When the Los Angeles Lakers entered their first playoff match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder since 2010 on Monday, they had a newfound confidence. Metta World Peace had returned from his seven game suspension for elbowing James Harden on the head, Kobe was proving to us he was still the Kobe we knew him to be, with a dominant performance to close out Denver, and Pau Gasol was showing signs of toughness as the Lake Show progressed to the second round. Things were looking good for the kings of LA as they stepped toe to toe with the Thunder. I mean, the Thunder haven’t played in eight days, they had to be rusty, right? Wrong. When you play high school basketball you may take a week off and fail to find your groove when you show up for your next game. Missing easy shots, getting out hustled for loose balls, and just all around getting beat in every way possible. For professionals they know, the more time off, the better, especially in the playoffs. More time to shoot, perfect your mechanics, rest, get treatment for whatever may be bothering you, and get mentally prepared for what is to come next; and when the time came Monday night in Oklahoma City, the Thunder rose to the challenge and showed the Lakers why they’re a serious threat.
“We were a little worried about rust, but we did a lot of scrimmaging to stay sharp (during the layoff). We just have a team full of gym rats, our guys just want to play basketball. But this is just one game it doesn’t matter if we won by one point or 30 points we have to play well Wednesday night.”—Thunder Head Coach, Scott Brooks
Going into Monday’s match up between the Western Conference foes, the Lakers were a struggling 1-2 against the surging Thunder in the season series, with their only win coming in double over time at home in late April, 114-108 in a star studded game with Kobe going for twenty-six and Durant tallying thirty-five of his own. While fans expected a great game this time around, it proved to be the complete opposite with an outcome no one probably expected. Oklahoma City came out strong in the first scoring thirty but only up seven to a scrappy Laker team after the first was said and done. As the game continued, however, the Thunder overpowered the beat Lakers team and watched themselves take a 1-0 series lead as the buzzer sounded signaling a 119-90 win in favor of Loud City.
“You can’t say it enough about the turnovers, four turnovers, that’s huge. We’ve had four turnovers in the first six minutes of games.” –Brooks.
What do turnovers mean to a team? Better yet, what can turnovers do for a team? They can test you, drain you, lose the game for you, make you re-think the whole game, leave you sleepless thinking, “What if I didn’t do that one thing.” Turnovers can be the reason an entire city loses their breath while another can’t catch theirs from celebrating so hard off the play their team just capitalized on. When it comes to turnovers, they’re a make and break play that can drive players crazy. Well rest assured, the Thunder will keep their sanity going into game two on Wednesday. They committed only four turnovers against the Lakers on Monday.* That’s not a typo, the magic number for OKC was four, and it is one of the reasons they were able to handle the LA with ease. Off of those four messily turnovers the Lakers only managed to score six points, as opposed to the Thunders twenty-two points of fifteen Laker turnovers.
“We just have to be patient and think the game through and do a better job next game. Once they get going on runs they go on big runs and it goes quickly.”— Lakers guard Bryant.
Turnovers weren’t the only savior for the Thunder, however. OKC managed to string together nice runs throughout the game that not only pulled them away from the Lakers on the scoreboard, but mentally as well. Going into halftime the Lakers were down by fifteen. Not the biggest deal in the world for a previous championship team with a leader like Kobe. I mean, a nice pep speech from the future Hall of Famer, a wake up call, if you will, and some of MJ’s “Secret Stuff” (water, for those of you who haven’t seen Space Jam), and the old Lakers could come out in full force ready to take game one back, right? Wrong again. When the Lakers submerged from the locker room they learned quickly they should have played defense or stayed inside. The Thunder came out strong as the beginning; firing on all cylinders and stringing together a 9-0 run, leading to a 15-2 run, and exploding to a 24-6 run. Six minutes into the third quarter and writers across the nation were ready to sign off for the night, disgusted with the Lakers performance, and impressed with the young Thunder squad as they lead 83-50.
Game one was solidified far beyond the final horn sounded in Chesapeake Arena Monday night in OKC, and while there were many questions about the team from LA, there are also many questions about the fans. How loyal of a fan base does LA really have when half way through the third quarter there are vast numbers of “fans” tweeting, “I’m still a Laker fan no matter what.” When you have to defend your fan hood through the course of one game in a best-of-seven series, you’re not a true fan to begin with. While there a lot of die hard fans in LA and all over the country, there is also a majority that are only in it for Kobe or because they have a long history of success, much of what is known in society today as a “bandwagon fan.” Point being, if the Lakers lose the next game to the Thunder and they return to LA for game three, how faithful will the fan base be? OKC does not have fan issues, they know when the going gets tough, the city has their back. When Dallas eliminated the Thunder in 2011 before going on to win the NBA Finals, Oklahoma City stood proudly behind their team chanting, “OKC” until the very end. While LA fans will toss on turn on “their team,” Oklahoma City will have a solid fan base throughout the series, only making them stronger. At the end of the day, they don’t call it “Loud City” for nothing.
*Note: Thunder’s four turnovers is a season low. Previous was eight against Dallas in the first round of 2012 playoffs and ten on two occasions in the regular season.
Quote Credit: Randy Renner, NBA.com