Apr 22, 2012, 9:47 PM EDT
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday, 112-106.
In five years, that’s all that will remain from this game, in searched box scores. Those are the facts. But what happened is such a bigger story.
I’ve been sitting here struggling to find a way to accurately portray this game. Can you deny that the Lakers played a fantastic round of basketball down the stretch, with Kobe Bryant putting in a virtuoso performance even for him? You can’t. Can you ignore the fact that the Lakers not only took out the Thunder’s third best player, but a player who specifically would have helped the Thunder hold on to an 18 point lead late in the game by not committing turnovers and creating offense, as is his role? You can’t. Can you ignore the work of Jordan Hill? You can’t. Can you ignore that MWP’s actions handicapped the Thunder and the Lakers still needed double-overtime, a terrible night from Durant, and an “Oh My God”-awful night from Westbrook to survive? You can’t.
It’s all these things. This is the NBA. It’s complicated, it’s dramatic, and it’s intense. It’s playoff season.
Ron Artest’s elbow to the head of James Harden was part of why the Lakers won. It wasn’t the entirety. Let’s do bullet-points, because honestly, my brain’s fried from that thriller.
- Again, Kobe Bryant played one of his best games of the season. He went into hero mode, to be certain. There were bad shots. But for the most part, he worked Thabo Sefolosha down and cranked it over him at the elbow or wing. They weren’t hoist-em-up 40-footers. He also posted and re-posted Gasol and found Steve Blake. He shut down Russell Westbrook by forcing him to the worst spots on the floor. When Bryant plays like that, the Lakers are nearly unstoppable.
- James Harden’s primary contributions are running an efficient offense and thereby limiting turnovers, creating open looks, and being able to score. Down the stretch, the Thunder needed cohesive offense and a few more scores to win in regulation, or overtime. Or double overtime. Harden wouldn’t have stopped Kobe Bryant. A nuclear weapon wasn’t stopping Kobe Bryant Sunday. But he might have given the Thunder a lift in their biggest area of concern, offense.
- Jordan Hill’s performance speaks volumes. His rebound rate was exceptional. He gave the effort the Lakes needed and did not get from Andrew Bynum. Hill was a toss-in for the Fisher trade and yet made a massive contribution in a key game for the Lakers.
- Pau Gasol‘s mid-range game was highly effective over Serge Ibaka, while attempts to go inside failed.
- Kevin Durant was off today. He got good looks, took some bad shots, but like Kobe, they’re shots he can hit. 11-34 from the field, the most shots he has ever taken.
- Russell Westbrook was also off. Bryant did a great job on him defensively, but the pull-up jumpers off the pick and roll are a shot that he’s going to hit at a higher clip than 3-22. The Thunder could have really used another option down the stretch. Like a talented shooting guard who can run an offense, score, distribute, and make plays. Someone with a beard who… oh, right.
- Steve Blake was massive for the Lakers. When he hits those corner threes, the Lakers’ offense is a different animal.
So to review: The Lakers got a monster win that clinched no-worse-than-4th for them in the West. With Harden, without Harden, it was a win. That’s what matters.
As for a playoff series? If we’re to use Sunday’s game as a model, the Lakers just need to make sure Durant and Westbrook shoot 14-56, that Stave Blake hits monster threes, that Jordan Hill gives a huge performance, that Devin Ebanks makes critical plays, that Kobe Bryant goes off at an even higher than normal level, and that James Harden is knocked out by an illegal elbow shot to the head.
Like everything in the NBA, it’s complicated.
The playoffs start in five days.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:04 PM EDT
We’ve got a real nice feud brewing. Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard are both tough point guards on contending Western Conference teams. They both overcame long odds to reach the NBA and play with justified pride now that they’re here. And both are unafraid to speak their mind. Lillard lobbed the opening salvo after Houston’s…
Mar 10, 2014, 7:07 PM EDT
Does he mean Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani or J.R. Smith?
Mar 10, 2014, 6:11 PM EDT
Phil Jackson seems destined for New York. I argue that’s a good thing… but only if Jackson has a Jedi mind trick that can keep James Dolan at bay.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
Kansas’ Joel Embiid — potentially the top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft — has sought out a second opinion on his back injury. Just a reminder of why he should jump to the NBA rather than stay another year in college.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:05 PM EDT
As if his season hasn’t been a big enough disappointment, Cleveland’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett will miss at least 10 games with a knee strain.
Mar 10, 2014, 3:48 PM EDT
Nobody thinks Mike D’Antoni is the long term answer for the Lakers, but what is the point of switching out coaches this late in a lost season?
Mar 10, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
All the buzz has Phil Jackson taking a front office job with the Knicks (he’s just deliberate in making decisions like this)… but nobody asked Carmelo what he thought? Really?
Mar 10, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT
With a number of top teams stumbling — Oklahoma City, Miami, Indiana — it is the Spurs who have gotten healthy and looked good going 6-0 since the end of the rodeo trip. The West now dominates the top of the rankings, the Sixers are looking to set records at the bottom. 1. Spurs (46-16,…
Mar 10, 2014, 1:49 PM EDT
Bulls fans have taken to chanting “M-V-P” when Joakim Noah heads to the free throw line — and he does not like it one bit.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT
“Quick, 15-20 seconds, throw few punches, then referees jump in and break this thing up.”
Mar 10, 2014, 12:13 PM EDT
As a member of the Jazz, Al Jefferson once encouraged Utah fans to boo their own team. When he returned to Utah in December as a Charlotte Bobcat, Jazz fans cheered him. Now, another former Utah big man, Paul Millsap, is encouraging Jazz fans to boo him when he returns with the Atlanta Hawks. Paul…
Mar 10, 2014, 11:32 AM EDT
This 15-second sequence tells you all you need to know about the Rockets point guard.
Mar 10, 2014, 10:36 AM EDT
Who held the record previously? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Mar 10, 2014, 10:07 AM EDT
Dad was focused on the game just a l’il bit.
Mar 10, 2014, 9:35 AM EDT
Durant shooting even more – even if those extra shots are relatively inefficient – would make him more similar to history’s other high-end scorers. And that option remains on the table for him.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Odds of a warm welcome by the fans? Zero.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
The fewer the minutes for a team’s best players, the more likely teams are to be tanking and vice versa. Except in Detroit.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:59 AM EDT
A career-high 42 points on just 18 shots. Not bad.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:27 AM EDT
The mess in L.A. wasn’t so bad on Sunday.
Mar 9, 2014, 11:48 PM EDT
Houston a real contender in the West? Sure looks like it.
- PBT Extra: Can Phil Jackson help right the ship in New York? 8
- Phil Jackson reportedly close to taking Knicks job, nobody asked Carmelo about it 34
- PBT Power Rankings: Tell me again how the Spurs are too old…. 11
- Sunday NBA grades: All hail the unstoppable Jodie Meeks 13
- Harden’s 17 fourth-quarter points spark Rockets’ comeback win (VIDEO) 12