Kobe Bryant, during Wednesday night's loss in Oklahoma City (Getty Images)
Oklahoma City Thunder 77, Los Angeles Lakers 75 (Thunder lead series, 2-0)
The Oklahoma City Thunder were down seven points in this contest with two minutes left to play, with just 68 points to their credit. And though we've seen comebacks that overcome that differential in even shorter amounts of time, given Los Angeles' defensive dominance for the first 46 minutes of the contest, who in their right mind thought the Thunder could outscore the Lakers by eight points over that final term, considering that they had to essentially pitch a shutout because of the waning seconds?
Well, the Thunder managed one of the two. They pitched the shutout, but they didn't outscore Los Angeles by eight in the final two minutes. They outscored 'em by nine. The Thunder are championship-worthy, and the Lakers have their problems, but it's OK to be shocked at the way Los Angeles frittered away this contest.
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The Lakers weren't exactly going great guns offensively prior to the meltdown. The team had strayed away from feeding the ball to Andrew Bynum in the fourth quarter (though he took five shots, making five), and had scored just 12 points in the first 10 minutes of the period. Kobe Bryant had just hit two nice fadeaway jumpers — but they were the sort of low percentage, fool's gold looks that he habitually relies on. A pair of lazy passes from Bryant and Steve Blake, then a needless 3-pointer from Kobe with six seconds left on the shot clock in Los Angeles' penultimate possession (yes, I know a play ending with a foul counts as a possession) preceded a head-scratcher of a final play.
The Lakers had the ball with 18.6 seconds left, down one, but Bryant waited until there were six seconds left in the game to drive and force the Thunder to use the foul left that they had to give. Then, on a team featuring two 7-footers that can score and pass, the Lakers drew a play that featured Blake (and, eventually, presumably, Bryant) in the opposite corners for 3-pointers. The ball went to Blake, Blake missed, Bryant pouted (not fouling to stop the clock soon after), and the Thunder stole a win.
They did what they had to, and last-second plays usually work at about a 30 percent success rate. All the clichés, and all the documented history, toss it all out there. But this was a shocking win that the Thunder outright stole.
It's cherry-picking, but we're right to point out that Kobe Bryant missed 5 of 7 shots in the fourth quarter, with that turnover. And his two makes were tough, tough shots that perhaps weren't the smartest to take. Bad habits, again, in gunning for those low percentage shots. Kevin Durant did a good job defending Bryant in the latter half of the fourth quarter, but a few of those makes and misses were on James Harden. Durant didn't make the difference. Bryant's shot selection did.
Discredit Mike Brown for those last few minutes, the Lakers established bad habits to start the fourth quarter (Pau Gasol attempted and missed one shot in the fourth after hitting six of his first 10 in the game), but it has to be pointed out that Brown's adjustments as the Lakers hedged on Kevin Durant's curls were the reason Los Angeles was leading this game in the first place. And, as Thunder coach Scott Brooks pointed out after his team's win, both Durant and Russell Westbrook were passing to their second option way too much — looking for spot-up shooters when tough drives and potential trips to the line would work.
This is how this game, heartbreakingly, works sometimes. On the road, playing against a superior team, you need to play near-perfect basketball in order to pull out a win. And when you bundle a series of mistakes (bad shots, bad turnovers) towards the absolute end of a somewhat-close contest, things tend to slip away. Mike Brown's defensive adjustments were absolutely on point — not only were the Thunder shooting poorly but they more than tripled their turnovers from Game 1 to Game 2 and … it wasn't enough.
That's a killer. "They did what they had to do" and "I feel that there's still a lot of basketball left in our team"-all you want, but that's going to be tough to take.
The Lakers made their adjustments, and the Thunder still pulled out the win. Oklahoma City, once it watches the tape, knows exactly what it has to do in order to move past Brown's machinations. They'll see where their offense went wrong, and adjust for Game 3 on Friday.
The Lakers? They've been watching games slip away because of offensive decisions like these for years, and not doing much of anything about it. They know what they have to do, and too often they decline to do anything about it.
The Lakers, the Lakers, the Lakers.
The Lakers' coaching staff will have quite a cauldron on their hands as they skulk back to Los Angeles.
Boston Celtics 107, Philadelphia 76ers 91 (Boston leads series, 2-1)
Just as startling as the Laker meltdown was Boston's play in their win, though because their blowout over the Sixers was a consistent burn it doesn't feel as dramatic. Boston credited its defense for allowing the Celtics to get out and run following 76er misses, but in reality Philadelphia really played a much improved game offensively. It was the Celtics that came through with a massively improved performance on their offensive end — dashing towards the rim and attacking early in the shot clock.
It didn't start out that way. Philly led by five after the first quarter, dropping 33 points along the way. I don't know if they just thought the home crowd would ensure another close contest, like the ones we saw in Games 1 and 2, but for whatever reason Philly lagged defensively, and couldn't keep up with Boston's spacing and penetration. Paul Pierce overcame an ohfer six start to contribute 24 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers, while Brandon Bass got back on board by making half of his 10 shots. Twenty-three points and 14 assists for Rajon Rondo, who was actively looking for his own shot and saw his shooting percentage (9-16 from the floor) drop only because he had to bail the Celtics out with a few bailout shots at the end of broken plays.
And Kevin Garnett … what can you say? You can say that Spencer Hawes can't guard Kevin Garnett, for one, and you'd be right. But this goes deeper than that.
Twenty-seven points with 13 rebounds in just 30 minutes of spectacular play from KG, who was drafted the same year as Ed O'Bannon. Four assists, one turnover.
The activity was the thing. Boston's offense has been terrible, all season, but because they attacked so incessantly, with each possession counting, that the Sixers just couldn't help but wilt. It gives you hope for the future, really, because even though we don't have a dog in this fight we're giddy at the prospect of Boston returning to its old ways (Pierce getting to the line, he hit 11 free throws on Wednesday, and Kevin Garnett playing as if he was angry that George W. Bush was currently president) along with adding a few new wrinkles (Rajon Rondo actually looking for his own shot in the interior).
And we are positively giddy at the prospect of Game 4. To see a talented team like the Sixers attempt to adjust under the leadership of a fantastic coach like Doug Collins? Boston's newfound hope?
Forget the nasty play in the first two games, and Boston's blowout win. This series could turn into something special, real soon.
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