Say this for the Los Angeles Lakers. They didn't give up. They didn't give up when the Oklahoma City Thunder dropped 71 points on them in the first half. They didn't give up as OKC did an historic job of taking care of the basketball. They didn't give up even though Russell Westbroook had one of those "Nobody can stop me" kind of games. They didn't give up when Derek Freaking Fisher rose from his coffin to score 10 points on 4 shots, mostly in the 2nd half.
They didn't give up when Kobe went to the locker room with a painful arm injury. They didn't give up even when it was clear that Dwight Howard didn't have it tonight. Led by their wounded warrior, the Lakers kept fighting, kept executing, kept pushing, trying to find a seem to exploit and get through with what would have been an extremely impressive win.
And they nearly did it. With six minutes to play, the Lakers were down just six points. On their next four possessions, Metta World Peace missed an open 3 (he was 3-6 on the night), Kobe missed a relatively open jumper after creating space with a killer dribble move, Steve Nash missed a wide open three on a Kobe kick out, and Metta World Peace missed a layup in transition. Four possessions, four great opportunities, because the OKC Thunder did not score during those four possessions either. If a couple of those shots go down, the score is tied. If they all go down, the Lakers have a four point lead. Instead, none went down, and Serge "Nut Punch" Ibaka sank a corner three that ended the dream of a grand Lakers rally. OKC would go on to score more points. The Lakers would not, failing to score in the final 6:13 of the contest. Inevitably, a blowout that was somehow stunningly close turned into a game which was far closer than the final score would indicate.
Honestly, this loss hurts only because of how much it would have meant for the Lakers to overcome the tremendous obstacles they faced tonight. Right after Kobe's trip to the locker room, Dwight Howard called a timeout to deal with the newest onset of pain in his shoulder. Metta World Peace twisted his ankle too, all within the first six minutes of the game. The way this game started, the Lakers might have considered forfeiting just to keep their health manageable. But Kobe was listed as "questionable to return" and we all know what that means. He came back, started hitting some threes, started attacking the basket, and the Lakers started their slow and steady grind towards a respectable final outcome.
That the Lakers nearly had a respectable outcome against OKC in the contest is something of a miracle. The Thunder weren't just good tonight, they were historically good, at least as it pertains to taking care of the basketball. OKC tied an NBA record with just two turnovers. The Lakers, as is their way, had 16. That's 14 free extra possessions for the Thunder to give to the incredible superstar tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant had a rough evening, but Russ was completely unstoppable in scoring a game high 37 points.
But the Lakers, almost to a man, fought through it. The only guy that didn't really seem to have it tonight was Dwight Howard, who sadly had his first true return to the form of the first half of the season since the All Star Break. Dwight's lack of mobility, even as he did manage to pick up 16 rebounds, was far more problematic for the Lakers playoff hopes than losing a tough contest on the road against one of the league's best teams. The Lakers need Dwight to be who he has been the past five games to have a realistic shot at the playoffs, and they need him to be far more than that if they have any hopes of doing damage if they can get in to the second season. Tonight was the first indication that it just might not be in the cards. How he plays tomorrow night, in the second night of a very short back-to-back (losing a full 1.5 hours with tomorrow's 5 PM PT tip off) will speak volumes about whether he has the ability to provide what the Lakers will need from him in the last quarter of the season.
Tonight's loss was not unexpected, but it was painful, in every sense of the word. The Lakers will now take their broken bodies to New Orleans and attempt to win the game they are expected to win, the one they need to win, to get back on an upward trajectory with still more mountain to climb.