5 things we learned from Lakers’ 117-113 loss to the Thunder

Photo Credit: Sports Out West

LOS ANGELES– Despite Lou Williams scoring a career-high 44 points, the Oklahoma City Thunder lead by Russell Westbrook‘s near-triple double topped the Los Angeles Lakers 117-113. 

Oklahoma City held a seven-point lead at 60-53 heading into the second half with Kevin Durant and Westbrook combining for 29 points in the first two quarters of play. The teams battled back and forth in the third quarter with Los Angeles grabbing a 72-71 lead after a tip-in layup by Bryant. However, the Thunder grabbed the lead and remained ahead rest for the rest of the period. 

However, Williams caught fire in the fourth quarter scoring 17 of the Lakers’ first 19 points of the quarter to give his team a 104-101 lead with 4:18 left. Williams continued to be the team’s main scoring option through the remainder of the game scoring 23 of the team’s 32 points in the quarter. It was Westbrook who had the final response recording 15 points, including scoring eight points in the final three minutes. 

Los Angeles answered the bell each time, but fell short after Kobe Bryant‘s floater over Durant in the final seconds fell short. Westbrook hit a pair of free throws to seal the deal. In the loss, Bryant scored 19 points with a team-high six assists. Jordan Clarkson chipped in with 17 points. Durant scored 24 points with seven rebounds. 

The Thunder took control early on behind their dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook being responsible for 17 of the team’s 32 points in the opening quarter. Los Angeles scored five out of the last seven points with a buzzer-beating half-court shot by Clarkson to close the gap to 32-28. 

The Lakers closed the gap in the second quarter behind Bryant, who temporarily gave them a 45-43 lead after a jumper scoring all nine of his first-half points.. Thunder responded with an 11-1 run to reclaim a comfortable lead.  Westbrook led the way adding to his first-half high 17 points. Williams led  Los Angeles with a team-high 14 points. Larry Nance Jr. also posted a six points and six rebounds at the half. 

This pushes the Thunder’s record to 3-0 against the Lakers this season and 18-3 against a Western conference opponent. Here what’s we learned from Friday’s loss:

Bryant’s playing with fresh legs

After missing three straight games due to a sore shoulder, Bryant was back in the lineups for a second straight contest scoring 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting with six assists in the loss.

Bryant went scoreless in the first quarter but had a nice bounce pass through the legs of Durant that found Roy Hibbert for the wide-open jumper. The 37-year-old caught fire in the second quarter hitting 4-of-7 shot attempts for nine points, including a pair of 3-pointers that helped give Los Angeles a temporary 45-43 lead. 

The 17-time All-Star continued to be an offensive force in the third quarter scoring 10 points. This included an impressive cross-court pass to Williams for the open three-pointer. Bryant was a non-factor offensive in the fourth quarter with Williams taking over, but he did have a chance to tie the game in the waning seconds but came up short. 

The nearly week off looks to have benefited Bryant greatly over the last two games as he has more bounce in his step and is able to get to the basket with more. His shot appears to be more in rhythm and isn’t forcing the issue offensively as much.  With a day to rest, expect Bryant to play in Sunday’s tilt against the Utah Jazz. 

Russell still hurting

A game after his best performance scoring a career-high 27 points and spraining his right ankle late in the game, the Lakers’ rookie guard gave it go against the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

However, Russell’s night was ended early as he played just eight minutes after exiting early in the second quarter. He immediately headed directly to the locker room and did not return to the bench. He was moving a bit gingerly throughout the game and didn’t look to push it when he had the ball in his hands. 

It was a questionable decision to beginning given it was the second game of a back-to-back for the Lakers. The fact that Russell had to test out before the game should give an indication of the state of his ankle. Nonetheless, the team was in the right to end his night premature on the side of precaution to prevent reinjury or worse. 

Prior to the game Thunder head coach Billy Donovan, who saw a bit of Russell in high school when he coached at Florida, had some high praise for the 19-year-old stating that he has “good vision and a great feel for the game.”

Although Russell was unable to finish the game, his mentor spoke highly of his play recently. 

“He tried to fight through it. I like what I’m seeing from in Sacramento,” Bryant said. “He played extremely hard on both ends of the floor.”

With the Lakers taking the safe route with his latest ailment, Russell will likely rest on Saturday and test his ankle at Sunday morning shootaround to see if he can give it a go. If not, the team will more than willing to let the injury heal completely before putting him out on the floor again.

Durant is back to elite status

It was another efficient scoring night for Durant as he continued to move up the NBA all-time scoring list surpassing former Lakers’ great James Worthy for 96th place. 

The 27-year-old shot an efficient 10-of-15 from the field, including hitting 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. He scored his points from different areas of the floor, and following the game voiced his enjoyment in playing one of the last few times against Bryant. 

