There are many ways basketball today has changed from the days of West, Magic and Kareem. More strict officiating and media instigated rivalries are obvious, but there is one thing that causes more drama than a high school cheerleading squad: the internet.
The stress of playoffs has been made known by many players around the NBA, as the name calling and trash talking has begun. The newest player to the game? Ex Celtic and current Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. When asked about the Lakers in a recent interview, he let everyone know the Lakers were “yesterdays news”, and that Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant were “soft”, along with some harsh words about 11 time champion coach Phil Jackson.
Los Angeles played host to the Thunder(53-26), a testy opponent for the Lakers, who had just come off a four game losing streak to slump down to a record of 55-24.
With three games left, this match-up between a likely playoff opponent deemed a perfect opportunity for the Lakers to get back on track, and silence all of the name callers, whether they’re NBA players or not.
Before the game, Lakers fans made their presence known with loud boo’s to make Perkins feel right at home. Unfortunately, that was the only amusing thing within the first 10 minutes at Staples Center.
The Thunder started off hot, making 5 of their first 6 shots early to take a quick lead. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook seemed to be handling the Lakers defense quite easily, while their quick drives to the basket and outside jump shots were making the Lakers big men all look Nate Robinson sized.
An early airball from Derek Fisher in three-point land looked as if it would set a negative tone for the rest of the quarter, until Pau Gasol began telling Perkins how he felt about the words released by the press earlier in the week. Pau shot 4-5 in the quarter, easily outdoing Perkins’ single attempt at the basket.
Aggressive play from Kobe Bryant and smarter offensive decision making led to a Lakers 11-5 run, taking the Thunder lead from 10 back down to 4.
OKC had four players with fouls in the first, while the Lakers had three, proving this probable playoff matchup game to be a lot feistier than some would expect.
As the high scoring quarter came to an end, the Thunder held a slight lead over the Lakers, 36-31.
The second started off, once again, all Oklahoma City, as they strengthened their lead with a 7-0 run. Lamar Odom continued to show us why he’s a cherished 6th man, making an important three to get the Lakers back into the game.
Andrew Bynum made his first basket of the ball game three minutes into the quarter, getting in a quick turn down low to bank in a basket off the glass. Then Luke Walton entered the game for Shannon Brown, which may have been questionable to a lot of fans watching the game. Feeding Bynum a quick pass down low to get the big man on the board yet again, Walton quickly brought a little comfort back to the game.
While it seemed that the Lakers were playing good basketball, their 50% shooting compared to the Thunders 69% was still a problem. The Thunder brought their lead back up to 10, making 7 of 10 baskets they attempted, and always seeming to have a hand in the face of a Lakers shooter. Dominant defense and excellent ball movement from Oklahoma City proved why they have always given the Lakers problems in the playoffs.
Kobe Bryant let Kendrick Perkins know that once someone is a Celtic, they are always a Celtic. Aggressive play brought about some harsh words from both players, turning into a slight scuffle, showing the players true feelings towards each other. After the play and issuing of a technical foul each, Kobe silenced the Thunder with a long range 3, leading the Lakers to a 7-0 run and creeping back within 5.
The second quarter showed off good basketball from both teams, having a drastic decrease in turnovers and bringing the Lakers shooting back up to 60% with three minutes remaining. A Gasol and 1 play, trick shot by Kobe, Bynum technical, Durant layup and Ibaka dunk brought the quarter to a close. The Lakers outscoring the Thunder 20-10 and Kobe Bryant’s 22 point first half performance brought the Lakers back within two as the halftime buzzer sounded. The half ended with Oklahoma City on top, 66-64.
The quarter started with few missed shot attempts by both teams, until Perkins made the first basket of the half to bring the Thunder’s lead back up to 4. A couple misses by Bryant, Gasol and Fisher, along with a well executed block by Ibaka and Durant knocking down shots brought the lead back up to 8, as the Lakers were going on a 0-6 run.
