Well, the Coach of the Year ran into the Coach of the Century and the old timer won. But you have to say it was a hell of a series for both teams. Here’s a selection of both coaches’ post game comments.
Bet you never thought you’d wind up missing Oklahoma.
Oklahoma City brought something else to these playoffs. The crowd was part of it. A sea of blue (and once, white) that wrought a college atmosphere with an NBA intensity. A full house, stocked to the brim of maniacs, devoted under one cause, the continued survival and advancement of their team.
The team was part of it. Little known youngsters, often questioned for their individual weaknesses in the face of incredible talent and maturity. Russell Westbrook blowing by defenders to attack the rim over and over again. Serge Ibaka making so many blocks the court became a Tetris board. And Kevin Durant, shakey as he was in several games, shining in two games like the star he is, ripping apart the Lakers at the seams with genuine, unfiltered scoring ability.
And part of it was just the circumstances. David versus Goliath. The small market youngsters versus the veteran champions from the big and shiny Los Angeles. It was scripted so perfectly for the fairytale ending. And it gave us a few days of wondering “What if?” What if the Thunder could actually eliminate THE Lakers?
But this isn’t the NCAA and here, Cinderalla gets shoved down the stairs in her dress and tossed back home to clean the floors.
The Thunder fell because they faced a superb collection of athletes, with length, scoring ability, defensive savvy, and did I mention length? Because man alive, those guys are tall. The Thunder will likely try and identify a low-post scoring presence in the offseason. Already, rumors have begun of a possible Bosh-Durant team-up, the likes of which are supremely unlikely and utterly terrifying for the rest of the league. One way or another, though, the Thunder must find a way to combat the sheer size the fell into, and to, in their first playoff appearance. You can’t out-yell tall and talented. Not forever, anyway.
But you have to believe there’s something special going on in OKC. A crowd that resembles the finest Seventh Day Adventist tongue-speaking revival you’ll see. A team with absurd talent, all barely old enough to drink with few exceptions, and oh yeah, three draft picks in the first 32 selections for Sam Presti.
This series may not have showed us the lightning of a championship run, but we heard the Thunder.
Chin up, Oklahoma City. Sure, losing sucks, we get that. But you have to learn how to win in the NBA playoffs — people remember Michael Jordan the champion, not the guy who lost to the Detroit Pistons three straight years on the playoffs.
Enjoy the ride, you have a fun team, a special team. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are captivating to watch. The Thunder have become what the Phoenix Suns were five years ago — everybody’s second favorite team. They took a big first step.
But for the Lakers this was just another step, albeit one they had to fight for. LA won the game 95-94, and the series 4-2. Next up for the Lakers is the Utah Jazz, starting Sunday at Staples Center.
The Lakers taught the Thunder some hard lessons. LA’s star Kobe Bryant saved his best game for an elimination game, Kevin Durant did not. Pau Gasol knew how to time a sneak inside for a game-winning putback, Serge Ibaka did not box him out, he lost track of fundamentals in the clutch. Derek Fisher knew how to step up and hit big threes, Russell Westbrook did not.
It will not be that way in a couple years. It was tonight.
The Lakers largely did what they had done in game four — they controlled the tempo and took away a lot of the Thunders’ easy baskets. The Thunder had just 13 fast break points, and forced into the halfcourt they shot just 36.5 percent, 26.3 percent from three.
The Lakers, however, were lighting it up from three. The last two games the Lakers did much better about setting up angles for entry passes to the post, or getting the ball inside off penetration, and that led to kick-outs and good look threes for LA. They hit 12 of 24 from three in this one, and shot 46.8 percent overall.
But the Thunder never went away. That is not who they are, they fight. A few turnovers and fast breaks off misses — flashes of the transition game they thrive on — and Lakers leads would disappear in an instant.
The difference was the Lakers big names know how to step it up in the clutch. Kobe in 16 in the third when the Lakers looked like they might pull away, hitting some just pull up threes that were the kind he missed in game three.
Late in the game the Lakers got good shots from Artest (and up and under move on the perimeter and it works?), but their offense became a lot of isolation. So did the Thunder, as has been their pattern. And it worked for a while, they went a 10-0 run late to take the lead.
