World Peace Loses Control as the Lakers Outlast the Thunder in Double Overtime
Trailing by 18 well into the third quarter, the Lakers staged a furious rally yesterday to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder by a score of 114-106. This game featured a little bit of everything, including a vicious early 2000’s Ron Artest style elbow to the head of James Harden by Metta World Peace that quickly turned the feel of this contest into that of a playoff game.
At this late stage of the NBA season, numerous coaches are resting key players to ensure that their teams are entering the playoffs as healthy as possible. This was not the case for Mike Brown or Scott Brooks on Sunday, as both teams are still fighting for playoff seeding in the Western Conference – the Lakers are desperately trying to hold off the surging Lob City Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies for the third seed, while the Thunder are attempting to catch the Spurs and obtain the top spot.
It was a big win for the Lakers on a few different fronts. They had been run through and embarrassed by the Thunder during their two previous encounters this season, and there was a growing sense that the remaining core players of the back to back Laker Championship squads of ’09 and ’10 (Kobe, Pau, ‘Drew) could no longer hack it against the younger stars of OKC. Also, after getting shellacked by the Spurs twice in four days, LA needed a victory to prove that they can still be a viable threat out West.
This game contained a handful of athletic plays (mostly by Serge Ibaka), bad shooting (KD & Russell Westbrook), chippy behavior (MWP), and some late clutch shots (Kobe). If the Lakers can take anything positive out of World Peace’s mugging of Harden it’s that it afforded them the opportunity to see reserves Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks play crucial roles in a comeback win against a quality opponent. With Andrew Bynum having a sluggish game, Hill was active and energetic from the minute he stepped onto the court and finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds. World Peace will most likely be suspended for at least the Lakers first couple of playoff games (and possibly more), so these two might have played their way into coach Brown’s playoff rotation.
Perhaps he is still shaking off the rust from his recent shin injury, but for the first three plus quarters against the Thunder Kobe Bryant looked like the worn down player we saw against the Mavs in last year’s playoffs. He was having trouble driving by and shooting over his primary defender Thabo Sefolosha, and when he did get into the paint Ibaka must’ve swatted at least three or four of his shot attempts. However, at the end of regulation and into the overtime periods it was vintage Kobe, as he started hitting ridiculous fall away jumpers and contested three-point shots. Kobe has endured a heavy workload this season, so it will be interesting to see if he can play at a high level game after game once the playoffs start. The seven games he sat out due to injury might actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise and provide his legs some extra lift in the postseason.
You’d think it would be hard to get excited about one of the last games of a strike shortened season, but this game definitely got my wheels spinning regarding the possibility of these two teams meeting in the second round of the playoffs. Even before the Metta World Peace elbow, there appeared to be a healthy dislike brewing between these two teams.
Part of is it due to the youth and swagger of the Thunder team. When they get things rolling and are throwing down highlight reel dunks, blocking shots, and burying three’s, they tend to do some yapping on the court. Westbrook and Harden have gotten under Kobe’s skin a little bit with their celebratory antics, and even Ibaka was doing some barking yesterday while hosting his own personal block party. There is the ongoing Pau Gasol/Kendrick Perkins blood feud, and throw in the physical play of Matt Barnes along with World Peace and LA has some players that routinely test the boundaries of acceptable behavior. OKC is clearly a team on the rise, and after losing in the Western Conference finals a year ago they are anxious to take the next step and take out any team in their way.
Contrasting styles make for great fights, and whereas the Thunder play the game at a fast and furious pace, the Lakers play a slower, more methodical brand of basketball that centers around Kobe and their two bigs inside. LA represents the old guard of the league, with GM Mitch Kupchak trying to juggle getting a younger and quicker roster while still utilizing their veteran core to try and add another championship to the trophy case. They clearly have issues matching up with the Thunder’s speedy perimeter players, and if they do meet in the playoffs the Lakers will have to try and slow down/muck up each game if they are going to have a chance at winning.
Both teams lost something yesterday with the Bones Jones elbow by World Peace. Harden is the league’s best reserve player, and I hope he doesn’t suffer any long term effects from the head shot he took. An extended absence from him would make the Thunders probable first round tilt with the Mavs even more compelling. World Peace had finally rounded himself back into shape and over the past few weeks was playing his best basketball since Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. He brings an edge to the Lakers with his defensive intensity and physicality, an edge they need in order to combat their more athletic opponents. World Peace threw another log in the fire of this budding rivalry, and if each team takes care of business we will be in for an intriguing second round playoff battle.
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