Author: Matt Moore

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Three

Lakers-Thunder Game 3: L.A. wins free throw contest by a lot, wins game by 3


Forty-two free throws is a lot of free throw attempts. Forty-one free throws made is a lot of makes. The Lakers got one, made the other, and walked out of Staples with a win in Game 4, 99-96.

We can talk about a lot of things. The way that the Lakers attacked the Thunder defensively, once again doing damage to Russell Westbrook who has been unable to find his jumper since Game 1. We can talk about Pau Gasol giving more effort even if he wasn’t that assertive offensively. We can talk about Kobe Bryant hitting one clutch shot late (and missing two with a turnover), and all his free throws. We can talk about a Lakers defense that on two key plays forced the ball out of Kevin Druant’s hands and into Serge Ibaka’s, and then forced a tough 30-foot three-pointer.

These were all part of it.

But really? It was the free throws, a 42-28 advantage for the Lakeshow.

Good, bad, ugly, they were what they were. You can argue that the league hates small markets and that the Lakers won because David Stern pushed some magical button. You’ll be an idiot, but you can say that. You can argue that the Lakers were more aggressive and earned those calls. But considering the Lakers drew six shooting fouls in the second half to create 27 free throws and that the Thunder drew six shooting fouls to create 14, it doesn’t really hold up. You can argue it was the Lakers’ size advantage, but the fact don’t bear that out, nor do they bear out that they were all bad fouls.

The officials lost control of this game early, during an early game scuffle between Russell Westbrook and, you guessed it, Metta World Peace, and spent the rest of it trying to gain control. And when that happens, ticky-tack perimeter fouls are called. And the Thunder were working for open shots, while the Lakers were driving to draw contact. It worked. Kobe Bryant absolutely worked over James Harden in drawing fouls on routine contact in a playoff game.

You can’t say the officials decided the game, but you can definitely look at them as the biggest weapon used.

The Lakers did get a number of things to go their way Friday night. Ramon Sessions finally contributed. Steve Blake hit two huge shots in the second half. Metta World Peace played terrific defense. Andrew Bynum was a defensive force, even if he went 0-6 in the second half from the field. They played well enough to win, when Kevin Durant’s desperation three wouldn’t go down. And they hit 41 of 42 free throws, which is just nuts and takes a world of mental discipline.

So now what? Now we get Game 4 on a back to back. Will the Lakers have the energy to keep up with the young Thunder on a back to back? Will playing two games on the road wear on the Thunder? Will the disappointment of this game, one they could have had if they had just fouled slightly less, haunt OKC into a sluggish performance? The Lakers are only down 2-1 with a chance to tie the series at home. They looked dead in the water just hours ago. But it’s funny what a few dozen trips to the line will do for you.

All of a sudden, the Lakers are getting the breaks those great Lakers teams get. And they’re taking advantage of them. Game 4 is Saturday.

Lakers-Thunder Game 2: A Thunder magic trick, a Lakers disappearing act, and a change of the guard

Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One

In Game 1, everything went wrong for the Lakers, everything went right for the Thunder. Thunder won. In Game 2, for 46 minutes, at least some things went right for the Lakers, everything went wrong for the Thunder. The pace was slow. The defense was incredible for the Lakers. The Thunder weren’t hitting jumpers. A seven-point lead with two minutes. Hold onto the ball, hold onto the lead, gain control of the series, go back to L.A. having rattled the kids in blue.

And then.


77-75 OKC over L.A.

As the Thunder closed on a 9-0 run, you couldn’t help but think of how often the Lakers had done this exact thing to so many teams. They were the ones who made the key steals late. They were the ones who waited for the opponent to crack. They were the ones who made clutch plays. But now? Now it’s OKC. They won when they played flawless, they won when they played terribly. And now it’s 2-0 OKC.

For Oklahoma City, there are reasons to be concerned but a ton of reasons for confidence. When the shots didn’t fall, they won. They had just a 92 offensive efficiency Wednesday night, and yet got the win. They had an off night offensively for the second-best scoring machine in the league, and they walk away with a 2-0 lead. Defensively, they stepped up to the challenge. Had they bent more inside, the game could have broken open. Had Thabo Sefolosha not done such a marvelous job on Kobe Bryant, helping him to a 9-25 night, they may not have sustained. The Thunder defense kept them in it, the Thunder’s athletes took the momentum, the Lakers’ ineptitude opened the door, and Kevin Durant slammed it shut.

And for a fun twist on a narrative, instead of LeBron James failing in the clutch, it was Kobe Bryant with this line: 0-2, zero points, 1 turnover, one bad pass knocked out off of him, one bad miss, one airball, no final shot, and a whole lot of frustration.  Bryant was clearly livid both after Kevin Durant’s game winner and upon turning around to see Steve Blake taking a three-pointer for the win instead of, you know, him.

