9 Steals by the Thunder, including three by Thabo Sefolosha and two by Russell Westbrook
9 Rebounds for Russell Westbrook in addition to his 17 points and 13 assists
10 Points for Kendrick Perkins, who also had six rebounds and three assists
24 Assists for the Thunder this afternoon, compared to only 10 turnovers
27 Assists for Russell Westbrook over the past two games combined, the most in a two game-span in his career
35 Points for Kevin Durant, including 13-for-14 shooting from the free throw line
46-38 The Thunder’s advantage in points-in the paint
LOS ANGELES – The Thunder was physical, aggressive and active, but on Sunday the Los Angeles Lakers made just a few more plays in the fourth quarter.
Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club didn’t have its best shooting night, knocking down only 32 percent of its attempts from outside the paint, while the Lakers made 54 percent of their shots from outside the lane. While the Thunder defense made nine steals and blocked six shots, the Lakers were able to shoot 55.4 percent overall including 41.2 percent from three-point land, giving the Thunder a 105-96 defeat heading back home to Oklahoma City.
“They shot too high of a percentage,” Brooks said. “We have to do a better job of doing that, that’s what we pride ourselves on game-in and game-out. 55 percent, considering the other 40 games, teams average 43 percent on us. They shot the ball well. They have some good shooters, they were spreading the floor. They’re a good team.”
The Lakers had six different players score in double figures and racked up 29 assists, and while the Thunder was paced by Kevin Durant’s 35 points and tallied 24 assists of its own, Los Angeles was able to find open looks along the perimeter. The Thunder held the Lakers to 4-for-11 shooting in the paint in the first quarter, but didn’t quite rotate out of the post quickly enough to contest open shooters.
“Our first thing is to protect the paint first and peel out after that,” Durant said. “They hit some tough shots, we just have to do a better job of having our hands up and contesting shots… I think we were making a good first effort, we just have to make a better second effort.”
As always, the coaching staff and the players view the team as a work in progress that will improve throughout the season. Defense in particular is one area the Thunder will concentrate on each day in practice regardless of whether it wins or loses.
One part of the game where the Thunder has seen improvement over the past few seasons is in its ball movement, spacing and scoring distribution. This afternoon that was epitomized by the unrelenting play of Russell Westbrook, who racked up 13 assists and nine rebounds to go with his 17 points. Over the past two games the Thunder All-Star guard has dished out 27 assists, the most in a two-game span in his entire career. Many of them came out of the drive and dish, but quite a few occurred on pin-down screens for Kevin Durant, where Westbrook had the option of hitting his fellow All-Star on the wing, or a big man after he slipped the screen.
“They were collapsing and guys did a good job of making shots,” Westbrook said. “I just tried to give them the ball where they could score. A lot of attention went to Kevin, so two guys jumped out and I have to find the open guy.”
One of the many beneficiaries of Westbrook’s passing today was Kendrick Perkins, who scored 10 points while also grabbing six rebounds and dishing out three helpers of his own. The biggest impact Perkins had on the ball game, however, was on the defensive end. His physicality, toughness and intelligence made life difficult for Dwight Howard throughout the night. The Lakers big man finished with only eight points, while also committing five fouls and three turnovers as a result of Perkins’ defense.
“He was great tonight,” Durant said. “He’s been great this whole road trip. We hate to lose a game when he plays so well. He and Dwight Howard battled. They’ve been battling for years and Perk did a great job of just making it tough on him, rebounding the ball and offensively he was making shots for us. We just need him to continue to play well.”
The Thunder took its final lead at 87-86 with 6:38 remaining after a Kevin Durant three-pointer from Russell Westbrook, when the Lakers went on a 7-0 run that changed the game. Metta World Peace made a step-back jumper, Earl Clark made a layup, Steve Nash added a free throw and Kobe Bryant hit a jumper to make it 93-87 Lakers with 5:05 remaining. The Thunder meanwhile missed three straight shots, and although it cut the lead to four on multiple occasions, could never get any closer.
Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Kendrick Perkins with a perfect help-side rotation to make a block at the rim and help force a shot clock violation. Thunder staying active in the passing lane as Kevin Durant tips a cross-court pass that turns into a steal. Great leadership by Westbrook to direct Durant into the post. Wonderful vision by Westbrook to fire a backdoor pass to Serge Ibaka for a dunk. Nick Collison tips a loose offensive rebound to Westbrook to save a possession. DeAndre Liggins ties up his man on a drive for a jump ball.
Plays the box score won't show:
Strong post defense by Perkins to force Dwight Howard into a travel. Wonderful vision by Perkins to find Durant on the wing by himself. Nice positioning by Perkins to draw an offensive foul on Howard. Good patience by Westbrook to have Sefolosha re-run the pin-down for Durant, then Westbrook fires a pass to Sefolosha. Great job by Liggins to come over in helpside to make a steal. Good awareness from Ibaka to find the short corner on a Jackson drive. Great awareness by Kevin Martin to read the lob and then swat it away.
“We all, as a group, have to do our roles better. Every individual has to play their role to a ‘T’ for us to win games… We just have to focus on us and how we can get better.” – Kevin Durant