Thunder 120, Lakers 106 - At the Buzzer

April, 10, 2011
4/10/11
9:35
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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For those keeping score, that's five straight losses since Andy started staying home to take care of his newborn daughter. Where are your priorities, AK?

The most recent installment of Loss Fest '11! came Sunday night at Staples, as the Oklahoma City Thunder used a major push over the final stretches of the fourth to push past- well past- the home team. This one is painful for the Lakers on a few levels. First, unlike Friday's game in Portland in which L.A. didn't really bother with incidentals like effort and focus until the fourth quarter, Sunday the Lakers were invested in the proceedings, particularly after a second quarter dust up between Kendrick Perkins and Kobe Bryant (see below). It's easier to brush off a loss chock full of complacency, less so on a night with more robust effort.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire
Ron Artest and the Lakers have had good success against Kevin Durant of late. Not Sunday.



Second, and more importantly, it's another costly ding for the Lakers in the standings. Now a game behind Miami in the loss column and without the tiebreaker, the Lakers have almost certainly lost any chance to finish ahead of the Heat. Meanwhile, they remain only a tiebreak ahead of Boston, and "pulled even" with the Mavs in the race for the third seed out West.

The Lakers stay in front for now, but at this point there are no guarantees.

Plus, the loss allows Oklahoma City- currently the W.C.'s fourth seed- to remain in the hunt for the third spot behind Dallas. For that matter, they're only a loss behind L.A. now, too, meaning a more precipitous drop is possible for the Lakers. Not necessarily likely, but possible. .

Lowlights:

1. Defense. In reality, there were many things that went well for the Lakers Sunday. They busted out of their offensive slump, for three quarters, at least. Kobe Bryant had a nice bounce back game, Steve Blake hit a few clutch three-pointers, and so on.

But they were awful defensively. Oklahoma City managed to score in bunches, shooting 75 percent through most of the first quarter, and over 60 percent for the half. In the third, the Lakers managed to keep the Thunder under fifty percent, but OKC finished the game at 55.6. Plus, they worked their way to the line a staggering 35 times, making 32. It was barely 10 days ago we were writing about L.A.'s chance to become the least foul-prone team in NBA history. Clearly, this didn't help. But beyond all the ugly numbers- Kevin Durant finished 11-for-15, busting out of his seemingly perpetual slump against Ron Artest and the Lakers, while Russell Westbrook had 26 points- was how the Thunder got their points.

Layups. Dunks. Backdoor cuts. Open jumpers. Breakdowns on the perimeter and inside, and a healthy dose of what appeared to be confusion. Plus the tough ones talented players like Durant and Westbrook can make even when the defense does its job.

And when, too. Despite a slow start, the Lakers had every opportunity to win Sunday night, in a game tied at 101 with four minutes to play, and up a point a minute later. From there, the Thunder blew up, outscoring the Lakers 17-2. Some of the total came on late-game free throws, but not all. The damage had already been done.

Of the five games in the streak, this is easily the worst the Lakers have looked defensively. Over the first three, the numbers really weren't bad (and in the Utah and Denver losses, were actually pretty good). Against the Warriors there was some regression, though L.A. still limited the Warriors relative to GSW's season averages, and more still against Portland. But in those games, horrible offense was just as much to blame. A constant barrage of turnovers and poor offensive execution basically undermined any ability to play well on their own end.

Sunday, the Lakers took care of the ball until late in the game, and scored with efficiency. And still were torched defensively.

2. Fourth Quarter Turnovers. Looking for a reason the Lakers stumbled down the stretch? Try nine- nine- giveaways in the fourth. Nine. Can't score (L.A. had only 16 points in the fourth) without the ball.

3. Lamar Odom. Three-of-nine from the floor, only three boards, and two turnovers. Maybe he was worried about the debut of his E! show tonight?