Phil Jackson called for a timeout, which proved beneficial for the Lakers. They came back onto the court with a Ron Artest jumper, Derek Fisher three-pointer and slam from Pau Gasol. All of a sudden, the game was back within one. Another big block from Ibaka kept OKC in the lead, proving that the Lakers big men needed to become even more aggressive offensively.
A fourth turnover by the Thunder brought the ball back to the Lakers end of the court, where Sefolosha was called for a kicking foul and issued a technical, resulting with him taking a seat with 4 personal fouls. This triggered a Derek Fisher offensive rebound and layup, giving the Lakers their first lead of the game halfway through the third, up 76-74.
More tough shots being executed by Kevin Durant and the Thunder took their lead back up to 6, causing a substitution of Odom for Gasol. OKC had 8 unanswered baskets until Kobe went to the line to shoot three, bringing the game back within three.
The Lakers defense finally started looking as it did back before the 4 game losing streak, with the Thunder’s turnover count being tallied up to 8 and consecutive jump balls bringing the Lakers within 1. Steve Blake put LA on top with a three with two minutes remaining, followed by an Artest steal which he converted into two free-throws for a 4 point lead. A missed three point attempt by Shannon Brown sprung Artest into action again a minute later, getting a quick offensive rebound to tip the ball into the net. The basket made Artest the 4th Lakers starter in double digets.
Numerous fouls in the final minute brought many Thunder players to the line, keeping them in close range of the Lakers as the quarter drew to a close.
The Lakers had only 1 turnover in the first 3 quarters, while converting OK City’s 8 turnovers into 12 points throughout the game. The lack of turnovers and execution of shots finally put the Lakers on top at the end of the 3rd, 90-88.
Steve Blake opened the final 12 minutes of the game with another 3 pointer, while shooting 3-3 from beyond the arc. Nazr Mohammed responded with a 19-foot jumper, bringing the Thunder within 3 until Odom executed an excellent hook shot to take the lead back up to 5. Consecutive baskets by Odom kept the Lakers on top early. The Lakers bench started letting the ball getting away from them, resulting in two quick turnovers.
A timeout was called 8 minutes into the game leading to Bynum being the only started]r on the floor, playing alongside Barnes, Blake, Brown and Odom. A big double miss on free-throws by Barnes enabled the Thunder to shorten the lead to only 1, causing Kobe to start looking antsy from the bench.
Mohammed, making 3 of his last 4 shot attempts, brought OKC back up by 1 with 6:30 remaining. Thankfully for the Lakers, OKC was 0-5 from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter, which single-handedly kept LA in the game.
Tough defense began shutting the Lakers bench out, leading to substitutions bringing the starters, and hopefully the Lakers, back into the game.
Another basket for Durant, bringing him up to 25, started the game after the timeout, until a tough move by Kobe Bryant finally put Los Angeles back on the board. Bryant began proving why he has 5 rings, executing another assist and running around the Thunder’s defense that had initially been causing so much trouble.
The MVP chants began when Kobe Bryant brought his point count up to 31 with a three-point play off a tricky layup, off of Kendrick Perkins foul.
The tables quickly turned, however, with a Sefolosha layup, a Westbrook steal and a Fisher loose ball foul. The game looked like it was going to be decided within the closing seconds of the game, just the way Kobe likes it. It became a two possession game with 2:30 remaining, followed by multiple turnovers by both teams and a scramble on the floor. An 8th turnover by the Lakers gave the Thunder the ball with a minute remaining, giving Westbrook the ball for a fast break layup. Consecutive air balls thrown up by LA turned the ball over again, and the game was over once Westbrook earned himself a 4-point play off of Kobe Bryant. As the fans started heading towards the doors, more misses were produced by LA. Ron Artest fouled out of the game, bringing Durant to the line to score his 31st point of the game. OKC wins the game over LA 120-106.
The Lakers lose their first home game of the year when they were ahead going into the fourth quarter. With the loss, Dallas (55-25) is now even with the Lakers for the second seed in the Western Conference.
The Lakers host the Spurs Tuesday.