Great teams make adjustments at halftime. Formerly great teams often show their vulnerability first with a series of bad third quarters.
Pau Gasol’s disbelieving face with 9:38 left in the third quarter told the whole story. Gasol had hacked Kendrick Perkins and Russell Westbrook on successive layup/dunk attempts, then flailed about like a petulant child after the whistle blew for his fourth foul.
Here are some of Gasol’s thoughts, extrapolated from his facial expressions and translated from Spanish, as he watched the roof cave in on his team over the next eight minutes.
- “Westbrook just blew by my whole team for that layup! Nobody even got a hand up! Bench Bynum again.”
- “McRoberts, you moron, step OUT on that pull-up elbow jumper that Westbrook hits 80% of the time. Don’t just let him abuse Steve Blake.”
- “My goodness, we’re screwed. We can’t keep Ibaka, Perkins, or Collison off the boards. Doesn’t even matter that they all struggle to finish – they’re shoving Bynum, McRoberts, and the white Irish guy around like rag dolls.”
- “Who said it was okay for Kendrick Perkins to start hitting 16-footers and free throws? That game against Miami must’ve worked wonders on his confidence. So does the willingness of his teammates to actually throw him the ball.”
- “2.9 seconds left, no chance to – ole! Ole! That’s what you look like letting Westbrook get from three-point-line to three-point-line in less than 2.9 seconds! You fools! Stop the ball!”
Gasol reentered at the start of the fourth quarter, and Troy Murphy took over the inner monologue as the Lakers finished their meltdown.
- “He’ll always be Ron Artest to me – and he’ll always be the guy who missed that rushed 26-footer. You can always tell with St. John’s grads.”
- “McRoberts out already? Yes! I get to – oh, no, no Coach, you’re right about Bynum being the call here. His three-point stroke can really help us. Yes, I am being sarcastic.”
- “Kobe, Harden is all over you, that’s a terrible sh- . . . You got lucky this time.”
- “Doesn’t matter how many times you block these guys’ shots, they keep coming. Nothing gets them out of attack mode, especially when they’re ahead. I should be an analyst.”
- “Kobe, if you’re getting shots blocked by Thabo Sefalosha, don’t you think it’s time to – no? You don’t want to decrease your workload? Okay. I remain available”
With Gasol battling second-half foul trouble and a defensive funk, Bynum had to hold his own against the relentless Perkins/Ibaka/Collison rotation. He failed – as did so many of the other Lakers, during this disastrous third quarter.
Bad teams lose momentum in the third quarter. Good teams hold steady. Great teams make a statement. As with the previous “statement game,” on national TV against the Heat last Sunday, the Thunder showed themselves capable of being a great team, dominating the second half en route to a 102-93 win.
For Western teams, already concerned about the Thunder’s overwhelming youth and skill level, this ability to overcome bad individual performances should be the biggest concern of all.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.