Let us stipulate that even de-Gasoled and Nashless, the Lakers are probably better than their sub-.500 record indicates; Los Angeles took a one-point lead in the first quarter. The Thunder responded with a 41-point second quarter to go up 14 at the half, and opened it up to 19 in the third quarter. The Lakers still did not die, closing to within four with 14 seconds left as the OKC defense developed an inexplicable case of late-game porosity. But L.A.’s last chance, a missed trey by Jodie Meeks, missed the rim, and the Thunder rolled up their sixteenth win in twenty tries, 114-108.
Telltale statistic: Hard as it may be to believe, Kobe Bryant collected two fouls in a 30-second span late in the fourth quarter. Twice. He finished with five. Being Kobe, he probably figured he had to get the stops in addition to the shots. (He finished with a stellar 35 points.) But for some reason, the Lakers have been better this season when Kobe is not being Kobe. I note with amusement that the suggestion in the Oklahoman this morning that the Thunder should play lots of Hack-a-Howard went for naught: the Dwightster, normally below 50 percent at the line, made five of seven on his way to 23 points. What’s more, Howard reeled in 18 rebounds, contributing substantially to the Lakers’ 45-36 edge in rebounding. And Meeks (17 points) pulled off the neat trick of earning six free throws from a mere two fouls. (He sank five of them.)
We will debate for years, or at least until breakfast, what happened to Russell Westbrook at halftime. Through the first two quarters, just about everything he touched turned to points: he had 27 by then. He finished with 33, which ain’t bad, but still, he looked like a man on a mission for one half and a man who was flailing about for a play for the other. Kevin Durant, meanwhile, was pocketing a comparatively easy-looking 36, 14 from the stripe. And at some point, Scott Brooks decided that having Serge Ibaka shoot over Dwight Howard was at least marginally more efficient than having Kendrick Perkins pester him. (Later, Ibaka got into it with Metta World Peace, but I don’t think there’s anyone past his rookie season who hasn’t gotten into it with Metta World Peace.)
But however it looked, the crowd demanded “Beat L.A.,” and L.A. was duly beaten. I suspect the Pacers, who’ll be here Sunday, might be just a hair tougher.