Lakers Defeat Thunder Behind Strong Team Effort

NBA: Utah Jazz at Los Angeles LakersThe Lakers hosted the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center as they were looking for their second consecutive victory. After a big win on Friday night against the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles was hoping to get a win over one of the best teams in the NBA when the Thunder came to town. The Lakers still had a sour taste in their mouth after Oklahoma City trounced them on January 11th, winning by 15 points and leading by as much as 27 at one point in the game.

A lot has been made of the team’s inability to win a marquee game this season, and they certainly had an opportunity to do that on Sunday at the Staples Center.

First Quarter

The Lakers started strong with an immediate triple from Metta World Peace, and they were hoping that momentum would carry them for the rest of the quarter. They looked decent defensively, but a lot of that was helped by the fact that the Thunder were ice cold from the perimeter in the period. Still, the Thunder were able to hang in the game because of their dominance on the offensive boards, in which they grabbed seven of in the first quarter.

On offense the Lakers looked stagnant. Kobe was in facilitator mode, much like he was Friday against Utah, but this time he wasn’t getting as much help from his teammates. There was very little off-ball movement, and as a result Kobe was forcing bad passes that resulted in turnovers. Still, the Lakers played with some tenacity and were able to finish the period with a 27-23 lead.

Second Quarter

With the starters on the bench the Thunder were able to get back into the game and ultimately take the lead. The bench unit that consisted of Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon shockingly didn’t get things taken care of for the Lakers. Oklahoma City began to heat up from the floor after missing a lot of those shots in the first period, and the Los Angeles lead disappeared. Mike D’Antoni put his starters back into the game and they managed to regain a little momentum as they built their lead once more.

Even with Kobe and the rest of the starters back in the game, they had trouble with missed free throws and turnovers; two things that have plagued them all season. Howard started the game 1-8 from the line and Kobe struggled with the ball, turning it over four times in the first half. Another big reason for the team’s success was their defense on Westbrook, who lit the team up the last time these teams met. He hit just one field goal in the first half, and it came at the very end of the second period. Still, despite playing poorly in the first half the Thunder had a 53-52 lead over Los Angeles at the break.

Third Quarter

The Lakers got off to a slow start in the third quarter but the team and fans endured a scary moment when Kobe took a hard fall and was a little shaken up.  Kobe continued to act as a facilitator but both teams struggled early with outside shots. The Lakers proceeded to attack the inside while Kevin Durant was the consistent offensive producer for the Thunder.

The game changed when Dwight Howard was called for an offensive foul with just 7:30 to go and went to the bench with four personals.  With Howard on the bench Kobe finally began looking for his shot against the tough defense of Sefolosha.  The Lakers finally erased the Thunder deficit when Pau Gasol nailed a jumper with five minutes to go and the Lakers clearly had Kevin Durant frustrated. A few plays later a layup from Earl Clark gave the Lakers the lead again before a thunderous dunk from Kevin Durant silenced the crowd. The Lakers continued to move the ball but the it was in Kobe’s hands much more often in this period.

Fourth Quarter

Kobe was clearly carrying the team with his near triple double in the third quarter but with him on the bench to start the fourth, they would need another scoring source. Quick threes from Metta World Peace and Jodie Meeks got the Lakers the start they were looking for as well as a three point lead before Kevin Durant answered back.

An interesting decision from D’Antoni involved having both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in the game at the same time. The two bigs, however, worked together and both scored early in the quarter. As Russell Westbrook continued to struggle for the Thunder, the Lakers also struggled with outside jumpers. By the time Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant entered the game with seven minutes to go, the Lakers had a two point lead. The Thunder regained the lead, however, with a three pointer from Durant. A response from the Lakers was accompanied by a foul by Dwight Howard, forcing him to leave the game once again.

An emphatic play giving the Lakers a three point lead came when Kobe gave a beautiful pass to Earl Clark for the dunk. Good defense resulted in another Westbrook miss and a technical foul on the point guard from UCLA. A beautiful fadeaway from Kobe over Durant gave the Lakers their largest lead of the half at six.  Both teams traded buckets and with three minutes to go the Laker lead was back down to four as Dwight Howard returned. A sweet move by Kobe gave the Lakers a 99-93 lead with under two minutes left as the Thunder looked to Durant for a response. Pau Gasol answered with a huge clutch bucket off of a beautiful pass from Bryant.

Kobe capped off his spectacular game and a Lakers win with a beautiful jumper with thirty seconds to go and the Lakers got their first marquee win of the season. Kobe led the Lakers and they put away the Thunder, 105-96.

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