Traditionally, the last game before the All-Star break is ho-hum. Players not going to the game are waiting to go on vacation. Players in the All- Star game can’t wait to get on the plane and decompress, this time in New Orleans. Add to this calculus a horrible Lakers team that could not beat the Utah Jazz. A tough competitive battle against the Oklahoma City Thunder seemed farfetched. But the Lakers started energized, a 3 point jump shot by Kendall Marshall. And then after a Kevin Durant miss Kendall drove to the rim. Oklahoma City missed 5 of their first 6 threes and appeared a little disinterested which wasn’t surprising. It’s easy to get up for Portland; a bad team is hard to get motivated for, even if it is in Los Angeles. The Lakers had a 7 point lead 17-10 before Jeremy Lamb hit a three to bring the Thunder to within 4. The flow of the game was uneven. The Lakers were playing as hard as they could and the Thunder were going through the motions. Reggie Jackson struggled, missing his first four shots. Ibaka missed four of his first five. Even though the Lakers were up by 7 at the end of the 1st quarter Oklahoma City’s athleticism and quickness was blatant. Still they trailed 24-17 primarily because they shot 29%.
In the second quarter a Shawne Williams block of Jeremy Lamb made you remember Shawne was in the D-League last week. Tonight, he was the Lakers leading scorer in the first half. Such is how their season has gone, one in which the expected (injuries) and the unexpected (a different hero) has plagued their season. Luck has not been on their side all year but two Robert Sacre prayer shots that went through the net without much effort made you think maybe this was one of those anomaly games, the type of game in which the team that has no reason of winning does so because the other team just does not want to play. When Jordan Hill made a 20 foot jump shot- what?- the Lakers had a twelve point lead, 37-25. The Thunder continued to play as if they had one hand tied behind their back. They didn’t want to be out there, ridiculous passes, ridiculous shots. Durant was getting hammered with no calls- isn’t he a superstar? Frustrated, he butchered Wes Johnson going to the rim. Then he murdered the rim with a ferocious open court dunk. At the end of the half Durant had 12 points, mediocre for him. He missed 8 out of 13 shots but he had 7 rebounds and the Thunder trailed by 9.
The third quarter is the D’antoni-has-cursed-this team-from-day-one- quarter. The Lakers are usually awful. Scott Brooks was expected to challenge his team at halftime, saying something like: look guys, these are the Lakers, they have the fifth worst record in the NBA, they lost to Utah twice, to the 76ers, to helpless Milwaukee, have some pride. But alas. The Thunder continued sleepwalking and the Lakers took advantage. A Wes Johnson lob dunk. A Chris Kaman 20 foot shot. A Perkins moving screen. The Lakers had an eleven point lead, 60-49. Win this game and they won’t have the worst record in the Western Conference, just the second worst. Kendall Marshall had his best assist of the night, a long outlet pass to Shawne Williams at the rim who made it a fourteen point lead 71-57. The Lakers were beating the Thunder off ball, creating mismatches and Durant’s frustration was slowly melting into anger. He was 0-8 from three, he was getting fouled and his team was lethargic. But as bad as the Thunder were, they were only trailing by 10 at the end of the third, 82-72.
Kevin Durant starting the fourth was evidence: the Thunder wanted to win the game. He made five shots in a row to cut the 15 point lead to 8. The Lakers second unit, lacking firepower and defense and confidence and will, was helpless when the Thunder changed gears, upping the intensity on both ends. The Lakers could not make shots and the lead dwindled to 3. Here they were. This was the Thunder team that was supposed to have shown up in the first quarter, the team that is supposed to make it to the NBA Finals. They outscored the Lakers 10-3, mostly because of their defensive pressure. The Lakers had trouble moving the ball or getting off a clean look. It didn’t help that the Lakers had seven turnovers in the first five minutes and led by one. With six minutes left Derek Fisher tied the score, 87-87. The Lakers had only one field goal in the quarter, they only had five points. D’antoni made no substitutions, he just let the team flail and suffer. Kevin Durant’s first three in the game put the Thunder up by 5. But Wes Johnson answered back with a three. And Kendall who matched his career high with 17 assists drove to the rim to tie the score. The Lakers problem all year has been consistent production on offense. Shawne Williams couldn’t miss in the first half. He couldn’t make a shot in the second half. No such problem for Durant- he took 33 shots in the game- who put the Thunder up by 2. But Steve Blake made a miracle shot and was fouled to give the Lakers a 1 point lead, 95-94, with three minutes left. But the truth is this: the Lakers don’t have a scorer who in the 4th quarter can put up 19 points. Or score 43. Or defend. The Lakers gave up 35 points in the 4th. Still, Chris Kaman had a chance to tie the game with 23 seconds left but missed a free throw. The Lakers, of course, could not rebound. Derek Fisher, who the Lakers traded away two years ago, sealed the Thunder victory with two free throws with 16 seconds left. Perhaps next year it will be Pau Gasol to do the same thing.
Here’s What They Said:
Mike D’Antoni: “The turnovers hurt us. We missed too many foul shots. We’re looking towards the break. We have four guys coming back. Chris has been playing real well. Everyone was sharing the ball and trying to make the right play.”
Chris Kaman: “It’s a tough fight. Everyone plays hard. We want to win. We made some boneheaded plays. They ramped it up, got more physical. Our group of guys are not used to winning right now. I am not going to think about basketball for 4 days. I am going to think about my family and things that are important to me.”
Steve Blake: “We made them shoot contested shots. We played with a lot of energy. It got us through a good part of the game. I just deal with it (my arm). It bothers me. I’ll fight through it. I’ll think about my family during the break. If we continue to play with that energy that will be the key.”
Robert Sacre: We limited their rebounds and we hit big shots. We got a little sloppy. We can’t make mental mistakes. We have great guys. We have guys coming back. I am going to take the time off and not think at all, kind of relax and free my mind.”
Tags: Los Angeles Lakers