A lot has changed since the last time the Thunder and Lakers met. The Lakers are different. The Thunder are different.
Except nothing is really different.
At least in terms of outcome.
The last time the Thunder and Lakers met, Oklahoma City was polishing off a nice gentleman’s sweep, a five-game handling of the LA. Of course, the Lakers didn’t just make an offseason splash, but emptied the pool with the signing of Steve Nash and the Dwight Howard trade. The Thunder actually subtracted from their roster.
Didn’t matter Friday though. Russell Westbrook went ballistic the first 24 minutes, Kevin Durant calmly closed the last 24 and the Thunder cruised to a 104-108 win over the Lakers.
“A lot of [the game] was Westbrook,” Mike D’Antoni said. “He just went crazy on us.”
That first half was something else. Westbrook has a pretty clear tell when he’s cooking and it’s that he not only gets super aggressive with his jumper, but he starts dropping his arms immediately after he releases the ball. You can literally see the swag oozing out of him. And in that second quarter, Westbrook was droppin’ arms and swaggin’ out. He hit five 3s — a career-high, not just for a half, but a game — scored 27 points, had five assists and didn’t turn it over once.
“I was able to make some shots early and just kept shooting,” Westbrook said.
The best one obviously was the and-1 3 that punctuated a dominant OKC first half. As the ball fell out of the net, Westbrook laid on his back, holstered his smoking fingers, did a somersault and then stood nose-to-nose with KD and they yelled in each other’s faces. It was one of Those Moments. One where you just shake your head and say, “Holy crap these guys are fun.”
But as is with Westbrook, it wasn’t going to last forever. He started the second half 0-of-7, missed two free throws, turned the ball over a couple of times and didn’t score a point in the third quarter. Good news for the Thunder though, they still had this Kevin Durant guy. Durant assumed his role as the best scorer in the world and started dropping mid-range pullups, deep 3s and slashing layups. He had 18 in the first half, 18 in the second. While Westbrook’s explosion had your jaw dropped, in the end it was Durant who had 36 points on seven fewer shots.
In fact, I this moment in the third quarter when it hit me: As frustrated as it can be sometimes when the Thunder play poorly, just imagine what it’s like to have your team playing against the Thunder. I mean, it just has to feel unfair . Westbrook’s killing you, making everything, running everywhere. Then he cools off. So what happens? Kevin Durant steps in and scores at will. If I were a Lakers fan, I feel like I’d just be sitting there like Bodie in The Wire — this game is rigged.
While the Thunder continued their superiority over the Lakers — that’s now eight of 10 with an average margin of victory of 12 points — no Thunder fan is so clueless to realize that a) it’s December and b) the Lakers were without Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.
“We all know the Lakers are one of the best teams. They don’t have the record right now, but they will,” Brooks said. “They’re going to get some guys healthy and they’re going to get some rhythm, but they have the best center in basketball and they have one of the best players ever. Steve Nash will come back and [Mike] D’Antoni will continue to get that team better.”
But at the same time, isn’t this what the concern over the assembling of this Laker team was? I know it was the angle I kept laying out as people asked in August if the West was already won by LA. They’re relying on a 39-year-old point guard, a 34-year-old Kobe Bryant, a center coming off spinal surgery and a power forward that has been slipping the last few seasons. On paper, sure. They look amazing. But as KD said during the summer, you don’t win games on paper.
There’s still so much time to go and things may look very different come March or April. I’m convinced 100 percent the Lakers will be better then than they are now. But any fear or worry that the West was the Lakers to lose looked pretty silly as the Thunder rolled them up Friday. The Lakers came in to Oklahoma City looking to make a statement. Instead, it was the Thunder who did it: The West is still very much theirs.
- Nick Collison, you guys. Just Nick Collison. This was me tonight when he checked out with 13 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes.
- I think Westbrook’s second half is what John Hollinger would call “regression to the mean.”
- Westbrook on if he was having fun after that and-1: “Definitely, at that point. Definitely. It was a good shot, a good moment.”
