The Oklahoma City Thunder traveled to Staples Center on Thursday night for one of the Lakers’ most emotional games of the season, as five-time NBA champion Derek Fisher returned for the first time since he was shipped away as the trade deadline came to a close.
The last time these two teams met up earlier in the season, the Thunder were able to close out the game with a victory, having the upper hand over the less-than-40-percent-shooting Lakers. It is clear that the Lakers have been weak and quite unappealing to watch when they’re on the road, which is a completely different scenario from when they’re playing in the Staples Center, proven by their 20-4 home record.
The Lakers are a fresher team now with the addition of Sessions at starting point guard, and they have shown this by winning three of their last four, pulling up to third place in the Western Conference standings. Mike Brown is establishing himself as a more aggressive coach, as well, having no regrets benching big name players, no matter what time it is or how much is left in a game.
The Lakers started off the game with a dunk by Andrew Bynum fed in from Pau Gasol, which Kobe Bryant followed up with the next play down the court with a three. Thabo Sefolosha then took control for the Thunder, draining a three and immediately forcing a L.A. turnover to put up another basket. Kobe seemed to have his offensive rhythm going early, making both open and contested shots while also having Bynum playing large in the paint. Kevin Durant missed his first eight shot opportunities, giving Sessions plenty of chances to quickly bring the ball back down the court and dish it out, as he had four assists in the first five minutes.
Oklahoma City continued to struggle in the closing minutes of the quarter, giving up turnovers and letting the Lakers get out on an 11-0 run. Bynum and Gasol destroyed the Thunder defense in the paint, drawing fouls and cleaning up any shot from the outside.
Derek Fisher entered the game for the first time with two minutes remaining in the quarter, and was greeted with a loud reception from everyone within Staples Center. Matt Barnes kept the crowd on their feet with a quick layup on the other end of the floor, and then a rebound on the other end. Josh McRoberts continued to be impressive, taking advantage of the lack of defense from the Thunder on the weak side of the basket to run in for a big dunk. Kevin Durant hit his first bucket of the game with a minute remaining, but the Lakers continued to dominate the quarter. They closed out the first 12 minutes on a 22-7 run, ending the quarter up 30-18.
The Lakers opened up the second quarter looking to keep their players who were playing well on the court, with both Gasol and McRoberts on the floor at the same time alongside Barnes, Blake and Metta World Peace. Steve Blake was set up against Derek Fisher, which would evidently be a show many L.A. fans were excited to see. The Lakers continued to play a majority of their offense inside of the paint, and the Thunder looked to answer to that by hitting perimeter shots on the opposite end of the floor. Derek Fisher began to spark Oklahoma City’s offense, hitting three field goals off of the bench, and at one point drawing a foul to get himself to the line for a total of seven points.
Fisher’s spark allowed them to get a foot up over the Lakers, who began slacking offensively and not taking advantage of their opportunities, allowing the Thunder to cut the lead to five. Andrew Bynum immediately made a positive impact as soon as he re-entered the game, getting his first block of the game and helping the Lakers retake an eight point lead. Although Kevin Durant at one point was 0-8, he was able to finally start hitting some baskets, mainly from driving into the paint and executing impressive layups. Kobe Bryant continued to be impressive with his shot selection, and as soon as Ramon Sessions came back onto the floor the Lakers took the game over once again.
The combination of Sessions or Bryant passing to Gasol who thus found Bynum down low was something the Lakers continued to drift to, as the Thunder repeatedly struggled finding an answer to shutting the strong center down. The Thunder were still able to make their final four shots of the quarter, however, including a buzzer beater by Ibaka to cut the Lakers lead to five. The Lakers headed into the locker room on top at halftime with a 49-44 lead.
Oklahoma City came out in the second half with something to prove, cutting the Lakers lead to just three within the first 90 seconds. The Lakers began turning the ball over and committing fouls early. L.A. were also unable to hit a basket within the first four minutes of play, giving Russell Westbrook the opportunity to gain the lead for the Thunder for the first time since the first quarter. The blows kept coming for the Lakers, as Kevin Durant drained a three to complete an 11-0 run while the Lakers had missed their first seven opportunities of the quarter.
As the Thunder gained their strongest lead of the game, the Lakers were needing to start finding their big men in the paint again to retake control, which began with a pass to Andrew Bynum on the inside to hit their first field goal of the half. Kobe Bryant made his presence in the half as well with a steal, to which he drew a hard foul from Kevin Durant to take himself to the line to cut the lead to six. Metta World Peace hit his first field goal of the night with a three after missing seven shots, but Westbrook continued to lead the Thunder offense, who at one point were on a 21-7 run.
With Gasol on the bench, the Lakers needed something to re-spark their energy if they wanted to tie this series 1-1. Steve Blake stepped up to the plate, getting a steal and back to back baskets to cut the trailing margin by five. Kendrick Perkins shined in the third, putting up 10 of his 12 points in the quarter alone. Bynum hit an impressive bucket with less than 20 seconds remaining in the quarter, but a Westbrook buzzer beating three-pointer kept the Thunder’s lead to a healthy 10 points, as the Lakers entered the final quarter down 78-68.
If the Lakers wanted to end this game with another home victory, they were needing to find a solution to the hot shooting Russell Westbrook, who had 17 of his 26 points in the third quarter. L.A. started off the quarter with Bryant on the bench, giving the second string an opportunity to impress and get the game back within grasp. All of Kevin Durant’s first quarter woes were clearly behind him, he continued to find the baskets to keep the Thunder ahead, which was the complete opposite of World Peace who was shooting 1-11 from the field.
With the Thunder up 14 points with only eight minutes remaining in the game, Kobe Bryant came back into the game earlier than desired to lead a final charge for a win. Bryant hit his first field goal in 21 minutes with a 17-foot two point jumper, and the Lakers forced back to back turnovers on the Thunder until James Harden hit another three to take a 19 point lead. The home side were able to keep fighting back little by little, with even Metta World Peace hitting a second three to cut the Thunder’s lead to 10. Westbrook’s explosiveness continued to be too much for Kobe Bryant and the rest of the Lakers’ defense as he blasted down the court to gain another layup, but World Peace struck back again with another three, helping put L.A. on a 15-5 run.
As the two minute marker struck by on the clock, Pau Gasol gave up another turnover and the game looked to be over. Russell Westbrook hit another jumper, completing a 34 point game and putting the Thunder up nine with only 50 seconds remaining. Gasol was able to answer with two free throws after drawing a foul off of a missed layup, but Durant put in a floating layup after driving into the paint to give Oklahoma City a 100-91 lead that L.A. could never recover from. Andrew Bynum tipped in a missed Bryant three-pointer, but Westbrook drew in yet another foul to get himself to the line to finish off the game. The Lakers were unable to capture a victory against Derek Fisher and his young Thunder, as they fell to the Thunder 102-93.