The Los Angeles Lakers came into the 15th game of the season with an even record (7-7), which to most is far better than expected. With a 4-3 record at Staples Center, the team attempted to keep their home record over .500 yet again without their vocal leader.
Point guard D’Angelo Russell, who played through a knee issue against Chicago, reported soreness to head coach Luke Walton. The issue seems to be tentatively serious, as he has been ruled out for the contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the following contest against the Golden State Warriors.
The game started off with both teams aggressive, as Russell Westbrook arrived back to his stomping grounds with his family in attendance. Without Russell, the Lakers elected to start Jose Calderon at the point guard position. The Spaniard was an obvious mismatch against Westbrook, so Walton elected to put Nick Young on him instead.
The Lakers started off with strong execution, using their rotations to open up certain shots. With proper ball movement, Calderon was left wide open and knocked down a corner three. A few plays later, Calderon dribbled through traffic and gave a handoff to a trailing Young who knocked down a deep three.
Power forward Julius Randle, who was questionable coming into the game, received the start and came ready to play. Against the feisty bigs of the Thunder, Randle used his abilities in transition to create opportunities for him and his teammates. After a defensive rebound, he dribbled past Steven Adams and Enes Kanter and gave a dime to center Timofey Mozgov, who promptly threw down the one-handed slam.
On the defensive end, the Lakers attempted to keep their hands upright anytime someone was in the paint, which had early success. Westbrook missed a few easy buckets in the paint, which then transitioned into offense for the Lakers.
The Lakers facilitated the ball in order to keep feeding the shooters, as the Thunder were more focused on their help side defense. On drives to the paint, Young and Brandon Ingram were left open on the weak side for consecutive threes.
Once the bench unit began getting into their groove, the defensive intensity stepped up. After not getting a call driving in, Jordan Clarkson hustled back and read a pass from Domantas Sabonis. He then sprinted with the ball and finished a fast break layup over the defender, giving the Lakers a 23-14 lead.
Thunder guard Semaj Christon was very pesky on defense, which fellow guard Lou Williams capitalized on. After an offensive rebound by Larry Nance Jr., Williams drove to his left and used the contact from Christon to get a patented foul call while shooting. Not only did he receive the call, but he also made the three for a four-point play.
At the end of the first quarter, the Lakers led by a score of 29-16.
Coming into the second quarter, the Thunder started off with a few quick buckets. After cutting the lead to nine, Walton called a timeout and refocused the group.
After a few defensive stops, the Thunder seemed to start struggling on the offensive end without Westbrook on the floor. The second unit of the Lakers then used this to their advantage, running fast breaks after defensive rebounds from Nance and Tarik Black.
After starting off the game hot, the Lakers’ offense seemed to cool down. Andre Roberson shifted onto Williams, which stifled the quick shooter. However, with the attention paid to Williams, he started becoming a willing passer.
He fed Mozgov for another bucket in the paint, as the center finished it with a soft touch with his left hand. However, the Thunder slowly kept crawling back into the game, as Walton called another timeout once the deficit was cut to five.
Walton countered by inserting his starting five back into the contest, looking for the same execution that earned them the lead. With the 26th head coach in franchise history coming over from the Golden State Warriors, he certainly brought a few tricks up his sleeve to the organization.
The Lakers have begun using off-ball screens to create for their shooters, using the strong side as a decoy. Randle set a nice screen on the right sideline for Luol Deng, who knocked down a midrange jumper to extend the lead to seven.
The team defense continued to contest shots without fouling, which certainly began frustrating Westbrook. Upon a missed Mozgov dunk, Westbrook drove hard to the rim, but was stripped by Young on the way up.
Westbrook then fouled wrapped his hands around Deng from behind, completely out of frustration. Both players responded by chirping words at each other, which led to a mini scuffle. Westbrook, who routinely runs his mouth, had to be separated by his teammates as a group of Lakers rapidly approached.
He was promptly given a flagrant one foul, but Deng missed both free throws. The teams then began exchanging buckets, as both teams began showing frustration. Young was seen shoving Adams, after setting a moving pick that was not called.
Westbrook continued creating for his teammates, as he hit Jerami Grant for a corner three to cut the lead to one. On the final possession of the half, the Thunder’s star play drove hard to the basket and got a three-point play on a questionable foul call.
After converting the free throw, the Lakers had six seconds for a final shot. Young was given the inbounds past and dribbled past four defenders going down the court. With one second left, he pulled up from well behind the three-point line and buried the triple.
The Lakers took a 49-48 lead into halftime.
