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Saturday, April 24, 2010
Thunder 110, Lakers 89: One moment

By Brian Kamenetzky

Ever go with someone on their first visit to Cheesecake Factory? Watch as they drown in a menu with more pages than Old Man and the Sea, paralyzed by options?

This is how I feel right now.

My duty here is to find some nugget of the game from which larger inferences can be drawn. A trend, a stat, a sequence. Something. Except in Saturday night's 110-89 Game 4 loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City, the Lakers were so completely and thoroughly obliterated on every possible level, I'm having trouble narrowing things down. I had the same feeling when it came time to clean my dorm room after freshman year. That sinking, emptying-the-ocean-with-a-teaspoon type sense of defeat and confusion.

Pick any spot after about the first four minutes, and an understanding of how the Thunder dominated L.A. can be seen. Still, amidst all the evening's scorched earth destruction I managed to find one sequence perhaps best encapsulating what went wrong.

With 7:45 remaining in the third and the Lakers down 13, Kobe Bryant brought the ball up the left side of the floor, then used an Andrew Bynum screen to work his way into the lane. Pau Gasol flashed to the left elbow, where Kobe hit him with the pass. Pau quickly moved the rock to Ron Artest, wide open in the left corner. Artest fired... and saw his shot rattle out. (a) Looked good, didn't fall.

Coming back the other way, Derek Fisher coaxed Russell Westbrook into a contested pull up jumper from the right wing, which the former Bruin clanged off the front iron. Not a problem for Westbrook, who followed and recovered his own shot (b). Falling out of bounds fed Nenad Krstic in the paint, a great play for which the Lakers may as well have bought a ticket, because everyone in purple stood and watched it happen (c). Bynum tried to recover, but fouled Krstic on the shot, which fell nonetheless.

The and-one was good (d). OKC plus 16.

On the ensuing Lakers possession, Gasol had the ball high on the right wing, looking to pass into Bynum on the block. Not there. Pau reversed the ball to Fisher, who hit Artest on the left wing. Artest dished to Kobe in the corner, who went to Pau, now on the left block. Gasol's attempt to kick out of the double to Kobe was tipped out of bounds, leaving L.A. only seven seconds to shoot.

Off the inbound, Pau tried to create off the dribble before kicking to Artest on the left wing. Ron hesitated, allowing Kevin Durant the opportunity to contest the shot and guarantee it wouldn't have any rhythm.

The ball clanged badly off the iron (e), an awkward and wayward hoist serving only to fuel the Oklahoma City break, finished on a Westbrook-to-Durant pass-and-dunk at the other end (f).

The whole thing took less than a minute.

Click below to see how it all fits together...

KEY:

a- There are times it seems Artest just can't buy a bucket. I know the guy is in a slump, but he's better than the 12-for-30 shooting mark posted during this series. He's better than a 15.8 percent three-point shooter. This particular offering hit both sides of the inside part of the rim before bouncing out. There must be times he thinks there's a lid on that cylinder.

b- Rebounding was a problem all night. The Lakers surrendered 13 offensive boards, allowing 16 second chance points by halftime...

c- ...in part because the Lakers were consistently the slower, more lethargic squad. They stood around as OKC beat them to every loose ball. The Thunder are younger, quicker, and more athletic than L.A., but over the first three games the Lakers matched their intensity and effort. Tonight, it wasn't even close.

d- Oklahoma City shot a fairly staggering 48 free throws, making 42 (87.5%). The Lakers shot 28 free throws, and missed a staggering nine (60.7%), a figure inflated by meaningless late game conversions. The Lakers missed nine of their first 12 attempts at the stripe. Often fans will watch professionals and say, "I could do better than that." Rarely are they given such a unique opportunity to be correct.

e- Sure, Artest can't buy a bucket, but most of his shots are more off line than a Scott Norwood Super Bowl field goal (anyone with a more modern reference, please send it along. I'll be happy to substitute yours for mine...).

f- Once again, Oklahoma City ran the pants off the Lakers. While I'm sure we'll all remember where we were when L.A. logged its transition bucket, the Thunder scored 24 points on the break.

The Lakers now turn around and face what sure looks like a must-win Tuesday night. As badly as they were beat Saturday, it still only counts as one loss. The series is just 2-2. They hold the home court advantage. Point differential has no bearing on who advances, nor does OKC get to use any points from tonight in Game Five. I still think the Lakers will advance. But as they've done all season, the Lakers have given an opponent incredible confidence. The Thunder may be young and brand new to the rodeo, but nothing about the Lakers scares them, including Staples Center.

Coming home won't guarantee them anything. If the Lakers can't shore up their holes, they could absolutely lose Game 5. I expected a tough series, believing before it started Oklahoma City could present the largest challenge the Lakers might see through the Western Conference playoffs. Certainly nothing I saw through the first four games changes my opinion.

Bottom line: All season, we've wondered if the Lakers can come together and win a game they have to win.

Tuesday, we'll find out.