The Los Angeles Lakers took down the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on Sunday afternoon, 105-96. It was a huge victory for L.A. and one it sorely needed.
Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook each finished one rebound shy of a triple-double, though the latter could barely hit the broadside of a barn. Kevin Durant had 35 points, but did not shoot efficiently either. Pau Gasol played big minutes off the bench and was in vintage form.
Metta World Peace had a double-double, and the Lakers ultimately outplayed the Thunder on the afternoon for a crucial W.
The Thunder came into the game at 34-10, the best record in the NBA by winning percentage (but half a game behind the 36-11 San Antonio Spurs). OKC had also played stellar basketball away from Chesapeake Energy Arena, posting a 15-7 record.
By contrast, Los Angeles been reeling since, well, all season long, actually. Following the offseason megadeals that netted them Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers have been unable to find their groove.
They were 18-25 entering Sunday's game, tied with two other clubs for ninth place in the West and a shocking 16 games out of first. After this win, they can draw some confidence from beating the mighty Thunder, and they will try to continue playing effective small ball.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder: B-
Westbrook began ice cold from the field, missing his first eight shots. But he still had nine assists and seven rebounds in the first half, so it wasn't all bad.
He ended up just short of a triple-double (17 points, 13 assists, nine boards, four of them on the offensive glass), but the shooting wasn't pretty. He was a putrid 6-of-22 for the game.
If he was locked in tonight, he could've ended up with 25 or 30 points. At least he had a knack for scoring late, draining a three-pointer shortly before the end of the first half and converting a layup before the third-quarter buzzer.
Westbrook also picked up a technical foul in the fourth quarter after complaining about a non-call on his drive to the rim. That was likely a product of his frustration over his terrible shooting on the afternoon.
Steve Nash, Lakers: B-
Nash had eight points and three assists in the first half. He was quietly effective, but oddly enough, it was Kobe Bryant who ran the offense on many occasions. Kobe finished with 14 assists, as if to prove to all his doubters that he can in fact pass the ball when he chooses.
Nash still scored 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, but he was more of a background player for much of the game. In fact, he finished with just one more assist (five) than Pau Gasol (four).
While Westbrook struggled shooting from the field, we can hardly credit Nash's defense for that.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers: A
Kobe wasn't typical Kobe in this one. In the first half, he had just six points on 3-of-5 shooting, but he also went for six assists and seven boards.
Bryant finished up just shy of a triple-double, with 21 points, 14 dimes and nine boards. Incredibly, he had 14 assists for the second consecutive game, which basically defies all logic.
He finished one rebound away from a triple-double in that previous game as well, a 102-84 victory over the Utah Jazz.
Perhaps we're seeing the dawn of a new day in L.A. This system of small ball, with Kobe passing and Pau Gasol coming off the bench, could just be the secret to sneaking into the playoffs.
Bryant also picked up a technical foul in the third quarter (his ninth of the season, surprisingly) after getting involved in some extracurricular activity with Russell Westbrook following a foul. He'll have to keep an eye on that to avoid a suspension (automatic after 16 technicals).
Thabo Sefolosha, Thunder: B-
Sefolosha was efficient in the first half, chipping in six points on 2-of-3 shooting. He also played solid defense, netting three steals and a block through two quarters. He finished with seven points and five boards.
His defense on Kobe Bryant was suffocating, and it forced Kobe to distribute the ball to his teammates rather than put up shots. But this game plan didn't work, as Bryant propelled the Lakers to victory.
Kevin Durant, Thunder: B+
KD struggled to start the game, shooting only 6-of-14 in the first half. But he still had 18 points in that time. Even when his shot isn't falling, he's still a scoring machine.
Durant shot just 10-of-26 from the field for the game, but his excellent free-throw shooting (13-of-14) propelled him to 35 points. If his shot was falling in this one, he would've ended up with 50, but it just wasn't OKC's night.
Between KD and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder just missed too many shots to come away victorious. Metta World Peace and Earl Clark played excellent defense on OKC all night.
Metta World Peace, Lakers: B
World Peace had 10 first-half points, making him the Laker's co-leader in scoring. He wasn't particularly efficient from the field, shooting 6-of-14 and 3-of-8 from beyond the arc.
