Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals saw the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers engage in their best Boston-Philly impression, with the Thunder escaping for a 77-75 victory.
The game abounded with subplots and wrinkles, aside from the obvious heroes:
- James Harden struggled all game before racking up 4 critical points in the last two minutes to help OKC back from a 7-point deficit
- Kevin Durant made the game-winning runner with 18 seconds left, although he could have been the goat with his errant intentional miss on his final free throw.
The Maturation of Russell Westbrook: It started in the sweep of Dallas, when Westbrook committed 10 total turnovers and forced maybe 10 bad shots in four games. The maturity wave has continued to rise against the Lakers, who have scarcely recognized this collected, confident point guard who refuses to force shots, swings the ball for hockey assists, keeps his dribble alive to probe the defense, and acts decisively whenever he sniffs an opening for his near-automatic elbow jumper.
(Of course, just to keep fans on their toes, he forced up a couple stinkers in the tense fourth quarter, finished 5-17 from the field, and lost track of Steve Blake on the potential game-winning shot. There’s work to be done yet, but Westbrook needs recognition for his improvement this postseason.)
Study That Game Film: Through two games, Thabo Sefalosha has played some of the best defense ever seen on Kobe Bryant. His secret: he anticipates Bryant’s pump fakes, stays on his feet, and refuses to reach unless he is 100% sure of coming away with a steal.
Sefalosha isn’t the best one-on-one defender for every explosive perimeter scorer, but against the cerebral, earthbound 2012 edition of Bryant, his approach has been just right. Even Kobe’s fourth-quarter flurry came with hands in his face, and mostly when James Harden, instead of Sefalosha, was watching him.
Leave the Right People Open: The list of “right people” is two names long – Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes. Small forward was a giant hole for the Lakers all season, and World Peace and Barnes have done nothing to dispel that notion by shooting 9-27 through the first two games. Every open look either man had looked worse than the last, especially when they had time to size up an open look.
The Thunder should also continue to dare Steve Blake (1-6 in Games 1 & 2) to shoot, even though it almost blew up in their faces on the game-deciding shot. If nothing else, it treated a national TV audience to Bryant’s priceless pout in high-definition close-up, followed by his chewing out World Peace for the unpardonable sin of passing to a wide-open teammate.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.