Five things to take away from Lakers' 90-87 victory over Oklahoma City
1. The Lakers made late-game plays in their 90-87 victory Sunday over Oklahoma City. That sentiment may not have lasted had the Thunder converted on their last possession. After Lamar Odom missed two free throws with 10 seconds remaining, the Thunder immediately called timeout when Kevin Durant grabbed the rebound with nine seconds remaining. On the next play, Durant caught a pass curling off a screen, but Ron Artest and Pau Gasol closely contested his three-point attempt. Thunder center Nick Collison tipped the missed shot to the top of the key to James Harden, whose trey hit off the back iron. But credit the Lakers' defensive effort in forcing OKC into making tough shots at the end and many possessions before that.
That became crucial considering the Lakers entered the fourth quarter holding only a 72-71 lead over the Thunder. After OKC guard Russell Westbrook missed a 13-footer, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant grabbed the rebound. On the next possession, Bryant received a dump pass from Artest at the top of the key before receiving a screen on Harden. With the shot clock winding down to six, Bryant drained a three-pointer that gave the Lakers an 84-80 lead with 4:37 remaining. Nearly three minutes later, Bryant drove into the lane and didn't receive a foul call despite Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha making contact with him. But he made up for it after the Lakers took possession out of bounds. In an isolated set on the far wing, Bryant posted up on Sefolosha, moved out into triple-threat position, swung the ball left, dribbled in, posted up and then turned around for a 16-footer that put the Lakers up 90-87 with 56 seconds remaining.
The Lakers also made huge defensive plays. Artest swiped a pass from Westbrook to Durant that could've sliced the Lakers' momentum after Bryant's fallaway jumper. On the next possession, Gasol stood firmly in the paint to draw an offensive foul on Westbrook. Oklahoma City surely made critical plays late in the game, including a 7-1 run to close the gap to 88-87 with 2:01 remaining and Collison's extra tip-in, but the Lakers offset that with crucial plays of their own.
2. The Lakers' defense improved in the second half. Artest and Gasol embodied that in the two crucial defensive plays described above, but the Lakers mostly lacked that kind of play in the first half. Oklahoma City shot 61% from the field and led by as many as 14 points because of the Lakers' failure to hold the Thunder in the open court and shut down penetration in the lane. The Lakers epitomized that breakdown the most when Westbrook dribbled behind his back past Bryant in transition and finished with a one-handed dunk to give the Thunder a 45-42 with 4:16 left in the second quarter. Oklahoma City also outscored the Lakers inside, 40-34, thanks to their perimeter players driving to the basket. Ibaka's 13 rebounds also helped contribute to Oklahoma City's 39-36 rebounding advantage.
That all changed in the second half. The Lakers held Oklahoma City to a season-low 31 second-half points, including only 13 in the third quarter, which appeared similar to the Lakers' 101-94 victory Jan. 18 against Oklahoma City when they held the Thunder to 39 points in the second half after allowing 55 before halftime.
3. The Thunder had no answer for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. While Kendrick Perkins isn't expected to play for OKC until two to three weeks from now because of a sprained left knee, the Lakers feasted on their size advantage they had inside with their pair of 7-footers. They combined for 34 points and 21 rebounds and became a formula the Thunder frankly had no answer combating. The problem is that the Lakers didn't always utilize their advantage by limiting them to only 20 combined field-goal attempts, which has proven to be an ongoing issue. Bryant played a terrific game with timely shots, taking a charge and remaining aggressive, but his eight-of-22 shooting mark could've been tempered a little bit.
4. Ron Artest continues to progress. There's no point in trying to analyze patterns regarding Artest. For better and worse, that's what the Lakers get with him. The Lakers simply hope the stars align at the right time. So it's too early to say whether Artest has figured things out since shooting better than 50% for the third time in four games after the All-Star break. But it's a welcome sign. The Lakers didn't bring him to L.A. to score 10 points on five-of-10 shooting, though that's surely a bonus. They brought him in to hold players such as Durant to 21 points on eight-of-20 shooting with five turnovers. As much as Artest insists every game means the same to him, there's no doubt this one meant more to him considering he structured his whole workout regiment to slimming down so he could keep up with Durant.
5. Bryant surpassed Elvin Hayes on the NBA's all-time scoring list. His 17-point effort currently places Bryant at 27,320 career points, eclipsing Hayes' mark of 27,303 points for seventh place. Assuming Bryant maintains his 25.2 points per game average this season, he should surpass Moses Malone's mark of 27,409 points within the next three or four games. Bryant this season has already moved past Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Robertson, Dominique Wilkins and John Havlicek.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant reacts to a play in the second half of Sunday's 90-87 victory over the Thunder in Oklahoma City. Credit: Larry W. Smith / EPA
Photo: Lakers forward Lamar Odom goes after a loose ball with Thunder guard Daequan Cook in the second half Sunday. Credit: James Schammerhorn / Associated Press