Wednesday night it was the Celtics. Thursday night it was the Lakers.
Two nights, two wins for the young Oklahoma City Thunder over the old guard of the NBA. The teams that from 2008 to 2010 won the NBA titles and met in the finals twice.
In case you need any more proof that the guard has changed in the NBA. The Lakers looked like a team with some good pieces but missing a few, the Thunder looked like a title contenders. Oklahoma City pulled away in the second half to win 100-85.
For the first 24 minutes it was close — the Lakers played good defense, particularly on the pick and roll. Which essentially meant their big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were active — those two can make up for the deficiencies of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake and slow the force that is Russell Westbrook.
Then in the final second of the first half, the entire momentum changed.
First Russell Westbrook hit a three with 0.8 seconds left that tied the score (just after the Lakers had made a little 7-1 run to take the lead). The Lakers were clearly frustrated, they didn’t move to get open for the “meaningless” inbounds pass.
Then Bynum threw a lazy pass to the corner, Kevin Durant stole it, got off a baseline jumper and nailed it. It changed the momentum the rest of the way. Well, that and the fact the Lakers are old legs on a back-to-back and the Thunder have young legs.
Oklahoma City pulled away for the win from there by getting out and running on a Lakers team that looked old the last 24. The Thunder are contenders. They are filled with long defenders who close out spaces quickly, they have two guys in the aggressive Westbrook and the skilled Durant who can get their shot off whenever they want. Good role players surround the Thunder stars.
The Lakers have their big three and then it is a Niagara Falls drop to the rest of the roster. For the second night in a row, Pau Gasol played well while Kobe Bryant struggled to find his shot. All night long Thursday the beard of Harden was tracking Kobe, getting in his face, denying passes and contesting shots. In the Lakers win over the Mavericks Wednesday and their loss to the Thunder, Kobe is 11-31 (35.4 percent). Harden used his sense of pace and angles to score 16 points of his own.
You don’t want to read too much into one game, but this summed up well where these two are heading into the All-Star Break.