What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Another fantastic win for the Thunder. The Lakers actually came out of the gate screaming, scoring well and playing excellent defense. James Harden threw up bricks left and right, and the game was actually looking like a blowout in their favour. But, as we saw, they're still a terribly flawed team. When Gasol went into foul trouble, the Lakers were forced to play Troy Murphy, who is a huge weak spot on defense. As soon as he came into the game during the 3rd quarter, the Thunder made two shots in the paint and went on a game clinching run. The Lakers starters found their way back in, but Sefolosha played some insane defense on Kobe Bryant, forcing Metta World Peace to shoot more than he should have.
But for all of the Thunder's matchup advantages, you can't ignore the talent of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Some of the long-range threes and amazing drives tonight were just insane. Every time Westbrook touched the ball, I wanted to stand up and shout.
You know who else you can't ignore? Nick Collison. 5 offensive boards, great picks, and good defense on the Lakers' bigs. He was a huge reason the Thunder won tonight.
What was tonight's turning point?
It's hard to say exactly. The point where the Thunder stopped playing like dead ostriches came during the late second quarter, when they finally found the mid-range game they know so well, and Serge Ibaka hit an awesome buzzer-beating jumper. The Thunder started the second half by getting to the line, and went on a run while Gasol was on the bench. But the Lakers came back late in the third, and the Thunder didn't really start slamming the door until the early fourth, after a buzzer-beating Westbrook three energized their defense. A near four-minute defensive shut out combined with solid offensive production put the Lakers pretty far behind. The Lakers crept within 7 towards the end, but the Thunder aptly responded offensively, so the game was never really in too much danger.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
Terrible bench play from the Lakers. The Lakers bench has decent numbers on the surface, but their overwhelmingly negative plus minus ratings tell the full story. Blake is a joke of a matchup for Westbrook, and the rest of the Lakers guys just didn't contribute enough offensively or defensively considering the minutes they played.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
The Thunder won the rebounding battle, 48-45. That might not look too amazing initially, but the Lakers live by their ability to rebound the ball. They're the second best rebounding team in the NBA, and the best defensive rebounding team period. When they can't take away the other team's second chance points, they don't stand a chance.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The win seals an advantage in the season series with the Lakers, guaranteeing us the tiebreaker against them should they catch up in the playoff race. It also brings us back to a three game advantage on the Spurs (after they won yesterday) for the Western Conference lead. Lastly, it knocks Utah to 12 games behind the Thunder in the race for the Northwest Division.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, for playing as a complete beast offensively.
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison, for 5 offensive rebounds.
Thunder Blunder: James Harden, for 3-11 shooting, poor defense, and committing 5 fouls.
Thunder Plunderer: Andrew Bynum, who was lights out in the post with 25 Points, 13 Rebounds, and 4 Blocks.
Next Game: Versus the Chicago Bulls, Monday, April 1st, 12 PM Central Daylight Time