The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers on the road, 104-103. On the second night of a back-to-back that started with a tough loss to the NBA-leading Warriors, the Thunder demonstrated resolve down the stretch to hold off a poor but pesky Lakers team. After falling behind early by as many as 11 points, the Thunder rallied and took a 2 point lead at the half.
In the 3rd quarter it appeared as if the Thunder had finally figured out the struggling Lakers, who are now in perpetual tanking/building mode as Kobe Bryant's star has turned into a red giant and their spare pieces seldom have enough talent to compete in the West. However, LA made a run in the 4th quarter, outscoring the Thunder through the first 6 minutes 20-8 and taking a surprising 3-point lead as the Thunder offense stalled.
It was a nip and tuck affair the rest of the way, with neither team pulling ahead by more than a possession. Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson stepped up to put the Thunder in position to win, and on the final possession of the game, an emerging Andre Roberson stuck on Kobe Bryant like glue and Kobe's game-winning attempt went wide, giving the Thunder an important win.
The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook, who finished with 31 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds against only 1 turnover. Reggie Jackson stepped up as well after struggling these past few weeks, finishing 25 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds. The Lakers were led by Ed Davis, who finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Kobe was held to only 9 points on 3-15 shooting.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
On the surface, if you only looked at the final box score you would be shocked/discouraged that the Thunder barely held
on to beat a bad Lakers team. Even though they were without Kevin Durant, who missed the game due to an ankle injury sustained against the Warriors, the Thunder still have Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to go along with a better bench and much stronger defense. Slow starts are part of the game, but behind the strength of the 2 middle quarters, it seemed as if the Thunder would outclass the Lakers, thus making the LA comeback all the more frustrating.
What was so good about it?
Let us break it down between the bad and the good:
- The Thunder defense was inconsistent. In the 1st quarter they gave up a number of open 3 point shots, as Ronnie Price had 4 of them by himself. What was worse was how the defense seemed to fold in the 4th quarter, as the Lakers were able to go on their big run and take a late game lead. The Thunder were slow with their rotations, did a poor job handling the pick and roll, and allowed both Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis access to the rim, even failing to box out on a number of sequences that led to offensive putbacks by LA.
- The Thunder's 3-point game is still in a state of flux. We all still have high hopes for the Morrow-led gang of shooters, but a big facet of having a good 3-point offense is quick ball movement and solid screening. If the Thunder offense consists primarily of a high ball screen and nothing else, it is going to be difficult to ever get Morrow open looks in the half court.
- Perry Jones. He's either the NBA's version of the movie Awakenings or Homer Simpson when he has the crayon removed from his brain. Either he figures out a way to contribute something, or this isn't going to end well for him.
- After the disaster that was the 4th quarter against the Warriors, OKC worked really, really hard to do things a better way. Though stilted at times, the Thunder were committed to moving the ball in the half court, and really peaked during a stretch in the 3rd quarter when they were getting post passes deep in the lane that were followed by outlet passes to the wings for open looks.
- Westbrook in particular exemplified this focus, and even though the results weren't all pretty, the process at this point is what is most important. He was constantly getting into the lane, not to score, but to set up his teammates. Some of the time it resulted in pretty feeds to Ibaka rolling to the rim. Other times it ended up in blown layups by Andre Roberson and Steven Adams. But the important thing is, he never gave up on it until late in the game where he was trying to hit the dagger to seal the win. In the end, he finished with 10 assists, but there were another half dozen that could have ended in points, and the more situations Westbrook puts his teammates in with an opportunity to score, the better off they will be.
- Roberson continues to show incredible growth. He actually made 2-4 3-point shots on the night, finishing with 10 points for the 2nd straight game. He almost had a ridiculous game-ending offensive rebound off a Westbrook miss with 11 seconds remaining, but his legs got undercut and he lost it. Most importantly, he hounded Kobe all night, never giving him room to get open looks.
- Reggie Jackson finally got back to what he is good at, which is attacking the rim and pushing the defense backward. He had his best game of the season playing along side his all-star teammates, and he did it mostly within the flow of the offense. He attacked the rim and stepped into his shots, unlike the last few games which seemed to consist of him dribbling in circles and shooting fadeaways. Most important, he developed multiple pick and roll sequences with Steven Adams where Adams was able to finish strong at the rim. No doubt, the two were communicating in their secret code.
- Adams should have finished with a double-double, but because of bad free throw shooting he finished with only 9 points to go with his 10 boards. He did however pick up another Kiwi Tech of sorts, getting Swaggy P ejected for an elbow to the throat. Nothing Fancy there. Adams explained it:
Full interaction with Steven Adams about the Nick Young altercation: pic.twitter.com/dzrOFpoty0— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 20, 2014
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The Thunder won because they have more talent, and they didn't waste as many opportunities down the stretch as they had vs the Warriors. Yes, 22 points in the 4th is nothing to brag about, but the key stretch was their execution over the final 6 minutes of the game after LA had taken a 3 point lead. Jackson in particular was key, earning a trip to the free throw line following an aggressive drive to the rim with 1:05 remaining. Those FT's gave OKC a lead they would not relinquish, and one more defensive stop on Kobe closed it out.
Will this type of effort get it done vs the Pelicans? If Westbrook continues to commit to building up his teammates and they do a better job finishing plays, then the answer should be, 'yes.'
Thunder Wonder: Reggie Jackson, 25 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds
Thunder Down Under: Steven Adams, 9 points, 10 rebounds, 1 block
Thunder Blunder: Perry Jones, who recorded a whole lot of zeros
Thunder Plunderer: Ed Davis, 18 points, 9 rebounds
Next game: vs New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday at 6PM CDT