At the break, Young led the team with 12 points, becoming the first player to reach double digit scoring. Calderon knocked down two threes for six points, as he also hauled in three rebounds and two assists.
The chippyness continued into the second half, as both teams came out firing. Calderon and Victor Oladipo were jawing at each other on an inbounds play, which the ref had to separate.
Calderon seemed to have been fired up by the play, as he stole the inbounds from Adams on a careless grip of the ball. The next play down, Calderon turned into the off-ball shooter, running through three screens to sink another three-pointer from the corner.
Four minutes into the fourth quarter, the Thunder had a 59-56 lead. The next play down, the Lakers drained the shot clock, but no player was open. Calderon took a pick and threw a cross-court pass to Randle, who buried a three-pointer as the shot clock expired.
Off a missed rebound, Calderon received the outlet pass on a three-on-one fast break and gave a dime for a Mozgov slam. The Thunder quickly called a timeout, as the Lakers regained the lead by a score of 61-59.
Randle remained relatively quiet throughout this contest, as his only points scored halfway through the third quarter was the three-pointer as the clock expired. Although he had five rebounds and four assists, he also had six turnovers.
The Lakers opened up the lead to five points on a well-executed drive and kick to Calderon, who sank his fourth three-pointer of the game. The team was staying alive and ahead with the three-point shot.
Joffrey Lauvergne knocked down back-to-back three-pointers on consecutive possessions, giving the Thunder a 67-66 lead.
Mozgov began making his presence felt, playing physical in the paint. After knocking down four consecutive free throws, he finished off a dunk on a beautiful assist from Clarkson.
On the next play down, the crowd came to their feet, but not in a good way. Nance Jr. took a fast break, which was being trailed by Westbrook. As both rose to the rim, Westbrook hit Nance Jr. twice on the nose, but no foul was called.
As both players remained under the rim, Nance Jr.’s nose began bleeding, which caused a riot at Staples Center. The team continued on with a 12-2 run with solid defense, which led to executed opportunities in the open court.
Throughout this game, Walton continued chirping at the refs, even clapping sarcastically after they gave the Thunder a call. With Westbrook subbed out, the Thunder weren’t able to score until Adams completed a three-point play (made FT) after three offensive rebounds with under 10 seconds left in the third.
In a highly aggressive game on both ends, the Lakers took an 80-74 lead into the final quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Lauvergne drove hard to the rim. However, Black met him there and swatted his shot. The next play down, Williams gave him a nice pass in the paint, which Black turned into a three-point opportunity.
Williams and Ingram would go on to hit consecutive three-pointers, extending the Lakers lead to 91-78. However, Oladipo knocked down one of his own the next play down to make it a 10-point lead.
Clarkson would go on to knock down four consecutive free throws, with a Kanter prayer shot in between, to give the Lakers a 95-83 lead with seven minutes left.
The next play down, the Ingram and Nance Jr. took a Westbrook turnover and turned it into a give-and-go slam for Nance. Billy Donovan then called a timeout, as the Lakers held their biggest lead of the game (14 points).
The Thunder came out of the timeout and scored two straight layups, which then resulted in a Walton timeout just under a minute after the previous.
Ingram and Oladipo traded three-point shots, which was followed by a Clarkson slam down the baseline. However, Westbrook buried another three-point shot over Mozgov the following possession to cut the lead to eight points.
Westbrook started picking up steam, hitting a bank shot while driving to the basket with his off foot. Williams then followed in his footsteps with an easy lay up using his body to create separation.
The two point guards began trading baskets, as Williams hit a fading jumper, but Westbrook hit another three-pointer to cut the lead to six points with less than three minutes in the game.
Both teams went scoreless for a minute, until Westbrook hit a curling three-point shot off a pick by Adams. The Lakers began resorting to one-on-one basketball, but the Thunder couldn’t convert.
Donovan called another timeout with 48 seconds left to play, losing by three points (108-105). The Thunder received an easy basket, courtesy of an Adams’ open dunk without help side defense.
The Lakers failed to convert on their next possession, giving the Thunder one final opportunity. Westbrook drove down the court, settled for a mid range jumper, which didn’t fall. However, Adams got another offensive rebound (his fourth) and converted the basket to give the Thunder a 109-108 lead with 13 seconds left.
On the following possession, the Lakers scrambled around the floor for a shot. While running around, Young intercepted a pass intended to Williams and drained a three-point shot to give the Lakers a two-point lead.
After a Thunder timeout, the entire arena knew who the ball was going to. Off a pick from Adams, Westbrook pulled a long three, which didn’t go in, giving the Lakers a 111-109 victory.