Welcome to Oklahoma City, Kobe Bryant.
Hope you guys enjoyed your stay at the Ford Center, Phil Jackson.
Enjoy the plane ride back to LA, Lakers?
So far, so good for head coach Scott Brooks and the Thunder—as the underdog and underrated Oklahoma City squad, led by former Texas Longhorn star Kevin Durant, have tied up the series with Jackson, Bryant, and the reining NBA Champs.
Down 2-0 in the series and with their backs against the wall, coach Brooks had to have flashbacks of his Rockets’ past when Houston found themselves in a similar boat against the Phoenix Suns and battled back to take the series before winning back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.
Regardless of Brooks’ state of mind when entering game three, his team has gone above and beyond the call of duty as the Thunder rumbled to back-to-back victories on their home hardwood to knot up the series 2-2 with game five slated to tip off back in LA on Tuesday night.
How, exactly, has Brooks out-dueled his counterpart in Jackson; can Oklahoma City bring that same Thunder to the Staples Center; is there a chance of a round one upset of the LA Lakers?
All those answers and more: let’s quickly take a look at what it’s taken for OKC to tie things up with those hated LA Lakers...
The Oklahoma City Thunder defense did a great job of stalling the LA Lakers starting five: limiting Pau Gasol to 13 points (5-10 shooting), Andrew Bynum to 13 points (5-10 shooting), Kobe Bryant to 12 points (5-10 shooting), Derek Fisher to 11 points (4-7 shooting) and Ron Artest to five points (2-9 shooting).
In addition, solid perimeter defense by the Thunder forced the Lakers into a pitiful shooting night from beyond the arc, as LA went just 4-for-22 from three-point range (18.2 percent).
Oklahoma City also had eight steals in game four (compared to just four for LA).
In game four in Oklahoma City, the Thunder out-rebounded the Lakers 50-43 and did a great job of controlling the glass on both ends of the court (13 offensive boards and 37 defensive boards).
LA, meanwhile, had just 10 offensive rebounds and 33 defensive rebounds in a game pretty much dominated by Oklahoma City from opening tip off to final buzzer.
If the Thunder hope to steal away a game five victory in LA, Oklahoma City will have to have more of the same effort under the glass.
Oklahoma City was also very aggressive in blocks: with the Thunder swatting away seven LA shots compared to the four blocks for the Lakers.
The aggressive defensive play also led to more turnovers by LA (11) than Oklahoma City (eight) in the Thunder’s 110-89 domination of the Lakers.
One of the keys to a game five win by Oklahoma City on the road will be the continual aggressive play on the defensive end by the Thunder: using every opportunity possible to block a shot, force a turnover and box out under the glass.
Kevin Durant was once again in prime-time playoff form in game four, leading the Thunder with 22 points in their rout of the Lakers.
Durant also went 9-for-11 from the free throw line in the game, while also garnering four rebounds, two blocks, and an assist.
And although Durant may not have had one of his hottest nights on the hardwood, shooting just 50 percent from the field (6-12 shooting) and going just 1-for-4 from the three-point line, the Oklahoma City star did a great job of carrying the offensive load for a team hell-bent on beating the LA Lakers.
Oklahoma City’s other four starters beyond Kevin Durant have also begun stepping up and contributing when the team needs them the most.
In game four, Russell Westbrook netted 18 points, Jeff Green scored 15 points, Nenad Krstic contributed with seven points, and Thabo Sefolosha had five points.
That means non-Durant starters scored 45 points in game four, out-scoring the non-Kobe LA starters by three a points en route to a 110-89 Oklahoma City victory.
Scott Brooks has done a phenomenal job of turning around the Oklahoma City Thunder program, not only garnering a playoff appearance but also fighting Rocky-style against the reining NBA Champions.
Coach Brooks, who thankfully has a cornerstone player in Kevin Durant, has learned a lot through his time on the NBA bench as a former player and has built a “team of dreams” of sorts around the Thunder’s shooting star.
So far, so good for Brooks and the Thunder.
If Brooks and company can pull off a much-needed and unexpected victory on the road in LA for game five, Oklahoma City should be well on it’s way to a round one upset of Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
The Thunder bench has also stepped up tremendously in the past two games and past two wins for Oklahoma City.
In game four, the bench for OKC were led by 15 points (along with five rebounds, four assists, and two steals) from James Harden and 13 points (along with three rebounds and an assist) from Eric Maynor.
Also contributing in game four for the Thunder bench were Serge Ibaka (8 PTS), Nick Collison (4 PTS), Etan Thomas (2 PTS), and Byron Mullens (1 PT).
Oklahoma City will need another strong showing from their bench if they hope to upset the Lakers in game five on Tuesday night in LA.
As stated numerous times in this slideshow and other preview pieces, the Oklahoma City Thunder will need a similar showing to their game four blowout win if they hope to steal a victory in LA.
Game Five, which is slated to tip off on Tuesday night at the Staples Center, will be a time for the Thunder to prove they can do something they have yet to do this postseason: win on the road.
“This was as big a win as could possibly be,” Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks told NBA.com writer Randy Renner on Sunday evening. “The Lakers took care of home court and so did we. Now we have to somehow get a win in LA.”
Denton Ramsey may be reached via email at email@example.com