What the Oklahoma City Thunder unloaded on the Los Angeles Lakers Monday night was as punishing as the elbow Metta World Peace laid on James Harden when they last met. But this Thunder strike just might have a more lasting effect.
Harden missed a game because of the former Ron Artest’s unwarranted action. But he was back Monday night a very much a part of the OKC barrage that buried the Lakers 119-90. More significantly, the ease in which Oklahoma manhandled L.A. could have a carryover effect that helps the Thunder advance to the Western Conference finals.
It is just one game and perhaps the Lakers can/will regroup and make a more credible showing in Game 2 on Wednesday. But the way the Thunder devastated Los Angeles has to skyrocket the young team’s confidence, which is the worst scenario for the older, slower Lakers. Also, L.A.’s confidence cannot be high that it can slow this mercurial OKC lineup.
“You can say anything you want to about a seven-game series and us having a day (to prepare) or whatever,” Los Angeles coach Mike Brown said. ”The bottom line is this is the playoffs, we’ve got to come to play and we didn’t. We got beat. It’s one game, so we’ve got to bounce back for the next one.”
Kobe Bryant on Russell Westbrook did not work out as a matchup. Westbrook handled Bryant with ease, ringing up 27 points to go with nine assists. NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant added 25 points, as the Thunder tandem had its way with the Lakers’ top to on-ball defenders, Bryant and World Peace.
The Thunder took a 15-point halftime lead, opened the third quarter with a 15-2 blitz loaded with crowd-pleasing 3-pointers and dunks and never looked back. The Lakers looked overmatched.
Westbrook said, “When our team plays like that throughout the game, we put ourselves in a good opportunity to win.”
Bryant and Andrew Bynum had 20 pointsh for the Lakers, but they were 40 points that hardly matter amid OKC’s onslaught. To wit: Oklahoma City led by as much as 35 points in the third quarter. World Peace was roundly booed in pregame introductions and every time he had the ball. There were in incidents between he and Harden.
As for the series, it becomes a mental game — for both teams. Can the Thunder remain confident and attack the Lakers like Game 1? Are the Lakers so shell-shocked that they are unable to hold up against another OKC big rally? Will Oklahoma City get overconfident? Will the Lakers recommit to defense; they only forced four turnovers in Game 1?
Many questions abound after the Thunder’s big win. Game 2 Wednesday night could be telling.