There are so many qualifiers to this game but Oklahoma City shouldn’t hang their head on this loss. Yeah, they blew it down the stretch, but they did execute well enough to get the exact shots they wanted. Kevin Durant got fouled on a couple and just bricked two more (not to mention a wide open dunk that Westbrook missed). Any of those go in, and they escaped with a victory in regulation. When a team amasses an 18 point lead late in the 3rd quarter when their two stars shoot 13-56, you’re doing something right.
[Article Continues After The Breakdown]
There were some key matchups that do shed light on how Scott Brooks and Mike Brown intend to play this if they meet in the playoffs. In a atypically smart move, Mike Brown put Kobe Bryant on Russell Westbrook. Not only was Kobe engaged and making life miserable for Russ, Brown knew that Westbrook would be unable to resist the challenge of going right at Kobe. He forced numerous bad shots, and Kobe got the benefit of any and all calls while playing at home.Scott Brooks may have also discovered that guarding Pau Gasol with Serge Ibaka does nothing but embarrass the Spaniard. Ibaka made life a living hell for Gasol, even going so far as to block Gasol’s patented sweeping right handed hook. Inexplicably, Gasol found himself guarded by Nick Collison at times, while Ibaka guarded Jordan Hill, and Gasol was able to score. This is the reason Pau had such a quiet 20-14-9 game.
The biggest X-factor for the Lakers is how to stop James Harden. Brown clearly had a game plan for him, as they had Matt Barnes try to deny him the basketball at half court. This worked out well for OKC, and Harden had no trouble dominating the game until he was summarily taken out by Metta World Peace. There is simply not a doubt that having Harden for the stretch run of this game would have changed its outcome. One solution is to have Kobe guard Harden, but that leaves them vulnerable to Westbrook, as it remains to be seen if Ramon Sessions knows how to play up to the competition.
So a big win for the Lakers, it was more important to them for playoff seeding then it was for the Thunder. But at full strength, a series between these two games goes no longer than 6 games. And that would require more of the miraculous shot making that Kobe Bryant has been known for his whole career.