Russell Westbrook was so good in Game 1 that he deserved to wear this outfit (Getty Images)
Oklahoma City Thunder 119, Los Angeles Lakers 90 (Thunder lead series, 1-0)
It's a typical maneuver to overreact to a game like this. To go back on your initial guess that Oklahoma City would take the series in six games, and then wonder just how the Lakers will stay in front of this team and not get blown out every night. We knew the Lakers would have trouble guarding Russell Westbrook, and that he might feast on a series of long Laker rebounds and dash end-to-end, but this was frightening. There's nothing wrong with wondering if the Thunder are going to sweep, here. It really appears as if no amount of uptick in drive, effort and sprightly legs could turn this thing around for Los Angeles. Oklahoma City looks that good.
It might take more than a close Game 2 or Laker win in Game 3 to change that. The Thunder's transition play and pick-and-roll work (with Andrew Bynum being made to look a step slow whether he hedges or protects the paint) had the Lakers on their heels throughout. Kobe Bryant's long arms and defensive smarts still couldn't stay in front of Westbrook as he dashed his way toward 27 points (on just 15 shots), nine assists, two steals, seven rebounds and one turnover in under 28 minutes. RW's time matched up on Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake, as you'd expect, did not go over any better for Los Angeles.
Twenty-five points and no turnovers for Kevin Durant. Nine free throws in half a game from James Harden, 17 points total. Thabo Sefolosha hit all three of his shots and made life hell for Kobe Bryant. Kendrick Perkins might miss the rest of the series, for all we know at this point, and with Nazr Mohammed on board it might not matter. The Thunder are stacked. And, just two years removed from nearly taking the champion Lakers to a seventh game in the first round and a year after nearly making the Finals themselves, they look a step above Kobe's outfit right now.
Four turnovers, friends. Four turnovers for the Oklahoma City Thunder, all night, in a game that saw them drop 119 points. Dan Devine hit up Basketball-Reference to discover that this was just the 10th time since 1985 that an NBA team had that few turnovers in a playoff contest, but look at the other participants on the list. Super slow team like the late Bird-era Celtics, the Chris Paul-era Hornets, Larry and Mike Brown teams, et cetera. Oklahoma City, on the other hand, ran like mad in this game. And they still held on to the rock.
To blame this on Laker legs is pushing it. The Denver Nuggets took Los Angeles to the brink, and they played deep into Saturday night, but the Lakers are going to see dozens of instances of downright laziness when they watch the game film on Tuesday. Kobe, for all his doggedness, was even slow to get back on the first possession of the game. Bynum, as noted above, failed to show on all manner of screen-and-roll attacks. The wings weren't running back, nobody was helping, and they just about conceded the game to OKC in the first few possessions of the second half. You can't blame that on legs.
Not that fresh legs might have helped. Oklahoma City is younger, and its series with the Dallas Mavericks ended a full week before the Lakers eventually dispatched the Nuggets. To hear Reggie Miller in the TNT broadcast tell it, Game 2 will be closer because Los Angeles will have its energy back — but the team is still playing a game every other day. Why would an "off" day on Tuesday help more than an "off" day on Sunday, even if no travel is involved?
For the Thunder to come out this sharp after over a week off is quite the accomplishment. The rust vs. rest argument is a tired one. It comes down to the individual situation, but it was remarkable to see the Thunder peeling out from the beginning. Twenty points and 14 rebounds for Andrew Bynum, and it didn't matter. Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes think defense-first, and it didn't matter. Nobody really has to guard Kendrick Perkins or Nazr Mohammed after they set screens for their mates on the perimeter, and it didn't matter.
Overreacting? Perhaps. But the Thunder looked scary. Playing at a fever pitch, after eight days off. Not a lot of playoff precedent for that.
Philadelphia 76ers 82, Boston Celtics 81 (series tied, 1-1)
Let's start with the end. Kevin Garnett fouled Andre Iguodala. I'm 25 years removed from my father first telling me that NBA referees are supposed to swallow their whistles in the last two minutes of a playoff game, but that was a foul. You can't let a player affect the possible outcome of a game that clearly, that technically illegally, and let it go. I hate it as much as you do, but it was a foul.
Credit Kay-Gee and Doc Rivers. They pointed out postgame that the contest shouldn't have come down to an either/or offensive foul costing their team the game. Seven turnovers in that third quarter, for Boston. Philly pushed the pace and didn't let Boston settle into its usual spots. Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass combined to miss 17 of 24 shots (doubly frustrating after Bass' strong start to Game 2), and the Celtics just gave Philadelphia too many chances to run.
And Boston gave the 76ers too many chances to win. It's gotten to be an Internet meme of sorts, but Rajon Rondo's lack of aggression in the paint (passing up on layup attempts to dish the ball out) has gone past the point of ridiculousness, especially when he's the man in charge of what is by far the worst offense left in these NBA playoffs. Boston should have known better than anyone, after that close Game 1, that every possession was going to count in this series. And yet it didn't have its head together for too many of them.
The team nearly won, though. Most pundits, going into this, had each team probably down for a road win or two in this series, and the first two games of this series have done nothing to change the idea that this is going to be a long, close series that will probably see either side blowing their opponents out only once over a seven-game turn.
It's ugly, but I'm digging it. Anyone who expected anything else was fooling themselves, because this series is going to be tiiiiiight.
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