It’s not wise to get riled up about Blake, however. This is a shooter who hit five threes against the Denver Nuggets in Game 7. He was wide open. I mean, wide open. The pass had to be made, the shot had to be taken. It just didn’t fall. This is life in the NBA, the reality of clutch vs. the myth. Bryant, though, certainly struggled and his play down the stretch may have thrown a little dirt on the Lakers.

But this series is far from over. The Lakers proved Wednesday that they can throw some kinks in the chain of OKC’s mighty system, and headed back to L.A. they have to be hopeful a few more things will go their way. The question is whether they can force OKC into the same halfcourt troubles it had Wednesday night, or if they get busted open by the same team that torched them in Game 1.

The Lakers can get right back into this thing with a win on Friday. But it’s a back to back set against a younger, fresher, hungrier team that seems to have all the answers, that can cross the finish line even when they stumble. The Lakers? They’re just trying to get the dust out of their mouth.

The Lakers had answers for the Thunder until the end. Then the ghosts that the Lakers usually wreak on their opponents grabbed hold of L.A.. By the throat.

Closing note: Andrew Bynum laughed as he left the floor.

Lakers-Thunder Game 2: Let’s try this again, Lakeshow

Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One

So what do the Los Angeles Lakers need to do to improve in Game 2 vs. the Thunder?

A brief list:

1. Do not be terrible

2. Defend jumpshots better

3. Have Pau Gasol act like an NBA player

4. Work the ball inside to draw more contact and get to the line

5. Again, do not be terrible.

That pretty much covers it.

The Lakers were annihilated in Game 1 by a Thunder team that had an offensive rating above 130. That’s on par with the offensive efficiency of the Death Star. Thermonuclear weaponry does less damage. They need a complete and total change in Game 2 to survive. They need to challenge on the perimeter pick and roll more, attacking the ball handler and on the pull-up jumper. They need to rotate better to find the shooters. They left Kevin Durant open in the corner for three at one point, for crying out loud.

The ball has to go to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol more. Gasol can get his shot over Serge Ibaka when he wants it. He’s got to be aggressive and not just wilt away from the action. Kobe Byrant had an off game, but most of his looks were shots he makes at least at a 40 percent clip most nights. It’s unlikely he’ll have another night like that. Ramon Sessions was a hot mess, and needs to set the tone with aggressiveness. He need to push the ball, but has to do so without messing with the Lakers’ slow-it-down pace.

Have I mentioned they need to not play terribly?

For the Thunder, just do that. What you did in Game 1, just do more of that. Because that worked well. They need to hit shots it the big key. When their mid-range game is wet, there’s just no way to stop their offense. They have too many weapons. James Harden needs to have a more efficient night, and Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka need to do a better job on rebounding, but that may be unavoidable. Bynum and Gasol are just too big.

This is a big game. If the Lakers make a strong showing, it can give them momentum going back home to try and wrangle control of this series. A win, and no one will remember Game 1, all of a sudden the Lakers will be in position to steal this series by holding serve. But another blowout loss, another destruction at the hands of the Thunder?

That big red “Panic” button is going to start glowing red hot, screaming “PUSH ME!” to everyone in Hollywood.

Lakers-Thunder Game 1: Lakers suffer a Thundertality

Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One

This was a beating. A smackdown. A trouncing. A demolition. A boat race. A blowout. A “hit ’em in the head with a shovel and drag their team to an unmarked grave,” “nail ’em with a 2X4, watch them stagger around and then slam the door on them on the way out,” downright unavoidable-to-say butt kicking. The Thunder destroyed the Lakers 119-90 Monday to win Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinals series.

The Thunder scored 39 points in the third quarter to bust the lead open. It was a 30-point lead late in the quarter, the starters didn’t play the fourth, Devin Ebanks was ejected in garbage time, and the Lakers essentially embarrassed themselves every way possible.

Some numbers, just for fun.

The Thunder finished with a 132 offensive efficiency. In the third quarter, they had a 161 offensive efficiency. They started the third with a 22-6 run. In six minutes. In six minutes, the Thunder scored 22 points, the Lakers just six. Kevin Durant had 10 points in that span, all with Metta World Peace on the floor.


So for the Thunder, the only thing you can really say is “do that more.” They played nearly perfectly, holding Kobe Bryant to 20 points on 18 shots, Paul Gasol to 10 points on 11 shots, and Ramon Sessions to just 2 points. They dominated every area of the game, played their way and hit absolutely everything they put up. This is not rocket science. Play that way, all the time, and you win a title.

For the Lakers?

OK, some caveats. The Lakers are two days removed from a Game 7 which is a physically and emotionally draining experience. They were on the road against a rested and ready OKC team who have young legs and are able to get up emotionally for Game 1s. The Thunder nailed everything in sight and the Lakers were just a step behind. It’s just one game. The Lakers can recover, respond, and tie the series on Wednesday. Losing by this much doesn’t have influence on the start of Game 2. It’ll be 0-0.

