Well, this one should be pretty short and sweet. Jodie Meeks’ 3-pointer following a Russell Westbrook dunk gave the Lakers their only lead of the game (3-2) less than a minute into it. 5 unanswered Thunder points swung the lead in the Thunder’s direction for good (7-3). While the Lakers tried to hang early, only down 3 (15-12) with 6:35 to play in the 1st, the Thunder went on a 22-7 run that extended into the 2nd quarter, giving them a 37-19 lead with 10:30 to play in the first half.
The Lakers would then hit on a 9-2 run to pull themselves within 11 (39-28), only to be pushed back once again by a 15-4 Thunder run that extended the Thunder’s lead to 22 (54-32). The score was 59-38 with less than 2 minutes until halftime when the Lakers sparked an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 13 (59-46) with just over six seconds until the halftime buzzer. Although a foul by Ryan Kelly allowed Westbrook a chance to hit 1 of his 2 free throws with 4 tenths of a second remaining, which allowed the Thunder to take a 14-point lead (60-46) into the locker room at the break.
The Thunder lead was still 14 (74-60) with 6:37 left in the 3rd when the Thunder broke out a 16-3 run that broke the Lakers’ morale. That established a 27-point lead for the Thunder (90-63) with 4:09 still on the clock in the 3rd quarter. Despite the lead, the Lakers were not quite finished, as they immediately sparked an 11-2 run to pull themselves within 18 (92-74), only to be repelled yet again as the Thunder ended the 3rd on a 9-2 run that gave them a 101-77 lead heading into the 4th.
Down 24, I think even the Lakers knew that the Thunder weren’t giving up the lead by this point. After dropping an 18-point lead to the Lakers at Staples Center to find themselves down 18 on Sunday, the Thunder brought themselves back into it, only to suffer a heart-breaking (but certainly eye-opening) 4-point defeat (114-110). I think this game opened their eyes to the fact that they need to go for the kill against anyone they have on the ropes early. The 15-4 run in the 2nd put the Lakers on the ropes. The 16-3 Thunder run in the 3rd was the boot knife that cut the throat of the Lakers’ comeback opportunity. The Lakers still gave effort with an 11-3 run to start the 4th, but the Thunder lead was still 18 (104-86) with less than 10 minutes to play. They honestly gave effort as long as they could, with the Thunder lead holding around 20 for most of the 4th. The lead was an even 20 (115-95) with 5:35 left until the final buzzer when the Thunder sparked yet another run, this one a 14-3 run that established the Thunder’s largest lead of the game at 31 (129-98) with a mere 43.4 seconds to play. The lead would settle at 29 by game’s end, as the Thunder took a 131-102 victory that propelled them to 48-17 while dropping the Lakers to 22-43, effectively relegating them to the Western Conference basement (which an organization like that would certainly view as unfamiliar territory). (Side note: The Lakers’ record is now 22-44 following an abysmal 119-85 beating by the Spurs at AT&T Center last night, propelling the Spurs to 49-16. The Spurs’ current record effectively establishes a full-game lead over the Thunder for the Western Conference’s #1 seed.)
Westbrook and Kevin Durant tied for leading scorer with 29 points apiece. Durant’s performance now has him scoring 25+ for the 30th consecutive game, which hasn’t been done since the great Michael Jordan posted 40 straight 25+-point performances in the ’86-’87 season. That means Durant has accomplished something even “King James” himself can’t say he’s ever pulled off in his career. Seeing as LeBron was the really the only top player during his 7-year tenure with the Cavaliers, that actually says a lot about Durant’s silky smoothness as a scorer. And Serge Ibaka has effectively replaced James Harden in the Thunder’s Big 3. His 15-point, 13-rebound performance marks his 24th double-double of the season. He also added an eye-popping 7 blocks in this game. Caron Butler continues to prove his steadiness as a bench scorer, adding 11 points.
It was truly a team effort for the Lakers. Meeks’ 19 points were added to Pau Gasol’s 14, Kelly’s 12, and Wesley Johnson’s 10. Kent Bazemore and Jordan Farmar even combined for 29 off of the Lakers bench, as they hit 16 points and 13 points respectively. They even broke 100 points as a team, but they just had no chance against a Thunder offense that dropped 131 on them. The fact that they’ve given up 250 points in the last two nights is an obvious indicator of where the Lakers’ deficiencies lie.
Yes, injuries have pretty much derailed them, but the Thunder are down two starters themselves, yet they’re starting to find the defense they were lacking. Scott Brooks’ decision to start Andre Roberson over Perry Jones III in place of the injured Thabo Sefolosha even paid immediate dividends at the defensive end, as he stole the ball from Meeks on the Lakers’ first possession, setting up the Westbrook slam to start up the scoreboard. Jones is good for beaucoup (many) points at times, but if Roberson keeps putting out this level of effort defensively, this starting lineup featuring Roberson could be leaned on more frequently until Sefolosha’s return.
Tomorrow evening will see the Mavericks hit Chesapeake for the last of the Thunder’s three-game home stand. The Mavericks are looking to crack the Thunder code for the first time in a 12-game span. The current 11-game Thunder winning streak not only includes this season’s 107-93 victory from Nov. 6th, but also includes the 4-0 sweep from the 2012 playoffs. They shouldn’t feel bad about it though. Since the start of the ’11-’12 season, the Heat have been the only team to find truly consistent success against the Thunder anyhow. The Mavs will get a chance to break the losing streak tomorrow night at 6pm CST, and those without a ticket can catch the action via the usual suspects: Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.