The Oklahoma City Thunder waited the past seven days for a second-round opponent. One game later, they’re still waiting.
The visiting Los Angeles Lakers showed every bit of the exhaustion from their Round 1 battle with Denver, playing one decent quarter before collapsing in a heap of errant shots and botched defensive assignments.
It’s dangerous to jump to conclusions after one game, especially one with so many aberrations (blistering shooting and season-low turnovers, to name two). It will be more useful to assess how well the Thunder answered a few of the questions that will endure throughout this series.
Question 1: How Will Kevin Durant Handle the Physical Defense of Metta “The People’s Elbow” World Peace?
After a slow start, Durant caught fire in the third quarter, ending with one of his most efficient lines of the postseason (25 points on 8-16 field goals, 7-8 free throws). He got to essentially run a shooting drill in the third, as an all-grown-up Russell Westbrook repeatedly penetrated and moved the ball to create open three-point looks.
Durant had mixed success in the first quarter curling off screens to get free against World Peace, but several times he settled for fallaways at awkward angles instead of using his dribble to improve his position.
If Durant watches tonight’s tape and notices openings he could have exploited more successfully, he can attack World Peace with even more surgical precision in Game 2.
Question 2: Who Can Guard Kobe?
Mr. Bryant showcased disarming maturity down the stretch of Game 7 against Denver, repeatedly passing out of double teams instead of forcing hero shots.
Laker fans tonight found out that mindset only lasts as long as the supporting cast’s accuracy. With his teammates laying bricks from outside, Kobe repeatedly heaved hopeless bricks over several Thunder defenders.
Thabo Sefalosha has an uneven record as a perimeter stopper, but he earned his keep tonight, playing suffocating and legal defense on a number of possessions, and even stripping Kobe at midcourt to get himself a breakaway dunk.
Kobe’s history all but guarantees he’ll come back with a different plan in Game 2. For now, the Thunder can say they solved him once.
Question 3: Who Wins the Inside Battle?
The raw numbers say that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined for 30 points and 21 rebounds (9 offensive), to 21 and 13 for Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nazr Mohammed, and Nick Collison combined.
The Thunder’s hot shooting, though, negated any board disparity: OKC shot 53% from the field, 41% from three, and 83% on free throws.
Ibaka had the lion’s share of inside highlights, blocking a Gasol layup attempt and stripping Pau on the ensuing possession. He benefited from loose whistles that allowed him to put his hands all over Gasol; stricter officiating in Game 2 could land Serge on the bench early on.
Bynum ran wild under the rim in the early going, before the Oklahoma City lead ballooned and its fast break started humming. He could still give the Lakers a sizable advantage if the next game’s pace slows down enough to let him dominate.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.