I think we learned two things tonight that we probably already kind of knew:
1) The Lakers genuinely aren’t very good, especially without Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
2) The Thunder are genuinely very good, especially with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Other than a brief 11-0 run to finish the first quarter, this thing was a straight punking. Kevin Durant turned Staples Center into Rucker Park for a while, scoring a season-high 42 on 16-25 shooting. Russell Westbrook had 27, 10 assists and seven rebounds. The Thunder shot 50.6 percent from the floor and held the Lakers to 39.8 percent. KD was a +35. Westbrook a +28. As long as one of those two were on the floor tonight, the Lakers had about as much chance of staying close as Hasheem Thabeet has touching his toes.
We knew coming in that the Thunder were better than the Lakers. But there were questions — or at least mild concerns — that coming in having lost five straight and on national TV on their home floor, that the Lakers would play an inspired game. That Kobe would do that thing where he’s straight amazing, that Steve Nash would somehow make Robert Sacre and Jodie Meeks look like capable NBA players and that the Lakers would fight tooth and nail to the end.
I think that they fully intended on doing those things. Except Kevin Durant happened. He had 25 in the first half, then added 15 more in the third. His 3 right before halftime might’ve just been the dagger as it punctuated a 39-point second quarter, or really, the dagger might’ve happened a few plays earlier when he took Earl Clark to the woodshed and straight beasted him. It was a play that just said, “You’re not going to stop me.”
It was extremely evident that unless Scott Brooks suffered unknown brain trauma and decided to play his bench the full 48, that the Thunder were set to coast to an easy, impressive win over this hapless Lakers squad. Because despite a solid, fun 15-point beatdown in Staples, the Thunder’s bench definitely offered some legit concerns.
The Lakers’ bench is pretty poor, and it worked over OKC’s late in the first quarter. Reggie Jackson looked flat out bad and with Martin unable to get involved, offense became a chore. Brooks has been tinkering with his rotation all season long, but it’s clear that the Thunder aren’t a team that uses their bench as a weapon to extend leads anymore. It’s a team that has to try and survive when the bench is on the floor.
What’s the answer? Maybe there’s a player available on the trade market. Or maybe it’s someone on the roster. Brooks is giving Jackson a shot and for now, the jury is still very much out on him. While he seems just fine at calling out sets and swinging passes to initiate offense, he’s not necessarily creating points. I don’t know what to make of Jeremy Lamb quite yet, but before the Thunder do anything, I’d kind of like to give him a two-week audition as a regular bench contributor, just to see.
Those are the kind of lapses that will burn you though. Instead of finishing a first quarter up nine, you let the other team go on a run and tie it up. It’s a real concern. Scott Brooks sensed it in the third too which is why he left Durant on the floor nearly the entire 12 minutes. He wasn’t about to mess around and let a 20-point lead slip to 10 in those final three minutes.
But that’s the kind of game this was. The Thunder were so dominant, so in charge, so in control, that that little first quarter lapse feels like the biggest talking point after this one. Because we know the other stuff. KD is completely filthy and unguardable in every way, Westbrook is a straight G and when the Thunder are clicking, they’re an almost unstoppable machine.
- KD’s first half: 10-15 for 25 points. His second half: 6-10 for 17. Total minutes: 39.
- I really liked the timeout by Brooks with about 10 minutes left after the Lakers had an easy layup to cut it to 19. He snapped the timeout and immediately came out barking at his team. The message was clear: We’re nipping this run right now. We’re not about to let this get serious.
- DeAndre Liggins saw time late in the first quarter, and it wasn’t at a time where the Thunder were seeking a spark or needing energy. It was as if he was getting regular playing time. And you know what? He’s earned the shot. The 11-0 run the Lakers went on to finish the quarter wasn’t his fault either. He was as active as ever on the defensive end.
- KD absolutely had his way in the post tonight. Any time Kobe got matched on him down there, it was essentially an automatic two points.
- The Lakers are an embarrassingly bad defensive team. No urgency, no ball pressure, no active hands, no intensity. Like I said, the Thunder were just working them.
- How pretty was that backcut play the Thunder executed in the first half where Nick Collison dished to Martin for a dunk? I smell a film study.
- Via @ThunderStats: “Since 2009-10, Durant has twenty 40-point games. No other player in the league has more.”
- Perk was really solid tonight. He did some dumb things — like his behind-the-back pass to Kobe — but his screening was terrific, he was active in pick-and-roll defense, he was communicating like crazy and you could tell he was just locked in. It’s never pretty with Perk, but sometimes, it’s pretty effective. I think OKC’s overall team defense was noticeably better with him on the floor tonight.
- That said, watching the Bulls before the Thunder and seeing Joakim Noah. That was nice.
- Big fan of Westbrook’s silent strut-glare after he finishes an and-1. I think it’s almost better than him roaring and pounding his chest. Maybe a little snarl, a little lip curl and you’ve got it.
- Also a big fan of his demonstration of how he put some spin on his layup.
- I say it a lot, but Thabo seriously deserves All-Defense consideration. Kobe going 8-23 tonight was no coincidence. Everything was contested, everything was challenged.
- Hey, Kevin Martin played good on the road! Fifteen points on 6-12 shooting and 3-6 from 3.
- The Lakers missed opportunities to be closer in the first half. Literally. They went 0-11 from 3 in the first half, many of which were very good looks.
- It’s incredible how quiet Staples Center can get.
- Scott Brooks needs to starting carving out some shootaround time for the Thunder to work on their high fives. People being left hanging is becoming an epidemic. Latest victim: Russ.
- How about that play in the first quarter where Serge Ibaka backed Kobe down from the top of the key and drilled a turnaround fadeaway over him at the free throw line? I had to put a pillow over my lap after that.
- What’s up with the head-slap-as-a-celebration thing? Someone’s gonna get hurt by Perk on one of those.
- Westbrook is one of the worst in the league at turning down a good shot to take a worse shot. It’s amazing how he will pass up on a solid look only to put the ball on the floor for a couple dribbles and then take a long, contested pull-up 2. Crazy.
Next up: At the Blazers on Sunday.