Sometimes, it’s how you start and how you finish. The first six minutes tonight, the Lakers didn’t make a single basket. The last six minutes, the Lakers didn’t score a single point.
That right there, seems like a good formula for winning, especially when you have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to fill out the in-between.
Westbrook: 37 points on 15-29 shooting, 10 rebounds, five assists. Durant: 26 points, nine rebounds, five assists. The Lakers just don’t have an answer for those two, but especially Westbrook.
He always plays with a certain pace, the kind I would describe as “controlled chaos on heroin and Red Bull,” but with his hometown Lakers here and a matchup with Bryant as part of it, Westbrook was at a different kind of frenzy. It was like all of the Harlem Shake videos put into one. Each Westbrook bucket came packaged with either a strut, a sneer or a flex. Or even on occasion if we were lucky, all three. He flung his arms wildly, pounded his chest, pumped his fists and screamed to Loud City.
“I enjoy the challenge,” Kobe said of Westbrook. “It’s always fun to go up against him. Some nights I get the best of him. I argue with him that most nights I get the best of him. But tonight, he did his thing, he did his thing. He kept it under control tonight. He’s just a fantastic player.”
Said Westbrook of his matchup with Kobe: “Yeah it’s fun. He’s a competitor. I like to compete as well. But I like to win also.”
Which is what the Thunder did, dropping the Lakers below .500 again. OKC rolled out to a dominating first 24 minutes before allowing the Lakers to make it interesting late. But with 6:26 remaining, Westbrook checked back in the game with the Thunder leading 110-102. Nash immediately splashed a 3, but for those final six minutes, the Lakers didn’t score a single point.
A 12-0 run to close the game that featured a dagger 3 from Serge Ibaka, some free throws, a putback by Ibaka and a jumper by Westbrook to really slam the door. And that dagger from Ibaka — what a play. What was so interesting about it is that Kevin Martin — and extremely good 3-point shooter who was struggling a bit — had a wide open look. He drew in a defender and slid the ball to Ibaka in the corner who drilled it and basically sent the Lakers back below .500.
That extra pass was something else to me, because that’s some serious trust right there. Ibaka has proven he’s an improved outside shooter, but for a guy like Martin to put that shot in his pocket and make the right play, that was big time. And of course it only matters if Ibaka pays it off, which he did.
The other big story of this game though was the number two. Not Thabo Sefolosha, but the number of total turnovers the Thunder had. That’s right, the Thunder had two turnovers in a basketball game that lasted 48 minutes. That number is an all-time franchise best, and ties two other teams for an NBA record. Had Westbrook not shuffled his feet with a few minutes left, the Thunder would’ve broken it. And in fact, the first turnover OKC has was a bit dubious anyway, a play that was hotly disputed by a couple Thunder players.
“Who would have thought we’d end up with two turnovers,” Scott Brooks said. “I thought that obviously gave us the opportunity to get a shot up every time down the court, which is big for us.”
Said Westbrook: “It’s coming in with the right mindset. It’s getting to the time of year where you need to focus in and be sharp and be confident in what you’re doing as a team.”
A solid win for the Thunder with some blemishes for sure, but the 105 points the Lakers scored came largely because of the free throw stripe and some incredible shot-making by Kobe. Things you deal with when you play the Lakers. The Thunder are marching a bit now, playing solid basketball even with the tight recent loss in Denver. The Lakers are clawing for that eighth spot and with the Thunder looking to rise to No. 1, it’s pretty obvious that even if the Lakers squeak into the postseason, they might limp out almost as quickly if they find themselves matched up with Russell Westbrook.
- The Thunder bench came up pretty big tonight. Led by very quality minutes from Reggie Jackson who had some big buckets in the fourth and a couple big shots from Derek Fisher — yep — the Thunder held the Lakers are arm’s length. Martin started hot but finished cold going just 3-12, but the bench put up a good number, outscoring LA’s 39-20.
