Follow the link for the full post and hyperlinks.
The Lakers just won the first of two must wins.
Now they have to take care of business and win on Saturday. Playing back to back games is never ideal, but at least it gives the Lakers the opportunity to tie the series in one swift motion.
If you watched how the Thunder dismantled the former champs, Dallas, then you understand the importance of game three's victory. Dallas forced OKC into two very tough opening games, and ended up losing both by four total points. Dallas was blown out in game three, and then lost by just six in the closer. With LA's victory comes a dent in the armor of OKC. They finally lost a close game. The Lakers closed out strong and won 99-96, handing OKC their first loss of the postseason.
Usually a win like this for a former championship team isn't all that exciting, but the way the Thunder have been closing, a win like this is monumental, especially following game two's meltdown. The Lakers continued some of the positives of game two, and even overcame what looked to be a deadly run by James Harden to finish ahead in game three.
During half time of the Boston-Philly game, the ESPN telecast had a gaffe and showed a clip that stated, "Thunder at Lakers - Next on ESPN, Thunder lead series 2-1." I joked with some people that the fix was in. Well, 42 free throws later, maybe I was right. Kobe benefited from some interesting calls, and the Lakers sank 41-42 free throws, with Kobe shooting 18-18. But OKC shot 26-28, so I'd say that the refs were just a little happy with the whistle.
The ESPN telecast jumped to the game with the Lakers up 6-0 at the 9:58 mark. This is just one reason why I really dislike national telecasts. As a Lakers fan, I would rather watch the beginning of LA rather than the end of Boston vs Philly. Although entertaining, I care about the Lakers game. I wanted to see how LA would respond in the opening minutes. I guess I'll never know. But the crowd sure was loud, so something good must have happened. I did get to see Ramon Sessions have a nice start. Sessions finished a backdoor cut to make the game 8-0. Then he hit a floater in the lane off of a pick and roll to make the game 10-4. Kobe followed with a handoff in the far corner for a 20ft jumper, swish. Then Andrew Bynum played some great pick and roll defense and forced Kevin Durant to miss a tough, contested jumper from the far elbow. Bynum followed that up with an offensive rebound and dish to Pau in the lane for a dunk. Kobe followed with a steal on a backdoor cut, and he hit Sessions with the outlet for a dunk, putting LA ahead 16-4. Following the timeout, KD hit a floater. Then OKC got a steal as Pau forced a pass to Kobe, but Metta hustled back on defense and forced KD to lose the ball out of bounds. Little hustle plays like that are what save a game. Kobe followed with a one dribble pull up jumper from 16ft. Then Kobe was whistled for a dubious foul on James Harden. Despite the foul, Metta gathered the Lakers and barked orders to calm the guys down.
Then Derek Fisher had his only positive moment while guarding Kobe. Hoping to take care of the mismatch, Kobe called for the ball at the free throw line with the much smaller Fisher on him. Metta passed up Kobe and instead hit Blake in the near corner. Unfortunately, Blake ended up throwing the ball away, and Fisher scored in transition.
Bynum finished the quarter strong with his pet move. Bynum took two dribbles at the near mid block and turned baseline for the turnaround jumper. He missed, but he was fouled. He sank both of the free throws and the Lakers closed the quarter up 23-15. Kobe finished the quarter 3-6 for 6 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Kobe really hurt OKC with quick, decisive moves. Bynum went 1-4 for 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. Pau went 2-5 for 4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers. Pau's aggression on the glass was great to see. Westbrook really struggled, shooting 1-4 for 2 points and 1 rebound, and he was subbed out early at the 6:01 mark. Durant went 2-5 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 turnovers.
In the second quarter, the Thunder closed the gap and cut the deficit to 3 points within the first two minutes. However, the Lakers played some great pick and roll defense and forced Westbrook into a turnover that led to a Blake 3. Westbrook ran the high pick and roll and attacked right. Pau did a great job of hedging, so Westbrook backed out and used the pick again, this time to go left. Pau worked hard, and cut Westbrook off in the lane. Westbrook elevated and tried to kick out, but Barnes shot the gap and ended up pushing the court and hitting Blake for a 3. Blake followed with a backdoor cut and assist from Pau for a layup. Sessions followed with a nice aggressive take to the basket that led to made free throws and then he hit a 9ft fading jumper in the lane.
Despite the game being a must win, coach Brown carefully monitored minutes. Kobe and Drew checked back in at the 6:09 mark, their normal rotation from the regular season, with the score at 32-33. Kobe immediately picked up his third foul, but coach Brown trusted him to play smart and he let Kobe finish the quarter. Following some Kobe free throws, Jordan Hill came up big with an amazing block on Kevin Durant. Durant dribbled at the near wing and Metta popped the ball out. Durant regathered it 5ft behind the far wing 3, danced a bit, and blew by MWP to attack the baseline and get to the rim. With KD coming with a full head of steam, Hill rotated to the far block and met KD at the top of his jump. Hill went up with two hands straight in the air and ended up swatting KD's dunk attempt.
Then Russell Westbrook lost his composure and freaked out. Let me just say, if this had been Metta who acted so petulantly, he would have been suspended for throwing those elbows. Westbrook dribbled at the far top 3 and got into the lane. Hill rotated and swatted his layup, Ibaka missed the tip, and Westbrook regathered the ball at the near block. Bynum swatted Westbrook again, the ball squirted out, and Westbrook dove for it on the floor. MWP immediately ran over and stood over Westbrook as he went for the jump ball. While on the floor, Westbrook began throwing elbows and swinging his arms wildly to prevent MWP from getting a handle on the ball. Westbrook freaked out, popped Metta in the back of the knee, and got upset that MWP's leg gave out and dropped on him. MWP dropped a knee on Westbrook, and Westbrook got up and acted all hard. Every action has a consequence, I guess Westbrook doesn't understand this. The refs awarded double technicals, but Jeff Van Gundy stood up for MWP and called out the officials, stating, "The double technical is the biggest cop out there is in officiating. What does anyone want World Peace to do right there? He drops on his leg only because he gets hit." Two minutes later, Westbrook and MWP had another run in. Westbrook ran the high pick and roll with Durant at the near top 3. Westbrook attacked left, crossed back over right, and ran into the back of KD. Westbrook lost the ball, recovered it at the near side half court, and tried to get away was MWP hounded him. Westbrook attacked left and tripped, but the refs awarded MWP a foul. Westbrook was clearly flustered.