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LA vs OKC, Instant Classic (4.22.12)
After a dismal defensive effort against the San Antonio Spurs this past Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers responded with high energy and playoff intensity against the high octane Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.
The disappointment of the Spurs game was compounded by the fact that the Lakers had just lost to them by over 20 points just three days prior. After that game, Andrew Bynum seemed intent on providing a repeat performance of his capable dominance, vowing to "Come see them," the next time they played. However, in Kobe's first game back from his shin injury, the Lakers ended up losing 121-97. Kobe, Pau, and Drew shot a combined 16-31 for 46 points, however, the rest of the team shot 17-45. Despite the misfires from the role players, offense wasn't the true culprit in the game. The defensive performance of the Lakers was pathetic. Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili carved up the Lakers on 24-38 shooting for 61 points, and the Spurs team as a whole shot 61%, including 66.7% from downtown. The Lakers gave up easy points in bunches off of drive and kicks, pick and pops, and transition buckets. The Lakers gave up way too many points in three out of the four quarters, as the Spurs dropped, 32, 24, 35, and 30. The Lakers did not fare well against the properly spaced, highly functioning execution of the Spurs.
However, Sunday was different. The Lakers and Thunder squared off for an instant ESPN Classic with a thrilling double overtime game as the Lakers managed to pull off an 18 point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, before I can discuss the game, I must cover the Metta World Peace incident. Lately I have been praising Metta for his transformation back into Ron Artest. With Kobe out, Ron stepped his game up and looked like the guy from Indiana and Houston, a guy that was considered a top 5 two way player in the NBA due to his stalwart defense and effective offense. Lakers fans all over were infatuated with the resurgence of Ron Artest, however, on Sunday, Ron Artest really was back, and not in a positive way. Actually, scratch that, Artest was very positive until 1:39 was left in the second quarter. Artest was 4-10 for 12 points, with 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 1 turnover, and some great defense on Kevin Durant. Prior to the Kobe-less stretch, this type of line could have been considered a great game for Metta World Peace, let alone a first half. Then this happened (link). Metta's dual nature, Ron, erupted from within and Ron lost his damn head by throwing one of the dirtiest elbows I have ever seen into the side of James Harden's head. Ron actually just made a great play, he pushed the ball in transition, attacked the middle of the floor, created space by bumping the lanky Durant in the lane, and finished with the thunderous lefty slam as Ibaka tried to swat his dunk. Then Ron spoiled the party, began pounding his chest as he headed back down the floor, bumped into Harden, who was just trying to get into position to receive the inbound pass, and absolutely clocked Harden with a full windup elbow to the side of the head. If that elbow had hit Harden in the temple, who knows if he would have ever gotten up. Ron then adopted a protective fighting stance as Ibaka rushed towards him. Luckily Ibaka was smart enough to stay away. For some reason the refs were pretty slow in going over to Ron and pulling him back; it was almost as if the refs wanted to see just how far Ron would take it. Ron then told his side of the story to the refs, but it was all for naught. The replays clearly show how dirty the play was. Personally, I don't think Artest meant to full on clock Harden. I think that Ron was just amped after a huge play, he bumped into Harden, and he had a "Get off me" type of moment. You know that moment, one where you don't want anyone touching you and you lash out. Unfortunately, Ron took it too far and he wound up a vicious elbow that could have been featured in the most recent UFC bout. Ron was immediately assessed a flagrant-2, ejected, and will definitely be suspended. It's hard to argue for less than five games, but I can't recall an elbow leading to more than 3 games, in fact, this clip of Arron Afflalo elbowing Gordon Hayward less than a month ago isn't too friendly either. Afflalo was ejected with a flagrant-2 and he was suspended just 1 game. Obviously Artest has an extensive history. With 13 suspensions under his belt, it's hard to argue on his behalf, however, Artest has been out of trouble for almost 5 years now. In 2007 he had a domestic dispute that led to a 7 game suspension, and just last season in the playoffs he was suspended 1 game after knocking J.J. Barea in the face. That's a pretty wide gap in between incidents. Obviously a gap implies that there were incidents that actually occurred, but I hope the NBA tends to think of this as a driving record. After a certain amount of time, that speeding ticket doesn't matter on your points record anymore. Artest has truly had an amazing turnaround in his life, even winning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award last season. Whatever the suspension, it will be costly to the Lakers in the playoffs. The resurgence of Artest has been an unexpected, effective surprise. Hopefully this detour leads back to the main highway and Artest will come back out on track.
The Thunder and Lakers played a pretty even half, with OKC up 52-47. However, following Artest's knockout blow, one that ended up leaving Harden with a concussion, the Thunder came out in the third quarter and dominated. OKC won the quarter 25-14. It seemed like the Lakers were in a lull following the mayhem of the Artest debacle. The Thunder came out aggressive and took it to them.