They might be the team on the rise but the Oklahoma City Thunder is still coming up short – literally. Last night, the Lakers showed the world the formula necessary to quiet the Thunder. In a game that felt much like a playoff contest, the Lake Show slowed OKC’s roll in an entertaining 101-94 victory.
While Kevin Durant is a scoring machine, his game is largely predicated on getting into a rhythm with transition buckets and one-on-one play. In the first half KD did all these things well enough to keep his team in a tight contest.
It might be Durant’s team but Russell Westbrook is the engine that drives the Thunder. The Lakers, or any team for that matter, just don’t have an answer for Westbrook’s DeSean Jackson-esque speed. The Leuzinger High alum put on a commanding performance with a game-high 32 points and 12 dimes.
But after Durant and Westbrook there is a steep drop off for the Thunder. Those two did their thing in the first half but nobody else stepped up for OKC.
Once the second half began, the Lake Show knew exactly what they needed to do and executed like Golgo 13 with extreme accuracy.
L.A. slowed the pace, forcing the Thunder to play out of their comfort zone as half-court hoops was the name of the game. Kobe Bryant got off to a slow start, allowing his teammates to set the tone before inserting himself in key moments in the second half. Mamba’s 21 points were pedestrian by his standards but most of those buckets came in crucial situations.
But this game wasn’t about what the Lakers did on the perimeter; this is all about the interior size and presence of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. The Thunder couldn’t figure out a way to get the same cheap buckets in the second half that they found in the first. Without transition scoring, OKC becomes a below average team relying on contested jumpers and long bombs that usually don’t have a prayer of going in.
The numbers won’t reflect the Lake Show dominance. They only had one more rebound as a team than the Thunder. Bynum had a modest 10 and 10. Gasol was money with 21 and 7 but it wasn’t like one of his early MVP type performances. Odom, as usual, got his to the tune of 16 and 7 in 32 minutes off the bench.
By slowing the tempo, the Lake Show held the Thunder to just 39 second half points. But the biggest difference of all might have been Derek Fisher. We haven’t heard much from D-Fish this year. Perhaps saving his best for those moments in June, Fisher has been largely absent this season. Last night, D-Fish was involved from the opening tip. His 15 points were vital in an important victory.
Next time around, we could see a different look from the Thunder. They must know that their current form just isn’t good enough to win in the postseason. Up tempo teams with athletic talent are built for the regular season. When it comes to a seven game series, those styles typically fail.
For the Lakers, this was a quality win against a playoff team. Something that has proven a bit of challenge in the first half of the season. More importantly is that they bounced back after the Clipper debacle of Sunday. This team is playing with a renewed focus just in time for an important stretch of games. Up next is Dallas where the struggling Mavericks await. The same formula applied to OKC won’t necessarily work against the Mavs but the same effort should yield a similar result.