It’s hard to say what was more disheartening: the Lakers grinding out a 90-87 win at the New Round Barn, or the robocalls on behalf of various City Council candidates during the second half. (Brad Henry, in particular, should farging well know better than that.) The Thunder offense, which hoovered up 56 points in the first half, couldn’t manage but 31 in the second, and two quite-reasonable three-point attempts in the last ten seconds failed to drop.
In the main, it’s a story you’ve heard before: the youngsters burn themselves out quickly, and the veterans clean up the mess. Five points up at the half, OKC found itself going nowhere in the third quarter, opening the door for Los Angeles. Both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were able to post double-doubles, and if Kobe Bryant isn’t quite the Kobe of old, the Kobe of now is still pretty darned impressive. (It was Bryant’s fadeaway just inside the one-minute mark that put the Lakers up three.) None of Phil Jackson’s crew played more than 37 minutes, which suggests a lack of urgency that only a Zen master like Jackson can pull off.
Scott Brooks stuck to his regular rotation, and it’s easy to say that yeah, maybe he should have let the new guys play, but I suspect the results would have been just about the same. Apart from a rather appalling number of turnovers — 19 of ‘em — the Thunder didn’t do a whole lot wrong. When your shooting percentage drops from better than 60 to less than 45 over the space of 24 minutes, though, you’re doing something wrong. Russell Westbrook had 17 points in the first half, but finished with only 22. Kevin Durant went 8-19 from the floor to collect 21 points. Serge Ibaka got more boards — thirteen — than anyone. And Thabo Sefolosha not only kept Kobe largely at bay, he picked up 10 points. But somehow, the machine ground to a halt in the third quarter, and it never did quite come back to life.
So February ends at 6-5, which isn’t that bad, but which isn’t that good either. March beckons with sixteen games, and perhaps fortunately for the Thunder, the first half of it is loaded with games against the East. Then again, the Pacers, who arrive in the city on Wednesday, aren’t just going to roll over and die.