Lakers beat Thunder in OT: Thoughts, links, and NBA news
It took an overtime push and a few fortunate breaks, but the Lakers did indeed knock off the Thunder Tuesday night in Oklahoma City, 101-98 the final. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 31 points, Ron Artest put in 20 and found the range on his jumper (6-8 from the floor, 2-3 from beyond the arc), Andrew Bynum was efficient en route to 21/10, making 10 of his 15 shots.
On the one hand, the Lakers went on the road and beat a highly motivated and increasingly tough opponent while Pau Gasol sat on the sidelines and Kobe worked his way through a fever that forced him to miss shootaround and put his participation in question (sort of, since nobody in their right mind believes Kobe would miss a game because of the flu). But for everything they did well, there was an equally important aspect of the game they managed to botch. A few numbers and morning after thoughts:
- As the game went along, I thought the Lakers did a solid job defensively. They had 16 steals, forced 21 turnovers, and were effective in their traps, particularly in the second half. Overall, the Thunder shot only 43% and scored 39 points over the final 24 minutes of regulation. Derek Fisher was particularly effective against Russell Westbrook, a tough matchup for anyone. He held his own against the former UCLA product in the open floor, and whether it's because the Thunder don't set strong picks, Fisher is a very strong PG, or both, he was able to wreck his fair share of screen and rolls. Bynum made a great play on Kevin Durant in the closing moments of OT, rotating off his man to block a shot that could have put the Thunder ahead. Overall, it was one of Bynum's stronger defensive games in recent memory, in terms of help defense.
- The exception was offensive rebounding. The Lakers gave away far too many, especially in the first half. And of course there's no defense for turnovers. They shot 70% in the first quarter, but only finished up by seven because of points off turnovers. At the half, LA was still in the 60% range, but the game was tight. Why? POTs favored the Thunder by a 19-8 margin. In the third, the Lakers dodged a bullet, finishing the quarter down only one after giving the ball away nine times. Nine times? Nine. Times. In one quarter. That's absurd. They did it with careless outlet passes, poor decisions in the halfcourt, offensive fouls, you name it. Kobe finished with seven on the night, a function likely of both his illness and the defensive work of Thabo Sefolosha.
- Phil Jackson gave Artest minutes with the second unit, putting him in a position to drive the offense and Artest responded well. Were there moments of indecision and overdribbling? Sure, but he was assertive when the Lakers needed him to be, and that's a step in the right direction. One thing we'll all have to get used to is the aesthetics of Artest's offensive game. It's not necessarily a pretty thing. He's strong off the dribble, but hardly elegant.
- Sorting out the bench remains an issue. Last night, Jackson didn't invest much time in them, not all that surprising given their collective ineffectiveness.
More Lakers/NBA news below the jump.
- There's still no firm date on when he'll play, but Gasol's injured hammy is going in the right direction.
- We don't typically delve in to gossip... but Sasha Vujacic and Maria Sharapova? Impressive work, Mr. Vujacic.
- The Cavs had a strong win against the Wizards, while the Celtics continue to wreck the opposition.
- Allen Iverson's complaints don't appear to have put him in the starting lineup.
- Rarely do you hear former NBA players get excited to play in Bakersfield, but most former NBA players aren't Robert Swift. That's true on a lot of levels.
- An interesting note about how NBA teams woo free agents. Apparently, some have gone overboard relative to NBA rules.
- Thus far, Carlos Boozer and the Jazz are co-existing just fine.
The Lakers are in Houston to see Trevor Ariza and the Rockets. We all know what happened this summer, and it still stings a little for TA, though he says he's moved on. Certainly Houston has surprised many with their strong 3-1 start. While the Rockets are without Yao and Tracy McGrady and have almost no height on the roster, this will be no cakewalk. Everyone remembers what Houston managed to do against LA in the playoffs last season, and no team in the league works harder. Playing the wrong end of a back-to-back and coming off an overtime game, the Lakers will have to find reserves of energy and clean up Tuesday night's mistakes to win.