- Before the game Scott Brooks was asked about the Lakers being 1-7 when Kobe scored 30 or more points. “”I didn’t know that stat was out there but I’m going to put that on the board. Give him 32 tonight.” So with Kobe sitting on 32 points with 15 seconds left, I was all excited about a perfect storyline. Naturally, Kobe drilled a 3 to finish with 35 and ruined everything.
- A heads up: I talked to Kevin Martin pregame and he is not on Twitter, so @KMart23, if you’re following it, isn’t a real account.
- Westbrook was asked very specifically about the Thunder scoring 32 points in the final eight minutes of the second quarter and what keyed it. His answer: “Defending.” I mean, I guess I get it, but, well, um.
- Perk got caught in a one-on-one with Kobe late in the fourth quarter. Perk looked right at Kobe, said, “Let’s go boy” and then proceeded to get a finger tip on Kobe’s jumper causing it to barely catch iron.
- Pretty surprised the Lakers didn’t use Kobe on Westbrook one time. Takeaway for Mike D’Antoni: Chris Duhon can’t guard Westbrook.
- That’s 11 straight for the Thunder scoring 100 or more points.
- Some GIF fun: Here’s Westbrook hitting the and-1 3. Here it is from another angle. And here it is with Doc Rivers’ reaction.
- Clever move by Scott Brooks to end the third quarter. With Kobe shooting free throws with 24 seconds left, Brooks subbed in Durant for a final possession to end the quarter. It resulted in a missed corner 3 from Ibaka, but it was still quality awareness from Brooks.
- Ibaka clearly isn’t that comfortable in the post because every time he gets it there, he faces up.
- Perk might be able to defend Howard, but he sure couldn’t keep him off the glass. Howard had 18 rebounds, 10 in the first quarter and six offensive. Perk did do a pretty solid job on Howard in the post, but with the way the game shook out, Howard wasn’t much of an offensive focus at all.
- Woo boy, Eric Maynor stunk tonight. Maybe the worst eight minutes I’ve ever seen him play.
- It wouldn’t be a Thunder-Lakers game without Metta World Peace scuffling with someone. This time, it was Serge Ibaka as the two got locked up after a free throw. Ibaka appeared to sort of cock his arm back and ball up his fist. World Peace had those crazy eyes. It was tense.
- KD was actually asked postgame who would win in a cage match between Ibaka and World Peace. For real. Real question. KD answered it though. “I’m taking Serge,” he said.
- At times, Dwight Howard is barely even playing basketball. He just tries to overpower and manhandle people. I think that’s a real sign that he’s not physically right. He’s not using his incredible athleticism, but more just trying to rely on his strength.
- Kevin Martin dunked tonight. I don’t remember that ever happening.
- Any time Hasheem Thabeet tries to run really fast, I get pretty nervous.
- Violet Palmer is seriously the worst. It’s just pretty much a fact at this point. She’s so bad that players really don’t even argue with her. It’s like they hear a whistle, start to get mad, see it was her and just go, “Oh, it’s Violet.”
- Via Thunder PR bro John Read: “The last OKC franchise player to score 27+ points in the first half was Gary Payton vs. Washington on 2/15/2000 (29 pts).”
- We may have witnessed the worst fan halfcourt shot of all time. The guy barely got it to the free throw line. It really wasn’t a surprise. His free throw form was so bad that even Shawn Marion was going, “What the hell is that?”
- Nick Collison on defending Dwight Howard: “I’m giving up a lot of weight. And ability.”
- The options the Thunder have defensively are pretty incredible. Second quarter OKC had Durant on Kobe, Martin on Duhon and Westbrook on World Peace.
- That play in the early second quarter where Jodie Meeks drove into Kevin Martin, got the whistle and then shot the 3? What’s the big difference between that and the rip move? Meeks wasn’t set on attempting a shot there at all. But he felt the contact, heard the whistle and then went into a shooting motion.
- Am I the only one that’s almost always caught off guard by tipoff. I mean, I know it’s coming and all, but I’m never actually paying attention when it happens.
- You guys, Rob Clay can rock a national anthem. Best there is in OKC.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @mr_kylesmith: “The JayHawk sticking his talons in the Lakers!”
Next up: The Pacers at home Sunday.