In a week that features the Los Angeles Lakers playing Western Conference powers Oklahoma City Thunder - twice - and the San Antonio Spurs, an 0-3 week would have resulted in nothing more than a collective shoulder shrug from the fan base. 1-1 on the week with a game remaining at San Antonio is a glass more than half-full in a season filled with disappointment. Just as Jodie Meeks was able to give the Staples Center crowd their money's worth Sunday with his 42 points, Russell Westbrook did much of the same Thursday night as the Thunder defeated the Lakers 131-102.
The Thunder covered the -16.5 spread as they improved to 30-16 ATS (against the spread) in home games avenging a loss vs opponent over the last three seasons. OKC is now 18-2 against the West at home.
It has to reiterated how demoralizing losing can get. During the TNT broadcast, Chris Webber explained how contagious losing is, specifically in the locker room. Regardless of this roster's lack of talent, the five players on the floor more often than not give their full effort. Tonight's loss was not a result of lethargy or complacency. No matter how futile ‘effort' has been this season, it's a point to appreciate.
First Quarter (33-19, OKC)
If the first play of the game was an indication to how this game would turn out, it could not have been closer to the truth. After the Lakers won the tip, Andre Roberson, who started in place of the injured Thabo Sefolosha, got his hands on the ball to force a Jodie Meeks turnover. Westbrook came up with the ball and coasted to the other end to slam in the first basket of the game.
OKC shot over 56 percent from the field, as Westbrook and Durant finished with 11 and 9 points each, respectively. Westbrook's energy carried OKC in the first quarter, scoring 11 of the Thunder's first 17 points on 4-5 FG shooting. The Lakers, on the other hand, struggled to create and make open shots, shooting just 30.8 percent from the field. Meeks, who gave us a moment of optimism scoring a career-high 42 points vs the Thunder on Sunday, struggled to get things going, shooting just 1-6 in the opening period.
The bright spot in the quarter was the continued success of Ryan Kelly. We know he can hit the open shot, but his court awareness stood out most. Early on, with OKC up 7-6, Durant got the ball in the post against Wesley Johnson. Durant spun baseline, but Kelly immediately closed off the opening. It was his perfect rotation that resulted in an OKC turnover. As someone pointed out on Twitter, Kelly's play on both ends of the floor should result in some sort an all-rookie team selection.
Second Quarter (60-46, OKC)
Remember back in high school, when the varsity team would scrimmage against the JV or soph-frosh teams? Aside from a few stretches here and there, the varsity team - largely due to superior talent - would run up the score. The second quarter of tonight's game was very much like that. It wasn't even a matter of LA not taking care of the ball - they committed just four turnovers compared to OKC's seven. Despite consistent effort from the Lakers, specifically their second unit, the Thunder were just too fast, athletic and swarming on defense. Durant's technical foul followed by Johnson's three-pointer late in the quarter made the deficit *a bit* more manageable.
The Lakers' second unit sparked a sort-of comeback, bringing them back within 11 points after falling behind 18. Westbrook's return to the court ended that run as the Thunder extended their lead to 52-29 behind a 13-1 run. Midway through the quarter, Westbrook and Durant had already combined for 22 points on 12 shots. Westbrook led all scorers at the half with 14 points (5-9 FG). Serge Ibaka kept OKC's defensive intensity at a championship level, finishing the firs half with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. Kelly continued to do his best to keep the game within striking distance, whatever that means for this roster.
Kelly finished the first half with 9 points (65.4 TS%), 4 assists, 3 boards, 2 blocks.
Third Quarter (101-77, OKC)
Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Durant picked up his fourth foul with OKC up 65-51. The Lakers were able to pull to within 11 points, 69-58, due to some crisp ball-movement. The absence of Durant just meant Westbrook had to do more to keep the margin in double digits and boy, did he do more. He scored 15 in the third, putting his total up to 29 to go along with 9 assists. One stretch saw him score nine points in 53 seconds.
Defensively, the Lakers just were not able to get back to limit any fastbreak opportunities OKC created. Teams - at least rosters that are coached on the defensive end - are taught to stop the ball first and foremost. The Lakers were back on their heels as Westbrook put on a show with Durant on the bench. For OKC, Ibaka controlled the paint with his 7 blocks through three quarters.
Fourth Quarter (131-102, OKC wins)
The fourth quarter was more of a courtesy than anything else. There was no reason to play it, or watch it. Durant made it 30 straight games with at least 25 points; his 25-point streak is the longest in the NBA since Michael Jordan (40 straight games) in 1987.
Meeks led the Lakers with 19 points, and Kelly finished with 12 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds.