Before the game, Kobe Bryant talked about smacking Serge Ibaka. It turned out that talking about Ibaka and focusing on Kevin Durant wasn’t really in the focus of things. The Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t handle the Oklahoma City Thunder because Russell Westbrook was the next player to make a laughing stock of their perimeter and transition defense.
At the heart of the Lakers’ defense was Dwight Howard in an awful night, scoring only 6 points, not getting a single block, finishing with 1-7 from the field and grabbing 16 rebounds so his stats got nicely padded. It didn’t matter. The Thunder forced 16 turnovers off the Lakers while losing the ball only twice themselves, tying and NBA record which was previously achieved by Milwaukee (2006) and the Cleveland (2009).
Playing fast basketball usually results in a lot of turnovers, and the Houston Rockets are the only team in the NBA with more turnovers per night (16.3) than the Thunder (15.5). With all those extra possessions, it’s a wonder they only scored 122 points (beating the Lakers by 17), although the win was sealed a few minutes before the game was actually over.
It’s an interesting thing, these home games for OKC – all of them are double digit wins or losses; ot played a home game decided by less than 10 points since Dec. 28. The Thunder’s last 12 wins at Chesapeake Energy Arena have been by at least 16 points — and an average of 24.6 points. Their two losses were by 17 to Brooklyn and 10 to Miami.
The game couldn’t have gone better for Westbrook, ending up scoring 37 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and adding 5 assists on a 15-29 night from him, attempting only 2 shots from beyond the arc. There was no need to try and go from tough shots (although he had his usual collection) with the lane and the road to the basket so open. The Thunder scored 52 points in the paint, and seemed to have no trouble getting an easy shot anytime they wanted, scoring 22 fast break points.
Kevin Durant, as the sidekick this time, didn’t go wild like he has earlier this season against the Lakers. He finished with 26 points and 9 rebounds, but also managed to pick up his 13th technical of the season, this time arguing with the referees coming off the bench. Maybe it’s some sort of tactic to try and get more respect and less calls during the playoffs, but one thing is clear – Oklahoma City are no longer a nice, sympathetic team. They’re bad, and they want to win that way.
As for the Lakers, Kobe Bryant always comes up with a banged up elbow when it’s late in the season. Maybe he’s really hurt; maybe it’s him milking for sympathy because he’s such a terrific veteran player, fighting through the pain. Maybe it’s a jab at Howard. Bryant finished with 30 points but struggled to contribute beyond scoring, and along with Nash (20 points), was a big reason as to why the Thunder had such an easy time finding holes in that Lakers defense, as they fall below .500 once again, looking as old as their ages tell us they are, and not quite good enough to make the postseason.