Highlights:

1. Kendrick Perkins. For over 18 minutes starting the game, Oklahoma City controlled the action, shooting about 65 percent to build a 12 point lead. Then Perkins, for reasons I don't quite understand, put Bryant in a headlock near the free throw line. From there, the Lakers went on a quick 7-0 run, and were plus-10 ending the half.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire
The last three minutes were burly, but overall Kobe Bryant played a strong game Sunday night... just not as strong as the Thunder.



In related news, Bob Arum is working hard to schedule "The Scowl" vs. "The Jaw Jut" as a pay-per-view event. I would watch that.

2. Kobe Bryant. Perhaps looking to erase the memory of some less-than-acceptable games of late, Kobe came out aggressive early, setting up Pau Gasol for L.A.'s first points of the game, then canned a triple and twice worked his way to the line. This in the first four minutes of the game. From there, Kobe made a host of good plays. After Durant corralled a batted ball along OKC's baseline, Bryant promptly stole it, and finished with a dunk. Fueled with a little post-headlock anger, Bryant quickly stuck a three in Westbrook's face and made a great cut through the lane to field a nice bounce pass from Gasol.

His best play, though, probably came at the end of the first half, when Bryant faced up on Thabo Sefolosha from the right wing, briefly put the ball on the floor, then turned as if to post up before quickly spinning back to the basket for a lefty finish. Bryant finished the first half with 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting, plus three dimes. In the third quarter, the shooting cooled a little, but he was still active, shooting five free throws in the third while adding a steal.

After his customary break starting the fourt, on consecutive trips Bryant hit a nice floater in the lane, double clutching and finishing off the glass, then found Andrew Bynum inside after faking a jumper. One bucket, one assist, and a three point Lakers deficit became a one point lead. When OKC soon went up by two, Bryant drive right on Harden from the top of the key, absorbed contact from Perkins, and converted. And-one.

The fourth didn't end well for Kobe, who turned it over three times in the final three minutes, then rushed a three ball in the corner with a minute to play before fouling Westbrook as the UCLA product canned a triple on OKC's ensuing possession. But overall, its hard to argue with 31/4/4, on an efficient 10-for-19 shooting.

2. Pau Gasol. Like Kobe, Gasol was a monster of efficiency in the first 24 minutes. Seven makes in nine tries, including an array of jumpers and strong moves to the basket helping him earn four free throws. His 18 points were an excellent supplement to Bryant's scoring. The aggressive play continued in the third, certainly an encouraging sign, Gasol attacking the rack when presented with the opportunity, whether matched up in the post, or on a nice give-and-go with Artest. Unfortunately, Gasol wasn't nearly enough of a factor down the stretch, taking/making only a meaningless dunk in the final seconds.

As the Lakers collapsed late, so did Gasol's influence. Whatever the balance of responsibility between Pau and his teammates for keeping Pau involved, when the playoffs roll around, the Lakers will need the influential version of the Spaniard as games wind down.

Defensively, particularly in the first half, Gasol wasn't exactly the Rock of Gibraltar inside- though breakdowns for the Lakers were far flung and numerous, making it tough to pin their deficiencies on one guy. (On a night like this, if I allowed defense to keep people out of the "Highlights" section, it likely would have been empty.) As has been the trend, when Bynum rebounds (he had 13) Gasol's numbers go down, but the Thunder did very little damage on the offensive glass (in part because they didn't seem to miss much). Meaning Gasol's four boards weren't a glaring problem.

This wasn't a game rich in rebounding opportunities for either team, actually.

He finished with 26 points on 10-for-16 from the floor.

3. Turnovers (First Three Quarters). Over the course of their four game losing streak, the Lakers have been absurdly generous, turning the ball over over seventy times. In the first half Sunday, despite the Thunder's gaudy shooting line, the Lakers stayed close by producing some quality offense of their own, and just as importantly giving the ball up only once. Combined with only one offensive rebound allowed over the first 24 minutes, it helped mitigate the damage caused by a whopping 15 free throws allowed and the general disorganization defensively.

So clean were the Lakers, they headed into the fourth with the lone TO, though apparently decided to do something about it down the stretch.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0