The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, 108-101 on Sunday, and they did so without Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant. Westbrook broke his face in Friday night's heartbreaker in Portland, and Durant is waiting to have his foot re-evaluated when the team returns to Oklahoma City tomorrow.
In their absence, the revamped Thunder bench stepped up and turned in some important performances. D.J. Augustin was terrific filling in for Westbrook, as the newly-acquired point guard finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Enes Kanter continued his strong play at center after missing Friday night's game, finishing with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Kanter was exploited on the defensive end once again, but his strong offensive performance was enough to offset his shortcomings on that end, at least tonight.
Also, continuing his post-All-Star break surge (thank you, thank you) was Serge Ibaka, who finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks. Ibaka's interior help defense wasn't quite as polished as he has shown in the past, but he provided just enough - particularly in the fourth quarter - to keep the Lakers at bay, and allow the Thunder to pull away on the other end.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
At this point, it's just about piling up wins. Westbrook and Durant are both healing, and it's the Lakers, so it's hard to get too excited about anything. But a loss here would have put the Thunder in a precarious position, possibly forcing them to panic and try and rush back either Westbrook and/or Durant.
Instead, the rest of the guys held their own quite nicely, and with Philadelphia coming up on Wednesday, it's certainly possible the Thunder will feel confident enough to just run it back with the same group.
Beyond that, the performances by Ibaka, Kanter and Augustin were all nice, but they really have nothing more to prove at his point. They're going to be a key component to the Thunder's playoff run.
Jeremy Lamb, meanwhile, has hardly seen time all year, but was given the chance to run backup point guard and did so quite admirably. He finished with 14 points on 5-8 shooting, including 9 in the fourth quarter. It probably still won't be enough to convince Scott Brooks to seriously alter his rotation plans - nor do I necessarily think it should - but his patience and willingness to wait for the right shot was definitely a nice change to the increasingly-frustrating Dion Waiters stepbacks that are becoming commonplace for the Thunder.
So, yeah, a win over the Lakers isn't much to get excited about, but it was a better game than I think we all expected.
What does this win mean for the Thunder going forward?
The Thunder hold on to the 8 seed, and the longer they can stay in the drivers' seat without Durant and Westbrook, the easier it will be when they finally come back.
Even in the past two games, the Thunder has been a focused team, and it's nice to see them maintain that here. Without Westbrook, without Durant, a Sunday afternoon in LA could have been an opportunity to get overconfident and get caught off guard. Instead, they plugged away, made smart plays, and avoided an awful loss.
Games are getting more and more important, and it's good to see the Thunder are stepping up their game appropriately.
Thunder Wonder: Serge Ibaka: 18 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks
Thunder Down Under: Jeremy Lamb: 14 points on 5-8 shooting. 9 points in the 4th quarter.
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters (should we just rename this award after him?): 4-13 shooting
Thunder Plunderer: Jeremy Lin: 20 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds
Next Game: vs. Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, March 4th at 7PM CT
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!