The Los Angeles Lakers welcomed the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Staples Center on Friday and it was a much anticipated Western Conference showdown. The Lakers entered the game with a disappointing 15-20 record, whereas the Thunder were once again one of the best teams in conference with only eight losses on the season.
Los Angeles could not afford another loss, but they had to battle the tough Thunder team without Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill. The Lakers’ chances of missing the playoffs decrease every time they lose a game and they are in desperate need of a victory so they can turn their season around.
Staples Center was buzzing before tip-off and everyone in the arena understood the importance of Friday night’s game. The Lakers have not been able to beat the upper echelon teams, but tonight offered them an opportunity to defeat one of the NBA’s best squads in front of a national audience.
In the opening minutes of the first quarter, the Lakers got some easy baskets in the paint and it was orchestrated by the two young starters, Earl Clark and Robert Sacre. Los Angeles played well on both ends of the court and the team got off to a quick 6-4 lead with 9:00 left to play in the period.
Lakers’ first six points = Earl basket, Earl assist, Earl pick. … OKC 6, LA 6. #earlsanity
— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) January 12, 2013
The Lakers continued to execute well on the offensive end, but they were not able to put together a run because of their lack of defensive intensity. Los Angeles was getting clean looks with the ball in its hands, but it was having trouble containing the explosive Thunder team. At the 6:18 mark of the first quarter, the Lakers and Thunder were tied at 12.
Oklahoma City used an 11-2 run to take control of the game and momentum had shifted its way. The Lakers had trouble withstanding the surge and the young Thunder team kept its foot on the gas pedal. Kevin Durant was torching the Lakers with his incredible offensive skill-set and the Lakers had no answer for him on that end of the court. With 3:50 left to play in the quarter, Oklahoma City led 23-14.
The Lakers closed out the first quarter very well and used an 11-0 run to tie the game after 12 minutes of play, 25-25. The Lakers played with more energy and grit in the final minutes of the first and that allowed them to get back into the game. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers in scoring with seven points, while Clark had six points and three rebounds.
The Lakers made their run in the first quarter while Durant was sitting on the bench, but when he returned to the court at the start of the second period, the Lakers maintained their high level of play. Los Angeles did not lose its intensity and it did not allow Durant to take over the game like he did before. Clark continued with his stellar play and the Lakers rode his shoulders in the second quarter. At the 9:52 mark, the Lakers took a 30-29 lead after a turnaround fadeaway from Clark.
So at what point does it become a good idea to pick up Earl Clark in your fantasy league? BK
— Kamenetzky Brothers (@KamBrothers) January 12, 2013
The Lakers continued to play hard and it was nice seeing the team compete in the first half, as opposed to their previous games in which they played lackadaisically in the first two quarters. Thanks to the Lakers’ ability to maintain their energy level, Oklahoma City was unable to put together a meaningful run. Even though the Lakers could not expand their lead, they were matching the Thunder’s every move.
With 5:46 left to play in the half, the Thunder held a small five point lead, 42-37.
However, Oklahoma City regained control of the game and its athletic players were just too much for the Lakers to handle. Even though the Lakers’ offense was running fairly smoothly, the team had trouble containing the explosiveness of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The Thunder’s stars were able to attack the basket with ease and they gave the team a 55-45 lead with a few minutes left in the half.
Through two quarters, the Thunder held a 64-48 advantage behind 25 points from Kevin Durant. As for the Lakers. Bryant led them in scoring with 14 while Clark and World Peace both chipped in eight points.
Nothing went right for the Lakers to open the second half as the Thunder continued the onslaught. The Lakers’ offense became stagnant and their defense was just as bad as they could not do anything to stop the Thunder from scoring. At the 9:44 mark of the third quarter, the Lakers were held scoreless and Oklahoma City opened up a 69-48 lead.
The Thunder took complete control of the game and the Lakers’ chances of pulling out a win were rapidly diminishing. The Lakers were struggling on both ends of the court and the Staples Center crowd was in shock at how poorly the team was performing. After playing with energy and intensity for a good part of the first half, the Lakers came out completely flat in the third quarter.
Spare me the injury excuse. The Lakers have always fielded at least two Hall of Famers on the floor. No reason they should be this bad
— Mark Medina (@MedinaLakersNBA) January 12, 2013
No matter what the Lakers threw at Kevin Durant, there was nothing they could do to stop his incredible offensive explosion. Whether it was in the paint or from the perimeter, Durant was knocking down everything and everyone in attendance was in awe. Los Angeles looked disheartened on the court and with 5:10 left in the period, the Lakers faced a massive 80-59 deficit.
After 36 minutes of play, the Lakers were down 93-73; Kevin Durant scored 40 points through three quarters and he showed no signs of slowing down.
The outcome of the game was decided before the fourth quarter began and the Staples Center crowd was absolutely silent. The energy in the arena was completely gone and the Lakers players lost all their intensity and tenacity.
Los Angeles did begin to play with a little more life as the quarter progressed, but it still could not stop the Thunder from scoring. The guards were pushing the ball up the court, but the defensive pressure was non-existent and the Thunder brought the lead back up to 22, 103-81, with 7:31 left in the game.
Lakers fans are booing. This is a painful reminder of what a title contender looks like and how far away from it the Lakers are.
— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) January 12, 2013
Kobe Bryant did what he could to help the Lakers get back into the game, but even Kobe was unable to put a dent into the massive deficit. Oklahoma City asserted its dominance on the Lakers and the team showed the world why it is still the best team in the Western Conference.
Oklahoma City dominated the Lakers on both sides of the ball as it had an offensive explosion and played lock-down defensive on the Lakers. With just four minutes left in the match, the Lakers took off their starters as the Thunder opened up a 112-85 lead.
Once the final buzzer rang, the Lakers walked off the court as the Thunder embarrassed them at Staples Center, 116-101.