Thunder nearly flawless in routing the Lakers in series opener
The older, aged Lakers were coming off a grinding, seven-game series win over Denver.
The younger, spry Oklahoma City Thunder had been resting for more than a week after taking out Dallas.
The first game was in Oklahoma City -- and Charles Barkley picked the Lakers to win the series.
If ever there was a recipe for a lopsided Lakers loss, this was it.
Welcome to Oklahoma (blowout) City.
The final score, 119-90, pretty much told the gory story. The Thunder almost pitched a perfect game, committing a franchise-low four turnovers.
The return of Metta World Peace and his elbow to the vicinity of James Harden’s head was a side story compared to Oklahoma City’s thorough dismantling of the Lakers on Monday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
World Peace was heartily booed when introduced before the game, but there were no major incidents to report beyond the Lakers’ alarming lack of competitiveness.
The Lakers’ excuse, that they were tired, is valid, but they could play that card the entire series.
After spotting the Lakers a 12-6 lead, Oklahoma City played above the rim the rest of the game to take what seems to be a commanding, 1-0 lead.
The Thunder led by 15 at the half and by 30 after three quarters.
The Lakers had no answer for Oklahoma City’s Big Two, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who combined for 52 points. James Harden, winner of the NBA’s sixth man of the year award, had 17 off the bench.
“Just wanted to come out aggressive,” Westbrook told TNT afterward. “We hadn’t played in a while.”
The Lakers’ bench was outscored 22-2 at the half, when the game was still being dominated by starters. Steve Blake, who scored 19 points in Game 7 against Denver, was held scoreless in 19 minutes.
Ramon Session, the starting point guard, missed six of seven shots and finished with two points in 25 minutes.
Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum each contributed 20 points, but power forward Pau Gasol had a quiet night after his impressive series-ending performance against Denver. Gasol finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
World Peace (12 points) made his first two three pointers and was generally on his best behavior.
He and Harden got tangled up in the fourth quarter fighting for a rebound, but then nothing came of it.
“I don’t worry about that stuff,” Harden told TNT afterward.
In general, there wasn’t much fight in the Lakers. Oklahoma City led by 35 points at one point and was on cruise control after going on a 15-2 blitz to start the second half.
Oklahoma City shot 53% for the game compared to the Lakers’ 43%.
Oklahoma City 98, Lakers 68 (end of third quarter)
OK, the comeback plan went down like this. The Lakers, down by 15, huddled at the half and made adjustments. Kobe Bryant said he wanted to take Russell Westbrook. Sure, go ahead. Coach Mike Brown stressed slowing down the Thunder’s pick-and-roll offense. Yeah, that was a terrific idea.
How’d it work? Durant scored on a jumper, then Westbrook slammed home an alley-oop dunk off a pass from Durant. After more adjustments by the Lakers, Durant knocked down a three-pointer from 25 feet.
The Lakers made their best adjustment by calling timeout. After the timeout, though, Kendrick Perkins scored on a dunk to put Oklahoma City ahead 68-44.
After the Lakers opened their eyes, Oklahoma City had outscored them, 15-2, to start the half.
The rout was on. The Thunder nearly shot 80% in the quarter. Ridiculous. The Lakers were outscored in the quarter, 39-24.
Pau Gasol, who rebounded so well (literally) in Game 7 after two missing-in-action games in the Denver series, has gone AWOL again. He had only six points at quarter’s end on three-of-nine shooting.
The Lakers, though, might have caught a break in the series. Perkins appeared to injure himself on the dunk and walked to the locker room with 10:04 left in the quarter. Perkins returned to the bench with 4:13 left. TNT reported that Perkins strained his hip again but hoped to return to the game. Of course, with this lopsided score, Perkins might just want to rest up and get ready for Game 2 on Wednesday.
Oklahoma City, which averaged a league-leading 17 turnovers a game during the season, had only two through three quarters.
Oklahoma City 59, Lakers 44 (halftime)
This could be a long series, or maybe a short one.
There was a theory the Lakers might have a chance to steal Game 1 because Oklahoma City has not played in more than a week. It’s still a theory. The Lakers did jump off to a quck 12-6 start but there are no signs so far of Oklahoma City rust.
The Thunder shot 53.3% in the first half. Is that rusty?
The Lakers, meanwhile, fine-tuned after a seven-game series with Denver, shot 43%.
Oklahoma City’s stars, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, are killing the Lakers. Westbrook scored 17 points and had six assists and four rebounds. Durant added 12 points. Oklahoma City is on a pace to score 120 points. As announcer Stu Lantz likes to say, “That’s not going to get it done.”
The Thunder closed the half on a 6-2 run.
Let’s be frank: the Lakers’ bench continues to be a major concern. In terms of scoring, it was one guy, Jordan Hill, who scored two points.
Oklahoma City’s bench, um, scored 22. James Harden led the way with nine points. But at least the Lakers held former Laker Derek Fisher scoreless.
Bynum had a monster half, scoring 14 points with nine rebounds, yet the Lakers are still looking at Oklahoma City’s tail lights. The Lakers got only two points from point guard Ramon Sessions, who was supposed to be a difference-maker in a series matching the Lakers against quicker teams.
Maybe some of that rust the Thunder was supposed to have will show up in the second half?
Oklahoma City, 30 Lakers 23 (end of first quarter)
Metta World Peace, the former Ron Artest, was rudely greeted during the lineup announcements. World Peace, of course, almost started a World War when he savagely elbowed James Harden during the teams’ last meeting at Staples Center.
“How many people get the opportunity to have everyone screaming at him?” World Peace told TNT before the game.
World Peace responded by hitting his first two three-point attempts. He also assisted on Andrew Bynum’s slam dunk.
The enigmatic Bynum appears ready to play this series. He came out aggressive looking to take advantage of his height advantage over Thunder center Kendrick Perkins.
Bynum had 10 points and five rebounds in the quarter.
Perkins was in the starting lineup after straining his right hip in the Dallas series. Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said there would be no restrictions on Perkins’ playing time.
The Lakers jumped to a 12-6 lead at the 9:02 mark on two Bynum free throws before Oklahoma City went on a 19-7 run.
James Harden, winner of the NBA’s sixth man of the year award, entered at the 4:06 mark and has so far avoided World Peace’s elbows.
Kobe Bryant is in his facilitator mode. He didn’t score a basket until the final minute.
TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who picked Denver over the Lakers in the first round, is picking the Lakers to prevail over Oklahoma City. That’s always scary.
Bad omen? Daequan Cook bounced a shot off the rim and through the basket at the buzzer.
Bresnahan’s take: Charles Barkley criticizes Andrew Bynum
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