- In the second quarter after a wrestling match down low resulted in a foul on Nick Collison, Derek Fisher was hit with a technical. Then during the timeout, KD was hit with his 13th of the season. What happened? Durant walked near midcourt to talk to the officials about the call and immediately Joe Crawford told him to get back to his huddle. KD kind of made a face and didn’t turn around right away, so Crawford T’d him up.
- With these technicals, it’s obvious: KD’s getting picked on. There’s really no other explanation for it. Would any other player — other than Tim Duncan, obvs — have gotten that kind of treatment?
- Here’s how KD explained what happened: “All I asked him was, verbatim, is ‘Can I talk to you?’ and he got me with one. The way the game was going I’m sure he was just trying to control everything and make sure nothing outrageous happened I guess. Joey’s a good ref and I respect him a lot, but hopefully that gets rescinded.”
- TWO turnovers.
- Because of that, the Thunder attempted 96 shots tonight, which is kind of insane. For as good an offensive team as OKC, that’s a good plan.
- The Lakers started the game 0-10 from the floor and didn’t make their first basket for almost six minutes. And they didn’t make a bucket the last six minutes of the game. Serendipity.
- Kobe mysteriously injured his elbow in the first quarter. Basically he popped his funny bone and it bothered him the rest of the game. He dribbled with his left hand, high fived with his left, rebounded with his left — basically did everything left except shoot. KD walked up to Kobe in the second quarter to ask him how he was and Kobe’s response was simply, “I’m old.”
- Derek Fisher checked in before Reggie Jackson tonight. Not at point guard though. He came in with a couple minutes left in the first quarter for Thabo and played shooting guard. And he scored his first points of the season with OKC (two free throws) then hit a 3. Every time he does something kind of good, I feel like it’s right in my face.
- Brooks went with an interesting unit to start the second quarter. Ronnie Brewer checked in, which was nice, but joining him was Jackson, Fisher, Martin and Collison. And not only did they do OK, Brooks gave them extended minutes, playing them the first five of the quarter.
- Unofficially, KD is shooting 100 percent on 3-pointers attempted at the top of the key on a kickout following an offensive rebound.
- The officiating in that first half, not the best.
- Russell Westbrook shrugflex dot gif.
- Ibaka was excellent. He was in foul trouble early, but in 28 minutes had 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks. And he set a great tone early with two stuffs right off the bat.
- Dwight Howard, ineffective. Six points, 1-7 from the floor. Had 16 rebounds though.
- The Lakers had only 11 assists.
- Everyone on OKC’s roster tonight was a plus.
- I take full responsibility for Perk’s midrange shooting slump. Since I mentioned he was 51 percent from 16-23 feet, I don’t think he’s made one. Went 0-4 on jumpers tonight.
- A guy drilled a halfcourt shot to win $20,000. Nothing but net too. It’s a great story too. He’s a high school teacher and coach with seven kids and his wife was just diagnosed with cancer. He said after the game he told his students if he made it, he’d give them all $100. But he’s rescinding that offer now. Something to do with “eligibility” he said. But seriously, good for him. Awesome stuff.
- Ibaka’s mohawk. Um.
- A lot of times, KD beats his man and has a clean 20-footer, but often chooses to cross the man that rotates to him to try and get to the rim. This is a weird comparison, but it’s like a soccer player that has a shot in the box but instead of firing away tries to drag the ball, fake a shot and find a clear path to the goal. It’s not a bad move at all, but sometimes that open look is the best one, especially when you’re KD.
- Serge Ibaka talked pregame about his crotch-shot incident. Here are some quotes: “Like I said yesterday, about the foul, it was not something I tried to do the way it was. The game was physical. I wouldn’t try to hurt someone. I’m not the kind of guy. I like to play hard. Just for all the fans that feel like I tried to hurt him, I just want to apologize to the fans that was watching the game … I was not watching him, I was watching the basket. If you want to hurt someone, you’d be watching him and do it … People will type in whatever they want. But I just want to apologize to all the fans that was watching the game and if they saw it was a bad image and I want to apologize because I’m not that kind of person.”
Next up: At the Knicks on Thursday.