However, the Kobe Bryant underbite came out – so did a stupid running shot over two defenders that barely moved the net going through with less than a minute left. Sick. Kobe was making plays all night.
The Thunder were up one with 15 seconds when Westbrook had a clean look at the jumper from 10 feet baseline. Oh, the midrange game continues to be his challenge. On the season from the right side baseline there Westbrook was shooting just 25.7% (thank you NBA Hot Spots). He missed.
On the final play I loved the Thunder choosing not to double Kobe, showing confidence in Thabo Sefolosha to shut him down. The rest of his team got caught ball watching. When Kobe made his move and started to go up Nenade Kristic and Durant were under the basket wrestling with Artest, while Serge Ibaka was watching the ball, not bodying his man. Gasol stepped inside Ibaka, got the tip in and that was that.
Thunder fans get it – they stayed late to applaud their young team. They know to savor it in a way that jaded Lakers fans often cannot. Fans from both teams should soak up this series, it was a fun one and about as good as one could ever hope for in the first round.
Sitting by their lockers after game five, Thunder players admitted it caught them off guard — Kobe Bryant locking down on Russell Westbrook. It threw the young Thunder out of sync, it made Westbrook hesitant.
It cost them the game, and now they trail the Lakers 3-2. If they are to pull off one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history, Westbrook cannot be hesitant in the final two games, starting Friday night back in the Ford Center.
After reviewing all of Westbrook’s possessions, it became clear that Kobe was a part of the problem, but that the Lakers better overall play in slowing the game down played a big role as well. Westbrook is nearly unstoppable in transition, but in the half court he is more manageable. The Lakers took away a lot of those transition opportunities, and Westbrook did not convert the ones he did get at his normal rate. The Lakers length, and being back in transition, added to his off night.
For example, with 6:28 left in the third quarter Westbrook made a steal and was off in transition, but Kobe was with him. Kobe’s length and strength running down the floor took away easy layup that Westbrook feeds on, so Westbrook tried to go under the basket then pass out to a trailer, but that pass was picked off for his own turnover. Westbrook just has to attack in that spot and try to draw the foul.
In the half court, it is sort of the same. Early on Westbrook passed, then his first shot came off a pick and roll, when Kobe went under the pick and he pulled up and took a jumper. Kobe is long enough to play off him some and still challenge those jumpers, and Westbrook was not hitting them.
And he settled for them too much — four of his last five shots of the game were threes. The Lakers will take that. While he hit two of four late in the game, Westbrook on the season is a 22 percent shooter from three. That is what the Lakers want him to do.
But even with Kobe on him, Westbrook can attack.
There were a couple of instances where, even with Kobe face up on him where Westbrook went strong to his left and got a decent shot — what bothered him was less Kobe and more the help from Bynum and Gasol (something the Lakers did much better in game five). Westbrook needs to go at him, needs to attack and create (if Bynum helps, make the pass to the man he vacated).
Getting a couple fouls on Kobe would also be huge.
Also, Kobe loves to play free safety and leave his man, even when he knows he shouldn’t. Westbrook got a couple of good looks because Durant had the ball at the elbow, Kobe drifted to him and Westbrook slashed behind him to the rim. Those chances will be there again.
Kobe on Westbrook makes things harder on the young point guard, but not impossible. What he can’t do is change his game, he can’t settle for jumpers. There needs to be points in transition. He needs to attack.
If he does, he’ll get a chance to do it again on Sunday in game seven.
“My defense is so unbelievable, I don’t really care about offense right now.”
–Ron Artest, in anticipation of Game 6 between the Lakers and Thunder in OKC (via The OC Register). Ron’s certainly not wrong, as he’s held Kevin Durant to sub-40% shooting in three of the five games thus far and hounded him into 4.2 turnovers per game. That said, is this really the smartest thing to say before a pretty crucial game against Durant and the Thunder in their house? Probably not, but it may be the most Ron Artest thing to say in such a situation, which is less helpful to the Lakers but more entertaining for the rest of us.