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We Are Not Amused


Yuck. What a catastrophe. What a nauseating display. What an overdose of uncut, pharmaceutical-grade slop.

We knew the Los Angeles Lakers would have a taxing fight on their hands in Oklahoma City. We understand that the future belongs to the Thunder. We nonetheless believed that the present still belongs to the Lakers. Fresh from having seen the Lakers get clocked in the grill, hard, in Game Four, to the tune of a ferocious 89 to 110 face-stomping, I wonder if that belief was naïve. The Lakers' performance was so grievously flawed, so lacking in precision and skill and competitive spirit, one's forced to confront the possibility that the season is nearing its end. The Lakers' season could be over in April.

I'm not saying that's likely, but it looks a hell of a lot more likely than it did six hours ago. The Lakers got dominated tonight by a variety of assailants. There was the OKC crowd, seemingly not as frenzied as on Thursday night but still menacing. There were the officials, whom the crowd successfully intimidated yet again into a wildly unbalanced set of whistles. Most important of all were the Thunder players themselves, who for a second consecutive game played harder, faster and more intelligently than the Lakers and are making the defending champs look very last decade.

A little more than four minutes into tonight's game, Kevin Durant drove past Ron Artest, met no help defense in the lane and accordingly packed down a foundation-rattling dunk. That put the Thunder up 9 to 8, after which the Lakers would never lead again. The game got out of hand with a quickness. The Lakers couldn't shoot or rebound or get to the free-throw line. Kobe Bryant began the game self-consciously forsaking his own shot, which was 100% the right thing to do. He committed a couple first-quarter turnovers, but otherwise his effort to get the offense functioning as a cohesive unit was thoughtful and well executed. His teammates simply let him down. Andrew Bynum missed good looks. Pau Gasol missed good looks and turned the ball over. Artest could neither hit open outside shots nor finish at the rim. Kobe played within his (physically diminished) self and trusted the talent around him, but that very well-compensated talent didn't come through.

At the other end of the floor, the Thunder wreaked destruction by crashing the offensive boards - they had a 38% offensive rebounding rate and nine second chance points in the first quarter alone - and getting to the line. Over. And over. And over. They still can't shoot from the field, but damn can they shoot free throws. 8 for 8 in the first period. 11 for 12 in the second. 13 for 15 in the third. Absurd numbers, in both the numerators and denominators.

In the first half, OKC generated 0.51 free-throw attempts for every field-goal attempt. In the third quarter that number spiked to 0.71, which is utterly ridiculous. Yes, the Thunder were aggressive, and no, the Lakers weren't paragons of positional defensive technique. Events on the court, however, in no way justified a second straight game of gargantuan free-throw disparities. This was the work of a heroic OKC crowd and officials who allowed themselves to be swayed by them.

In the second quarter, the Lakers got their offense humming a bit. Lamar Odom got things going with a couple hoops - glad you could finally join us, Lamar! - while Bynum did some damage inside. The Lakers had six offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points in the period. It was only enough, however, to stabilize the 12-15 point deficit. The Lakers couldn't mount a run to cut into it, not with the Thunder living at the free-throw line and outhustling the Lakers to loose rebounds. James Harden dropped in seven points in the second and Serge Ibaka chipped in six. Thanks to those two and Eric Maynor, the Thunder reserves again outplayed the hapless Laker bench. Oh, and the Lakers missed 7 of 10 free throws in the first half. That didn't help.

Any hopes for a third quarter comeback were quickly extinguished. On the very first possession, Kobe fouled Thabo Sefolosha on a three-point attempt - Thabo, of course, drained all three freebies - and the Lakers went scoreless on four of their next five trips. The lead got stretched out to 20 by the middle of the third, and it was garbagio time from there on out. The fourth quarter featured the long-awaited duel between be-facialhaired doppelgangers Adam Morrison and BJ Mullens.

Thoroughly bloodied and partially dismembered, the Lakers now return to Staples for Game Five on Tuesday night. There are more questions surrounding this team than there is space to list them. Can they come up with anything - a defender off the bench, maybe, or a hard foul from DJ Mbenga - to rattle Westbrook? Can they regain control of the boards? Does Phil Jackson have anything in his bag of tricks that can even out the whistles? Will Artest or Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown ever make another three?

If you step back from the horror of tonight's loss - not easily done, granted - the Lakers should still be considered the slight favorites in this series. The Thunder appear to be a very different team in their own barn, and to our eternal relief, there's only one more game scheduled to be played there. In Staples, they'll have to recreate the same élan they displayed in Games Three and Four but without the backing soundtrack from their fans and the friendly officiating that creates. It's a lot to ask from what Dan Shulman and Doris Burke reminded us 283 times tonight is - repeat after me, everyone - the youngest team in the NBA.

That said, there's no question the Lakers are very much capable of losing this series. None of their problems from the regular season has been fixed. If anything, new problems have emerged and squished themselves onto an already crowded plate of FAIL. The stench from tonight's turd sandwich will linger in our noses for at least the next three days. Maybe much longer.











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