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Los Angeles Lakers survive Oklahoma City's athleticism, win Game 2

I'm not sure what to write regarding Game 2 of the 1st round series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the OKC Thunder.  The Lakers won the game in a tight contest 95-92, and the game will be remembered one of two ways, depending on how this series (and any subsequent Lakers playoff series) goes.  Winston Churchill once said "History is written by the victors", and I can't help but think the way this game will be remembered is based entirely on how the Lakers perform in the rest of this postseason.  The reason for that is because there are two significant, and completely opposite, truths one can take from this game.  The 1st is that Kobe Bryant is absolutely still capable of willing his team to a victory if the situation calls for it.  The 2nd is that the Lakers, as a team, Kobe included, look old and tired right now.

Tonight's game is exactly why I was afraid of a match-up against the OKC Thunder.  The one area OKC clearly has the Lakers out-matched is in the athleticism department, and it couldn't have been any clearer in watching this game.  OKC had 17 blocks on the night, which is just an ungodly amount.  The reason they were able to run up such a high total is simple.  They contested every shot the Lakers took tonight, and their team has players who can jump higher than our players.  Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant were the driving force behind as impressive a display of interior defense as you are likely to see in these playoffs, with 7 and 4 blocks respectively.  But, as impressive as it was seeing the Thunder reject shot after shot inside the paint, it could not have happened but for one simple fact:  The Lakers were playing below the rim, and they were doing so because they don't have the capability to play above the rim right now. 

Chief among the Lakers playing a grounded game was tonight's hero, Kobe Bryant.  I don't have the official number, but I'd be willing to venture a guess that at least 1/3 of the rejections delivered by the Thunder were on shots taken by Mr Bean.  In the open court, where Kobe of old was as close to a sure thing as you could get, Kobe routinely had his shit sent packing.  You have to give him credit for being aggressive and taking the ball to the basket, but it's clear that his list of injuries are killing his ability to finish at the rim. 

Which makes it all the more impressive that Kobe was able to put the Lakers on his back once again in the 4th quarter.  Kobe entered the game with 8:22 remaining, and scored 15 points down the stretch, on 4-6 shooting and 7-9 at the FT line.  Before the 4th quarter, Kobe had 24 points on 22 shots, which is not very good.  By the end of the game, he had 39 points on 28 shots.  Once again, when he needed it most, he found his shooting stroke, doing equal parts damage from the outside, and on the free throw line.

Aside from Kobe, Pau was the only other Laker to come through with a strong performance with his typical 25 and 12.  It was rougher going for Andrew Bynum, who failed to repeat the strong performance of Game 1.  He played well defensively, and was a beast on the boards.  Huge amounts of credit must be given to the bigs, because they had 10 offensive rebounds between them, en route to the Lakers pulling down a ridiculous 40% of all offensive rebounding opportunities.  The Thunder may have superior athleticism, but the Lakers still have superior size, and that size had them picking balls up off the rim all game long.  However, Bynum never developed any rhythm on offense, probably because the Thunder were packing the lane like Styrofoam peanuts.  Any time the ball went inside, so did the entire Thunder team.  When the ball was passed back out, the Thunder made little effort to close out the likes of Derek Fisher and Ron Artest, who both continue to miss the most open outside shots imaginable.

Fisher also misses not-so-open shots.  Double digit shot attempts for Fisher again, which is quite frankly inexcusable.  For all the crap we gave Fisher about poor shot selection in the regular season, it's been that much worse in the two games of this series so far.  Fisher actually had the lowest usage on the entire team during the regular season, using only 14% of possessions.  After Game 1, he was 3rd on the team with 19%, behind only Kobe and Pau, and considering the fact that nobody but Kobe and Pau topped him for shot attempts again on the night, you can be sure his status as the Lakers 3rd fiddle is, sadly, safe.  Oh, did I mention he's shooting 27% through two games?

The bench continues to play higher than the low standards we've come to associate with them.  Farmar and Brown both played pretty well, although Farmar had some truly mind blowing turnovers and mental mistakes, like the foul on Eric Maynor's 20 foot runner with .7 seconds left in the 3rd quarter.  LO struggled on offense once again, but this time he struggled aggressively.  Whether that's a good thing or not is up to you.  Regardless, though the bench only scored 15 points, they outdid their counterparts (who had 12 off the OKC bench) once again.  That said, Serge Ibaka single handedly swayed the bench play argument in his team's favor.

Looking at the other side, both the good and bad of OKC's game one performance regressed to the mean a bit.  Russell Westbrook, plagued by early foul trouble, could not quite recapture the magic of his playoff debut, though 19 points on 10 shots is hardly poor.  And Kevin Durant was considerably better in his 2nd go round, scoring 32 points on close to 50% shooting.  In case you think his success was on Ron Artest, let me tell you it most certainly was not.  A lot of Durant's success came in transition, and against other defenders on switches, or off screens.  Artest was just as good defensively as ever, and he did force Durantula into a wicked 8 turnovers.

Game 3 is on Thursday in OKC.  At this point, it's near impossible to see the Lakers actually losing, but 7 games is still a very real possibility.











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