thunder the cute up-and-comers. They’re tough, they’re physical, they’re a bit nasty and most importantly, they’re now dangerous.
The Thunder not only topped the defending champs for the first time in Staples 120-106, but they did it with a little edge. They did it with some swagger.
The thing Kobe has always said about the Thunder was that there was no fear in these young guys eyes. And with a whole new look about them this time against the Lakers, there absolutely was no fear, no intimidation, no anxiousness, no nothing this time. All those things have jumped up and bit Oklahoma City at times in Staples, but not in this one. The Thunder had the eye of the tiger early on hitting 10 of their first 13 shots en route to 36 first quarter points (most the Lakers have given up in the first quarter this season). And they carried over, never losing focus or getting nervous as L.A. went up by five in the fourth, instead the Thunder outscored the Lakers 32-16 in the final frame to close them out.
If you were looking for a statement, a confidence boost, some momentum or whatever you want to fill the blank in with, you got it with this game. And don’t tell me the Lakers didn’t care. They wanted this game too. Every player on the team talked about how big it was to them. They had dropped four straight coming in and absolutely did not want to give the Thunder confidence to win in their building. Well, mission failed Lakers.
The Thunder just took care of their business. Each guy did his job. KD was as good as he’s ever been against the Lakers dropping 31 on 11-15 shooting. Westbrook scored 26 to go with seven assists and six rebounds, plus had the massively excellent four-point play to sink the Lakers in the final minute. James Harden had 16 terrific points off the bench. Serge Ibaka added 15, Kendrick Perkins had five boards but brought a serious edge to the floor and how about Thabo Sefolosha hitting the biggest shot of the game, a 3 to put OKC up 106-104 with three minutes left.
Total team effort, total team win.
No, it wasn’t the best defense in the world for 48 minutes, but it was outstanding the last 10. No, some of the execution lacked at times, but 120 points on 55.6 percent shooting against one of the premier defensive teams in the league is pretty fantastic. It honestly felt like the roles had reversed for once with the Lakers struggling to hold their head above water against the Thunder. OKC led for most of the game, with L.A. taking its first lead at 76-74 in the third quarter. And guess what, OKC went on 8-0 run right after. The focus, the response, the way the Thunder locked in on the Lakers was downright inspiring.
- It was just so blatantly clear how much of a difference in attitude this Thunder team had taking the floor tonight. I don’t know if it’s a Perk thing or just the way these guys are maturing, but they were ready to take anything the Lakers threw at them and punch back. At no point did anyone back down with a blue jersey tonight. Not once.
- To that point, Perk scuffled with Kobe in the second quarter. It was so obvious that Perk was blatantly holding Kobe and it sparked Kobe to shove Perk, with of course promoted Perk to shove back. Later, Perk was just pushing on Andrew Bynum as a shot went up and Bynum didn’t like it so he threw the ball at Perk to which Perk’s response was perfect. He just held his arms out like, “What? What are you gonna do?” Then in the fourth on a jump ball, Kobe was crowding Ibaka a bit so Ibaka stomped his foot on Kobe’s. Again, not moving one inch for them.
- The Thunder led 66-64 at the half and let me tell you, as good as it felt like the Thunder played, it really seemed like they should’ve had more than a two-point lead.
- Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook actually have won in Staples before. They’ve beaten the Clippers and even won as Western All-Stars. However, this was the first win against the Lakers there.
- The big difference for KD in this one? Two things: 1) It looked like Durant was entirely relaxed in his game. He wasn’t worried about what Ron Artest did to him, he was just going to do his thing and take open shots. When Durant is within himself like that and blocks out all outside frustrations and stress, he’s at his best. And 2) Perk’s screen-setting seriously gave Durant a visible more amount of space coming off curls and pins.
- For some reason when Steve Blake shots I have no doubt it’s going in. I feel like I never see him miss.
- Mavericks won, so OKC is still back a game with two to go. But the Thunder’s also just one back of the Lakers too. Interesting.
- Play early in the third quarter, Westbrook was in transition. Durant was running alongside holding a hand up as if to say, “Hold up, hold up.” What does Russ do? Well, since it was now one-on-three, Westbrook attacked and missed a short shot in the lane. One of those Good Russ, Bad Russ plays. He makes it, Good Russ. He missed, so bad.
- I say this every time L.A. plays OKC, but Artest fouls KD probably six or seven times per possession. They would be ticky-tack fouls of course, but he just uses his hands to control KD. I don’t blame him whatsoever for it, because if you can get away with putting your hands all over him, it’s the absolute best way to lock down on him. Didn’t really work in this one, but that’s his gameplan. Make every movement frustrating. Just be in Durant’s way.
- Classic Russell Westbrook tonight. The first half, he was completely cooking. He scored 16 in the first quarter and was dropping 3s, slashing, hitting his mid-range jumper and basically looking unstoppable. Then it all left him as he started the second half 1-10. But as he does, he hit his last two, a big layup in traffic and the 3 he was fouled on.
- Might be wrong, but I think that was Thabo’s first tech in OKC. And rightfully earned. A completely rotten call on him as he dove for a loose ball that gave him his fourth foul.
- Watching Perk defend Bynum on the block was downright glorious. Never have we seen Bynum completely stood up in the post by a lone Thunder defender. Most times, he just bulls his way to the basket. But Perk was able to hold him up. Such a huge, huge difference.
- This game had a bit of the same feeling the win against the Heat did in Miami. It was important, in the sense of a regular season game, and the Thunder showed up and played. I think that’s a step that can’t be understated.
- Man, those Laker fans were quiet to start the game. Like seriously quiet.
- Everybody raved about the Lakers since the All-Star break. They’re 17-6. OKC is 19-7.
- The Thunder’s second unit completely outplayed L.A.’s to start the fourth. Nazr Mohammed was once again stellar, Eric Maynor did a great job, Nick Collison was himself and Daequan Cook did his job. They stayed in a bit longer than usual as there wasn’t a whistle to let the starters come back in, but they took a five-point deficit and handed the starters a one-point lead with six minutes left. Very big.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Teammates? He don’t need no stinking teammates!”
I think we’ve all had the feeling that the Thunder’s been a bit overlooked as a real contender the past few weeks and I haven’t mentioned it much because I’m fine with it. Talk about how dangerous the Nuggets are, talk about how the Blazers are sleepers, talk about the Spurs, talk about the Lakers, talk about the Mavs. Forget all about Oklahoma City for all I care. The Thunder are a very, very good team. They proved Sunday night they might have a little something to say in the upcoming weeks about all this playoff stuff. This win was a big step in a great direction. Over the past week, the Thunder’s stared three big games right in the face and showed up for all of them. Two wins against Denver and this one on the road against the Lakers. That’s big time, kids.
Next up: At Sacramento Monday night.