But his defense was the real impact area. He pulled down 10 boards and also had three assists.
He helped hold Durant and Westbrook to disappointing shooting percentages and added two steals.
Earl Clark, Lakers: B-
Clark had five points and two boards in the first half, but his defense was the real impact. He played the early part of the game guarding Kevin Durant and helped hold him to just 6-of-14 shooting in the first half.
Clark finished with 11 points and four rebounds, but his defense was the primary contribution. He helped hold the Thunder to a poor shooting night, as the Lakers out-shot OKC 55.4 percent to 44.4 percent. That made all the difference.
Serge Ibaka, Thunder: C+
OKC fans and Ibaka's fantasy owners collectively held their breath after he went down hard following a collision late in the first quarter. Thankfully, the Serge Protector was able to return midway through the second frame.
And Ibaka looked to be in form for this one. He had four blocks before halftime arrived (which was also his final tally), but he was quiet in the second half.
He ended up 5-of-10 from the field for 10 points to go with six boards. His interior defense was big, but Kobe Bryant's ball distribution still opened up numerous scoring opportunities inside.
Unfortunately, the Thunder needed more scoring from Ibaka in this one, and he may have been bothered by the early collision as the game went on.
Kendrick Perkins, Thunder: B-
Perkins was pretty quiet in the first half with four points, two boards, two assists and two turnovers.
He finished with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, which helped counteract the erratic shooting from Durant and Westbrook. Perkins also added six boards and three assists, but his defense was not in sync with Ibaka.
They yielded too many buckets to cutters in the paint, and the Lakers rolled to victory.
Dwight Howard, Lakers: C+
Howard's struggles from the free-throw line were on display for all to see in this one. He missed seven of his first eight foul shots. He had only five points and five boards through two quarters.
While he did finish with 10 boards and eight points, he picked up his fifth foul with over six minutes left in the fourth quarter. He also committed three turnovers, which is his average both this season and over his career.
You would think he'd be able to cut down on those and make more than two out of 10 free throws. But if you thought that, you'd be incorrect about this contest.
Pau Gasol, Lakers: B+
Pau doesn't like coming off the bench, but he still played 16 minutes in the first two quarters and had eight points on 3-of-4 shooting. Twos were wild for him, as he had a pair of assists, boards, fouls and turnovers.
He continued his efficient scoring in the second half, finishing with 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and a block. He also committed three turnovers.
Pau addressed the media after their loss to the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 21. Speaking about Mike D'Antoni's decision to go small and permanently bench Gasol, he stated (per Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com), "I'm not excited about it."
As Jeff Van Gundy said on the ESPN broadcast, if Manu Ginobili can come off the bench for the San Antonio Spurs, then Gasol should content himself to help the team in whatever way he can. After all, he was very effective in this contest and saw a ton of playing time off the bench (36 minutes).
Nick Collison, Thunder: C
Collison played 11:40 in the first half and was nothing if not efficient. He made both his shots for four points and had six rebounds (two offensive) to go with an assist and a steal.
He played nine more minutes in the second half, but was practically invisible. He gathered one rebound in that span, and that was about it.
Somehow, through 20 minutes of play, Antawn Jamison was the Lakers' leading scorer with 10 points. He finished with 12 points in just 14 minutes.
Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon each played a little over four minutes in the first half, though neither made an impact. Meeks had five points in the second half.
Kevin Martin was efficient in the first half. He played just over five minutes, but still had six points. He picked up three fouls in 5:18 of court time and rode the bench for the rest of the half. Martin finished with nine points.
Hasheem Thabeet came on while Serge Ibaka was being treated for an injury early in the second quarter. Thabeet made his only shot, but picked up three fouls in six-and-a-half minutes before Ibaka returned.
Reggie Jackson may not be the straw that stirs the drink in Oklahoma City, but he did have two points and a rebound in five first-half minutes.
It was a tough loss for the Thunder, and quite frankly, they were outplayed by the Lakers. It was a much-needed victory for Mike D'Antoni and company, and they will try to build off of this big win over the NBA's best team.