The Thunder prevail in clutch time to beat the Lakers: Five Thoughts
By: Alberto Bodei, Staff Writer.
Last night, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in a well-fought game, 107-100 the final score.
The Thunder came into the game without Alex Abrines (still out for personal reasons) and Andre Roberson, while the Lakers were without Lebron James, Rajon Rondo, and they lost Kuzma during the game due to a back injury.
It has been a back and forward between these two teams for the whole game. Until the last Thunder’s run to close the game, the biggest lead for either team has been six points. Both teams exchanged baskets, but mostly they exchanged misses. The Thunder shot 38.1% from the floor, 22.6% from behind the three points line, and 64.5% from the free throw line. Very bad numbers but the Lakers didn’t take advantage. In fact, the team from Los Angeles shot 41.6% from the floor, 25.6% from behind the arc, and 59.4% from the FT line.
With the game still on the line (95-92), and only three minutes and a half left, the Thunder were able to close it out without struggling. Paul George scored five points, Westbrook added other three ones, while the Lakers weren’t able to respond on the other end.
Another important win for Oklahoma City, who is consolidating his position as the third power in the Western Conference.
The fans booed him, yelled that they don’t need him just because he chose Oklahoma City over Los Angeles. It didn’t matter. Paul George is having a stellar season, and it was no different against the Lakers. George finished the game with thirty-seven points (15-29 FG, 2-11 3PT, 5-7 FT), four rebounds, two assists, four steals, and only one turnover. After being in foul troubles in the first quarter, PG made sure to defend without fouling anymore. With Westbrook having another off shooting night, it’s incredible to see how good Paul George can be when he is in rhythm.
Russell Westbrook’s impact
Westbrook is having problems with his shooting since the season started. It’s not just one area of shooting where he is struggling, but all of them: jump shots, at the rim, three-pointers, free-throws, everywhere. Yesterday he scored fourteen points, but it took him twenty shots: 4-20 FG, 1-7 3PT, and 7-10 FT. However, despite this issue, Russell Westbrook is helping the team winning in other ways. His rebounding is always impactful, he grabbed a total of sixteen yesterday, and he can set his teammates up without too many problems (ten assists last night). Westbrook’s impact goes beyond the offense. His defense is tremendously improved this season. Against the Lakers, not only Westbrook finished with two steals and two blocks, but he kept on playing hard on that end of the floor, despite his shot not falling.
Closing out games
After struggling in the month of December to win close games (2-5 the record), the Thunder were able to win this one in Los Angeles. In the span between five minutes left and one minute left in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City outscored the Lakers 14-5 to seal the deal. A strong clutch performance which was missing for some time now.
Abdel Nader has been a nice surprise in the past few games. Since the Houston game, and thanks to Abrines absence, Nader was able to get some playing time. Donovan’s decision is little by little paying off. Against the Lakers, Nader contributed on both ends of the floor. Sure his defense is not solid yet (four fouls in fourteen minutes), but his offense was what the team needed also last night. Nader finished the game with ten points (4-6 FG, 2-3 3PT), four rebounds, and one assist.
Defense up - Offense down
These two parts of the game can’t be more different in terms of efficiency for the Thunder. Oklahoma City is the best team in the league in defensive rating at 101.4 and leads the league in steals at 10.4 per game. However, the Thunder rank only 20th in offensive rating at 107.4. The problems on offense are obviously due to bad the three points shooting (32% last in the whole NBA), and maybe even more upsetting, the free throws shooting (70.1%, 28th in the league). Not only the Thunder are 28th in percentage, but they are 7th in FT attempts at 24.9 per game. To be successful, Oklahoma City will need to find a way to improve these aspects on the offense without compromising its defense. Easier said than done.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will play on Friday night in Portland against the Blazers. Tip-off 9.30 pm CT.