That said…

A message was sent.

The Thunder ran them out the building, and no one responded. There was no fight, no charge, no big move or surge. They didn’t even trim the lead in half to make a point going into Game 2. They just wilted. The Lakers are supposed to be a better defensive team, but they were crushed by the Thunder’s three-headed monster. Everything went wrong at once for the Lakers, and they do not appear to be aware that they are facing a team that finished with more wins, including two over them in dominant fashion this season. They do not appear to recognize that the Thunder are not kids who they can take lightly. This team is dangerous and has matchup advantages over the Lakers.

If the Lakers are going to win this series, if they’re going to win a game, everything has to change.

Lakers-Thunder Western Conference Semifinals Preview: No longer a feel good story

Russell Westbrook, Matt Barnes

Two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the first-round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. It was supposed to be a nice learning experience for a team on the rise, a quick lesson from the reigning champs as to how the playoffs work. Instead, the world was introduced to the intensity of the Oklahoma City crowd, and the Lakers generally looked inept in their efforts to dominate the less experienced team. The Lakers went on to win the title, because that’s kind of their thing. Struggle when they don’t have to actually try, then kill everything in front of them once they get going. The league took notice, though, and it was the big step forward for the Thunder into the spotlight.

My, how things have changed.

Now the Thunder enter Monday night as the prohibitive favorite, having handled the Lakers in all but their last meeting, an overtime home win for the Lakers that featured Metta World Peace taking out the Thunder’s third best player. The student has become the master, so to speak. But can they win out over the more experienced team, with Kobe Bryant and a huge size advantage?

Five things to note as the series kick off.

1. If You Want Blood,  You Got It: This thing is no longer a friendly little-brother thing. It’s a full-blown rivalry. The Thunder have taken it to the Lakers, and James Harden was actually talking trash to Kobe Bryant in a Thunder win earlier this season. You know, the one before Metta World Peace “accidentally” elbowed him in the side of the head giving him a concussion. Kendrick Perkins has had an issue with Andrew Bynum for years dating back to his Boston days. Serge Ibaka goes at Pau Gasol, and Kevin Durant hates being guarded by MWP. The Lakers will always think they rule the roost and the Thunder just knocked off the Mavericks who tossed them last year. They have something to prove. This is going to be a rough series with emotions running high in the madhouse that is Chesapeake Energy Arena

2. On Guard: Anyone else notice that Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers? Because Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers. The Lakers have lacked a good perimeter defender for point guards for years. Ramon Sessions has not helped the situation. Russell Westbrook is the same model as Lawson, fast and explosive, only maybe faster, definitely more explosive, and a better overall scorer. In the 2010 series, Kobe Bryant switched onto Westbrook and did the lion’s share on him. The problem with that is that James Harden has stepped up and become the playmaker that OKC needs as a third option. If Bryant handles Westbrook, they’re just letting Harden loose. Switch MWP onto Harden to defend him without elbowing him, and there’s that problem of Kevin Durant. Someone’s going to get loose for OKC. It’s just a matter of the Lakers picking their poison.

3. Big And Bad And Lazy All Over: Kendrick Perkins does really well against huge athletic centers. But Andrew Bynum’s size is still going to win out most times… if he exerts himself. Bynum could have ended the Nuggets series in five games had he tried. He chose not to, and the series went to seven. How much effort will he give in this series? Likewise, Serge Ibaka is going to have a hard time with Pau Gasol who can shoot over him from mid-range which is where Ibaka struggles. If Gasol is engaged, which again, flip a coin, the Lakers have so much length they can punish the Thunder inside. If not, the game becomes about transition and perimeter and that’s where the Thunder live.

4. Unlikely Heroes: The playoffs have been rife with unlikely heroes. Among these was Steve Blake, hitting five threes in Game 7 vs. Denver. Can the Lakers get great shooting from Blake and MWP over the course of a series despite all evidence to the contrary outside of Game 7? Can Daequan Cook or Thabo Sefolosha makes plays? What about Jordan Hill? No, seriously, what about Jordan Hill? This series is likely to be close and whoever gets a step up from the unlikely guys may come out on top.

5. The Finest Hour: Kobe Bryant was magnificent in Game 6 in a lost cause. In Game 7, he played in the flow of the offense and encouraged his teammates to do their job. Kevin Durant struggled early on vs. the Mavericks before breaking loose. This series is about two evenly matched teams with history and talented rosters. But it’s about Kobe vs. Durant. The Thunder don’t have a defender like MWP to stick on Bryant, but Durant is the best scorer in the series. Either Bryant is going to add to his already insane legend, or Durant’s going to make the biggest statement of his.