By Connor MacKenzie @grandepadre94
Kyle Kuzma came into the Peake with a purpose and lit up the Oklahoma City Thunder for 32 points on 11-20 shooting (7-12 from deep). While Kuzma may get the headline, the story is truly about the Thunder defense getting stifled again. Surrendering a 138-128 loss in overtime. It’s hard to believe, but the Thunder were up 37-20 towards the end of the first, but LA makes a run to inch closer to a 39-27 deficit.
The Thunder found themselves down 63-67 at the half and left scratching their heads as to what is going wrong. OKC then outscored LA by five to lead by one entering a thrilling 4th Quarter. The Thunder appeared to start putting things away after being down 105-108, to being up 111-108 with 5 minutes left. A Kuzma made three quickly changed that mindset. OKC found themselves down 119-122 with 2.9 seconds left, however, a controversial call on a three-point attempt put Westbrook at the line to tie the game. Struggling with his free throws and the countless noise from folks talking about his regression surely mounted to this moment. He calmly knocks down all three free throws, a bit of a flashback to the 2014 playoffs against the Clippers in game 5 (another controversial call).
The Thunder forced overtime and feel they have momentum on their side. Lonzo Ball and company had other plans. The Thunder would get outscored 16-6 in overtime to lose the ball game and hear “Lets Go Lakers” from the abundance of Lakers fans present at the Peake The Lakers’ players seemed to take turn who had the hot hand.
The unsung hero for the Lakers was Ivica Zubac who lit up the Thunder for 26 points and 12 rebounds. Lonzo Ball was also cooking in the second half, dropping 18 points, 10 assists, and 6 rebounds.
The bench for Oklahoma City was outscored 61-23.
Paul George chipped in 27 points on 9-19 shooting to go along with 8 assists.
Russell Westbrook was 3-14 at the half and finished 7-30 for the game, although made 5-12 from deep and 7-10 from the line.
The Thunder played with great pace most of the game, and reached a new franchise record with 20 made threes. However, they were unable to defend the arc themselves, giving up 19 makes for LA. Credit to the Lakers in this battle, playing without LeBron James and erased a deep deficit and dismantled the once vaunted Thunder defense.
The Thunder have the tendency to over-hedge on pick n’ rolls, leaving the screener for an open look at the rim, or an easy dish for a layup.
Tonight’s defensive lapses were not for lack of effort, but simply making some suspect judgment calls, switching every screen and not taking away air space when opposing players are getting into a rhythm.
OKC’s issues at the foul line continue as they shot 24 of 36 from the line, while LA converted 19 of 21.
While having a franchise record in makes from behind the arc, 22, that seemed to be the only offensive strategy for the night. Steven Adams was 6-9 from the field for 17 points and 15 rebounds but had the opportunities to score and punish the Lakers that he simply did not take advantage.
Next opportunity for the Thunder comes Saturday afternoon at Philadelphia. The latest word on notable big man Joel Embiid is that he may be out due to back issues. If the Thunder can clog the paint and defend the arc, they should be effective in executing on the boards and on the offensive side of the ball.