Speed and quickness vs. size and strength. That is the heart of the matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the L.A. Lakers. The soul of this series lies in the stat no coach wants to see: turnovers.
The Thunder flashed their speed in Game 1 to the tune of a 29-point blowout in Oklahoma City. But that seems like light years ago because the length of the Lakers have bottled up the younger and faster Thunder squad. But despite all the great stretches of basketball from the Lakers in games 2, 3 and 4, they are inexplicably down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
The Lakers are the better team in this series, and could easily be up 3-1. But late-game miscues and the inability to make a simple pass down the stretch have really killed L.A.
Kobe Bryant’s errant pass led to a Thunder rally in Game 2. Pau Gasol’s errant pass led to a turnover and set up Kevin Durant’s game-winning 3-pointer in Game 4.
“Just a bad read on Pau’s part. [It] happens,” Bryant said of the play with under a minute left and the game tied at 98. Bryant got the ball on the wing but drew a double team from Serge Ibaka and James Harden. He did the correct basketball play by bouncing a pass to Gasol for an open jumper from about 15 feet. But, for some mind-boggling reason, Gasol passed up the shot.
Instead of trusting his shot, Gasol’s cross-court pass that was intended for Ron Artest was picked off by Durant. Twenty seconds later, Durant walks down Artest near the top of the circle and calmly knocks down a cold-blooded trey that put the Thunder up for good at 101-98.
“Guys have to be more aggressive. It’s as simple as that,” Bryant said. “Pau has to be more assertive. He’s the guy that they’re leaving. When he catches the ball he’s looking to pass. He’s gotta be more aggressive. He’s gotta shoot the ball, drive the ball to the basket. And he will be next game.”
“We played pick-and-roll, Kobe took two guys, he gave me the ball, I took a dribble, felt like the defense collapsed. I saw the replay and they had four, five guys in the paint. So, I thought I could kick it out to Ron and get a good look. Obviously Durant got the steal. Looking at it, I could have probably taken the shot at that point. If I could go back I probably would have. I was a good pass, it was just Durant was active and long and got a piece of the ball.”
Gasol’s mistake was just the icy on top of a completely meltdown by the Lakers in the fourth quarter. The team held a 13-point lead with eight minutes to go, but self-destructed once more and couldn’t put a cap on a magnificent performance at home.
“They started fronting, and when they front we just get all out of whack,” Lakers center Andrew Bynum explained. Bynum had 18 points in the game, but only four in the second half.
The Lakers are supposed to have the championship experience in this series. They’re the ones wearing all the rings (outside of Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins) and they’re the ones who’s supposed to have all the playoff poise, while the Thunder are too wild and careless — they led the league in turnovers in 2011-12 — to even have a playoff history (and we’re not counting those Seattle SuperSonics days). But it’s Thunder, and its younger superstar wearing No. 35, who seem to make all the correct plays when the money is on the line.