Against Dominant Thunder Team, Lakers Are Simply Overmatched

It was only one game, right?

That’s what I’ve had to tell myself repeatedly in the hours since the Lakers got chased off the floor in Oklahoma City on Monday night. It was more of a massacre than a basketball game, as the Thunder ran past Los Angeles 119-90 in Game 1.

I guess in the end it still is only one game. On Wednesday night both teams will take the floor tied 0-0, and anything could still happen. But the ominous overtones of a beating like the one L.A. took in Game 1 are almost too disturbing to ignore.

One thing that has been consistent for most of the season is the Lakers’ talent level. In nearly every game they’ve played, and most certainly in the first round against the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers have been the better team. They’ve been the squad that will win if they manage to assert themselves and play to their full potential.

After Game 1 against the Thunder it’s very evident that that’s no longer the case. The simple fact moving forward in this series is that Oklahoma City is the better team, and that even if the Lakers play at the high level they’re occasionally capable of, they still might not be able to take down the Thunder.

This is strange to think about, especially since the Lakers have been favored in nearly every playoff series they’ve been in since 2007. But if Monday night proved anything (besides Devin Ebanks’ desire to act like Andrew Bynum) it’s that the Lakers are simply overmatched.

In the games that Los Angeles lost in the first round to Denver you could almost always pin the loss on L.A., rather than credit the Nuggets for the win. Sure Denver played well in those games, but it was always the Lakers’ inability to play to their potential that was seen as their downfall. It was widely accepted that if the Lakers played their A-game they would have little trouble defeating Denver. That was evident in every game L.A. won, including the decisive Game 7 on Saturday night. And, on the flip side, when they refused to play hard and utilize all their weapons, they lost.

I think that’s what’s going to be so hard to accept about this Western Conference Semi-Finals series with the Thunder. It’s not that the Lakers played exceptionally terrible last night, and they certainly weren’t as bad as they were in some of the games against Denver. But the Thunder still managed to embarrass them on the court. There were obviously things that L.A. could have done better, but for the most part it didn’t seem like a game where the Lakers kept shooting themselves in the foot. Even the turnovers, which L.A. had 15 of, seemed more because of solid play from the Thunder than lazy offense from the Lakers. In fact, 13 of the Lakers’ 15 turnovers were Oklahoma City steals.

The game started off relatively well for the Lakers, which wasn’t much of a surprise. In two of the three regular season meetings between the squads Los Angeles started strong before being beaten handily by the time the game ended. And in fact, the one game they didn’t jump out to an early lead in was the one they pulled off a miraculous comeback in, defeating the Thunder for the only time this year. Still, even with the Lakers leading 20-13 in the first quarter it seemed like the Thunder were just moments from bursting out and running the Lakers into the ground.

Turns out that’s exactly what happened.

By the end of the first quarter it was the Lakers who were down seven. And that’s as close as they would be for the rest of the game. Sure the Lakers managed to keep it somewhat manageable for the first half, but just two minutes into the third quarter it was over. The Thunder came out of the locker room and drove a stake into the heart of the Lakers before they had a chance to realize what was happening. In the third quarter the Thunder scored 39 points. The Lakers scored 44 points in the entire first half.

So while Game 2 is still a new slate and a chance for the Lakers to snag home court advantage for themselves, it seems that the Game 1 loss was much more than just one loss. That ominous sense of impending doom isn’t going to simply wash away after a loss like the one the team suffered on Monday. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about this Lakers team throughout the season it’s that they’re resilient.

At least I hope so.

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