Harry How/NBAE/Getty Images
The facts are this:
- The Thunder lost today to the Lakers, 105-96.
- The Thunder are now 34-11, the Lakers are now 19-25.
- The Thunder are 2-1 against the Lakers this season.
- The Thunder were playing their last game of a long road trip.
- The Lakers seemed to put a whole lot into winning this one.
- The Thunder didn’t perform well, most notably Russell Westbrook who shot just 6-22 from the floor.
- The Lakers appeared to play extremely well, most notably Kobe Bryant who was completely brilliant setting up teammates while picking his spots.
But there’s also this fact that most Thunder fans will try to ignore will citing the above: Losing to the Lakers sucks. On national TV in those now-seeming-kind-of-terrible alternate uniforms, the Thunder didn’t execute and didn’t defend. Losing to LA is different than losing to the Wizards or Hawks. It just is. And it causes a whole different level of instant reaction and response.
Plus, it’s opened the door for ambitious wagoners to jump back aboard with the Lakers and proclaim them “back” or at the very least, “on the right track.” They might be, who knows. But one thing’s for sure: A Thunder win today would’ve nipped all of that noise entirely, at least until the next game the Lakers won. For shame. It’s what I was afraid of.
What happened in Staples today though? Simply put, I don’t think the Thunder played very well at all. And that’s not to try and diminish the Lakers’ achievement — seriously, it’s not — but I think it’s obvious at this point that if these teams play to their potential, Oklahoma City is better. That was proven in five games last postseason and has been proven through half a season this year. Still, with Westbrook completely ineffective scoring-wise, and Durant off (and by off, he scored 35 but not in the typically glorious fashion we’re used to), the Thunder didn’t have enough to survive.
I know what you’re thinking: Well, what about the other weapons, like Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin? Ibaka wasn’t good and because of matchups, Martin was limited to only 19 minutes. The Lakers expose the major difference between James Harden and Martin, and that’s Martin’s inability to flex and defend multiple positions. To keep Martin on the floor, I thought Scott Brooks was going to use the same tactic we saw a lot in the playoffs and put KD on Kobe. He did, for about three possessions. But Kobe hit a jumper over Durant and Brooks called that off immediately.
What that did was bring Thabo back in, but forced Brooks to pull Martin off. A move I don’t really like in that circumstance, especially considering the apparent offensive issues between Durant and Westbrook. Brooks was putting his eggs in the Russ and KD basket, a logical gamble to make but maybe not on a day like this.
On those issues with Westbrook: Yep, he was kind of bad, at least in terms of shooting. He was erratic and undisciplined, and that was really the only problem I had with it. It’s fine to go 6-22 when you’re just missing. But when a lot of those misses were forced looks or reckless heaves, it’s bad. You can’t deny how good Westbrook was other than that though with 13 assists and nine rebounds. He competed, he ran good offense and he made smart passes. He just shot the ball miserably.
Westbrook’s horrible game kind of reaffirmed to me that he’s immensely important to OKC winning games, especially close ones. Most people are probably yelling, “NO RUSS NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” when he’s pulling up from 18 in a game like this, but the fact is, the Thunder need Westbrook, especially in those situations. Like the Golden State game, Durant can’t always do it on his own. He needs the help of his superbuddy. For better or worse, that’s the design.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I do sense a little more of a freakout after this loss than the usual ones. It’s another loss coming just a few days after a different one, so that wound is still fresh. But you know what? I don’t think it’s wrong to show a little anxiety in losing to the Lakers though. Because all KNOW, that team is capable of far more than they’re doing. They’ve been horrific this season and still might not even make the playoffs. But there’s enough there to fear. Enough there to keep an eye on, especially as a potentially terrifying eighth-seed. I think that’s just the respect we all have for Kobe and the Lakers. They seem dangerous.
Perspective is always important though. I realize the vocal minority catches a lot more attention than the level-headed majority, but still, that faction of the fanbase is so infuriating and frustrating to deal with that they’re impossible to ignore. If you panic over January losses for a 34-11 team, you need to reevaluate your emotions and how much you’re investing in these games. It’s a loss, and a no fun one. But for the Thunder, it has everything to do with the team staring back at them in the mirror and not the one they just played. Which is a good thing.
- I feel like that picture is kind of perfect for this game.
- This game today is a good reason why Ibaka’s not at a Defensive Player of the Year level. He fell asleep multiple times on rotations, was late helping and didn’t handle the pick-and-roll well. If he’s a DPOY guy, he’s got to be making more of a defensive impact. The four blocks are good, but those are isolated plays. Defense is about constant pressure, intensity, focus and attention, four things Ibaka lacked a lot of today.
- Westbrook and Durant combined to go 16-48 (33 percent). Oof.
- It’s too bad the Lakers don’t have a mascot for Westbrook to mess with to spark himself.
- For the first time this season, the Thunder lost a game where Nick Collison played more than 20 minutes. Were 14-0.
- Kendrick Perkins was kind of excellent. Not just because he scored 10 points on 5-6 shooting, but his activity was obvious. He defended Dwight Howard well and was probably the Thunder’s best big defending the pick-and-roll today.
- Westbrook running hot with emotion is normally no big deal, because it happens every game. But he seemed to let a few exterior things get to him today. He engaged a courtside fan in some serious trashtalk in the third quarter and picked up a technical late in the fourth. There’s a difference between playing with emotion and anger and losing your head. I think Westbrook lost his head a little today.
- OKC’s now 4-3 in the alternates.
- Again, Martin played just 19 minutes today, but only five minutes in the first half. Odd.
- I continue to be completely baffled by Howard’s free throw shooting. Not that he misses, but his general mechanics and technique. How can you play basketball your whole life, to the point it’s your profession, and shoot like that? His job is basketball. You’d think he’d figure out proper form, or at least something in the right neighborhood of it.
- Unofficially, I think the Thunder are winning six percent of jump ball situations this season.
- How things have changed for the Lakers. No longer is KD exclusively Metta World Peace’s assignment. For the most part today, Earl Clark got the call.
- That Perk jumper from 20 feet > watching Thabeet try to guard Pau Gasol.
- A rare game the Thunder lost where they scored 40 or more points in the paint.
- After three quarters, this game had a feel of “How are the Thunder tied?” to it. They were playing bad, the Lakers good and yet it was 75-75. That eventually caught up to OKC though as the Lakers took over the fourth, 30-21.
- Let me be the millionth person to say that I’m bummed out about Rajon Rondo.
- Perk’s “BALL DON’T LIE!” in the first quarter after a Howard miss was solid.
- Great point in the comments by ThunderChick in the comments: If you could pick either beating the Lakers or the Clippers on this trip, you’d pick the Clippers, right? It’s at least more important to the bigger picture.
- It really is kind of a shame Westbrook didn’t at least get that triple-double.
- The Lakers bench: 33 points. OKC’s: 17. That’s no good.
- Just 10 total turnovers for the Thunder today. Sometimes, turnovers are a real problem, but this illustrates that it’s often the kind of turnovers that happen, not the sheer volume. Because the Thunder took care of the ball today and still played bad offense.
Next up: Home, finally, Thursday against the Grizzlies.