Lakers come out of hibernation for a win over Thunder
Gee, is it spring already?
Welcome back, bears awakening from hibernation and NBA defending champion Lakers.
Bears look for breakfast. Lakers flip their switch, or try to, as they did again in Sunday’s impressive ... OK, solid ... well, it went in the win column. .. 87-79 victory over the young Oklahoma City Thunder.
According to predictions their inexperience would hurt, 21-year-old scoring champion Kevin Durant missed 17 of 24 shots in his NBA playoff debut.
Defying predictions the Lakers could blow them out, the Thunder came from 17 points down in the second quarter to within six in the fourth as Russell Westbrook, the former Bruin who was also making his playoff debut, sliced and diced the Lakers, 23 points worth.
“We eked it out,” said Laker Coach Phil Jackson, gratefully.
“I’m encouraged,” said Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks, making his playoff debut as a head coach, too.
“I’m encouraged by the way we came out and competed. You never know what to expect. It was a lot of our first time in the playoffs.”
Here’s your Lakers checklist:
Andrew Bynum’s return: Check.
A minor factor in the postseason in last spring’s comeback attempt, Bynum scored 13 points with 12 rebounds and four blocked shots in 30 minutes.
Bynum and Pau Gasol punish smaller Thunder players inside: Check.
With Gasol getting 19 points, he and Bynum outscored the Thunder’s starting big men, Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green, 32-18.
Kobe Bryant back to being Kobe Bryant: Che -- oops.
Bryant scored 21 points but needed 19 shots to do it, of which he missed 13.
He also missed five of 12 free throws.
Counting the two he bricked at the end of his last regular-season game against Portland, that’s seven misses in his last 14.
“I just have less margin for error,” said Bryant. “With the finger, I have less margin for error.”
That’s the broken right index finger he played with for half the season, in a decision I would bet he’d like to have over.
If defending champions customarily use the first round to ease into the postseason, Lakerdom shivered with excitement ... or fear ... before this one.
Jackson, who said all season he just wanted to get to this point with everyone healthy and the team playing well, got to this point with neither.
“I have to let that go,” said Jackson before the game. “That’s over and done with. This is a new day. We have to go from square one.
“We can’t say, ‘We have momentum,’ or, ‘Go out and continue to play the way we did.’
“We didn’t play well.”
On the other hand, they were still the Lakers, at least from a distance.
West coaches eyed them warily, hoping to face anyone else. Two, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Portland’s Nate McMillan, admitted it.
“Somebody has to play them,” said Brooks before the game, grinning.
“I’d rather be the eighth seed than the ninth...
“I know we’re a young team and we can’t hide the fact but like I tell our guys, ‘If you’re gonna use that as an excuse, we’ve got that excuse going on for three years.’
“Three years from now, Kevin’s 24, Russell’s 24, Jeff’s 23.”
Well, you have to start somewhere.
Happily for the Thunder, the best is yet to come.
Unhappily for the Lakers, no one has seen their best recently so they’d better find it or hope the Thunder’s doesn’t get here this week.