OKC – 119
LAL – 90
OKC – R. Westbrook 27 Points, 7 Rebounds, 9 Assists, 2 Steals
LAL – A. Bynum 20 Points, 14 Rebounds
In one of the most anticipated matchups in recent history, eyes were drawn to the television screens to witness the young Oklahoma City Thunder make a statement to the experienced Los Angeles Lakers. That statement was made loud and clear. The arguments over the winner of Game 1 were never ending with people making cases for both teams. It was the Thunder, coming off of more than a week of rest, that stepped up to the plate.
The Lakers were supposed to carry their Game 7 momentum from the series against Denver into Game 1 of the Thunder series in order to establish confidence and control. They sustained that momentum for about a third of the first quarter when they jumped to an early lead over the Thunder. Once the Thunder caught their stride, the Lakers lost the pace of the game and never got back into the proper flow of the game.
The Lakers could not defend the Thunder’s screens, which primarily set up the offense. The screens the Thunder set leave holes in the Lakers’ zone defense which allows penetration into the paint. The Thunder penetrated easily early on which left the Lakers vulnerable to the Thunder’s long distance shooting.
Energy and defense were two key aspects of the game in which the Thunder held the advantage. James Harden, the 2012 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, created an instant spark of energy upon his entry into the game. The crowd was instantly behind him, specifically because of the Metta World Peace elbow situation that is still fresh on people’s minds. Russell Westbrook channeled his ever-flowing energy, proving to be too much for the Lakers point guards to handle and Serge Ibaka provided the energy in the paint that limited Pau Gasol’s effectiveness.
The Thunder were playing suffocating defense too, which is one of my Three Keys to Championships (Size, Defense, Superstars). On paper, the Lakers shooting was pretty good, but the Thunder made it impossible for the Lakers to fight back into the game because of their stifling defensive pressure. The Thunder accrued 13 steals to the Lakers’ one, 8 blocks to the Lakers’ three, and forced the Lakers into turning the ball over 15 times as opposed to their four. The Lakers never got a chance to get comfortable and they played into the Thunder’s tempo. Oklahoma City was able to run the break and in addition, they won all the dirty plays. This is what allowed them to go on a 13-0 run to conclude the second quarter and begin the third. Their run stretched to 24-6 over the Lakers to begin the second half.
At that point, there was no chance of a comeback and the Thunder began to pull away. The lead got as high as 31 points, if not higher, as early as the third quarter. The frustration began to set in. The look on Kobe Bryant’s face as he sat on the bench told far more than his words possibly could have. Kobe is known for being able to carry his team through the worst circumstances and still be able to compete, but his expression was one of utter defeat. It was as if he was witnessing an unbeatable juggernaut wreaking havoc on helpless, innocent bystanders. Also, a moment that could have an impact and carry over into next game was towards the very end when players from both teams tangled up. The Lakers’ Devin Ebanks shoved an Oklahoma City player, and was ejected immediately after. It was unclear from the television set if his ejection was based solely on the action or on his choice words that followed shortly. As he left the court, he aggressively hit a chair on the bench, knocking it over, and emphatically removed his jersey; It was truly a classless act. It summed the entire game up in 30 seconds.
The Lakers need to regain their championship swagger because they are lacking confidence right now. In response to a question asking if the Lakers, as a team, could defend the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kobe Bryant simply answered, “No.”
The Lakers cannot allow their frustration to get the best of them if they wish to oust the younger, more energetic Oklahoma City Thunder. The hunter has now become the hunted. Oklahoma City came in with a chip on their shoulder, despite sweeping Dallas, but quickly set the bar high for the Lakers. How will the Lakers bounce back? Tune in Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET to find out.
*Additional Note: The Kendrick Perkins injury could have a serious impact on the Thunder’s success moving forward.