“Yeah, but this time he wasn’t Kobe with the ball in his hands,” Durant said. “Lou Williams had the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter. He got them back into the game. We knew they were going to go to him the last few plays. It’s always a good game when you come in here and it’s a tight game with the crowd into it. They love their team. As an opposing player, you appreciate that.”

Durant has already established himself as one of the most lethal scorers in NBA history as he entered Friday’s game with the fifth highest points per game average at 27.31 behind the likes fo LeBron James, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan

Since he missed six straight games in late November due to a strained left hamstring, Durant has scored at least 20 points in all of 22 appearance, which is the longest current streak in the NBA. Durant is having a resurgent season after missing much of last year due to a leg injuries as he’s among the league leaders in scoring at 26.6 points per game while hitting a career-best 51.7 percent the field and 41.6 percent from three-point range. 

His return to playing at an elite has been a huge reason for the team’s large amount of success this season and has them squarely in title contention. 

Westbrooks leads the way

The other half of the Thunder’s dynamic duo is also in the midst of another impressive campaign as he entered Sunday’s contest averaging 25.2, which is sixth highest in the league, on a career-best 45.9 percent shooting from the field and a career-high 9.4 assists. 

The 27-year-old added another strong performance to his standout year posting a near triple-double with 36 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. Westbrook constantly had the Lakers’ defenders on their heels causing havoc in transition and proving too quick to guard at times getting the rim at will. 

“Just trying to pick my spots,” Westbrook said. “They were basically denying Kevin [Durant], so I tried to use that to our advantage. Getting to the paint and try to find guys and score at the same time.”

In short, Westbrook took over in the fourth quarter with the option of Durant being denied by the Lakers’ defense. He was just too difficult to stop once he started going in the final period.

“He’s just tough. He’s a tough cover. He’s so explosive,” Lakers head coach Byron Scott said. “If you give him a little room, he’ seems  to take not only the little room you gave him, he takes more. He’s just a tough cover anybody.”

Under Donovan in his first season, Durand and Westbrook are having arguably the best year of their careers. Westbrook currently has a career-high 29.7 player efficiency rating, which in fact he and Durant (28.6) combined have the highest total of any two players on the same team in the shot clock era. 

Westbrook has taken his game to new heights in his seventh season as he could become just the second player in NBA history to average 25 points, 9 assists, and 6.5 rebounds joining Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. He has also already recorded three triple-doubles this season pushing his career total to 22, which third-most among active players behind James (39) and Rajon Rondo (26).  

“Sometimes I just sit back and wonder what scouts are doing. Seriously.” Bryant said. “I played against this kid when he just showed up at UCLA, and he plays exactly the same way. He has a motor that never stops. He is a just a beast.”

Westbrook’s play this season more than anything proves that he belongs in the conversation as one of the top five players in the league. 

Sweet Lou lighting it up

Williams added to recent offensive tear putting together his best offensive performance of his career notching a career-high 44 points on Friday night against the Thunder.

He caught fire offensively in the second half scoring 30 points, in particular, the fourth quarter notching 23 points. He scored 17 of the Lakers’ first 19 points in the period to give them a 104-101 lead with just over four minutes left in the game. In total, he scored 23 of the team’s 32 points scored in the period. 

“I was proud of the way we played. I was proud of the way I played,” Williams said. This game is measured by wins and losses, not personal accomplishments. For us to be a young team and for me to play the way I did, we take some positives out of it.”

Williams stated that he has made a major adjustment to his game since his ACL injury in 2013 finding other ways to score, in particular, getting himself in much better position to draw fouls. The 28-year-old added that he put some of what he learned from Allen Iverson during his days with the Philadelphia 76ers. 

“I played with A.I. and he was king foul,” Williams said, who was a perfect 15-of-15 from the free throw line. “I was able to take the way he played from him and try to mix into the way I play.” 

The reigning Sixth Man of the Year’s ability to draw fouls has drawn much from Bryant, who stated he’s never seen another a player draw fouls in the fashion he does.

“Lou is absolutely exceptional at it,” Bryant said. “He can create contact from anything. He gets three or four those a game going left. It’s crazy.”

The recent uptick in production from Williams averaging 25.6 points in the five games played in January is definitely an encouraging sign as he’s been one of the stable offensive contributors in both of his roles on and off the bench. It will be interesting to see if he can continue this trend offensively.

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Bob Garcia IV

Staff Writer at Sports Out West
Bob Garcia IV is a sports journalist from Southern California. He's currently the Los Angeles Lakers beat writer for Sports Out West. He is also currently covering the NBA and NFL for ClutchPoints. He was previously the beat writer for LA Rams Report for Scout.com, which is a website dedicated to covering the Rams. Lastly, he was a reporter for the award-winning newspaper, The Daily Sundial, at California State University, Northridge. You can follow him on Twitter, @BGarciaivsports.


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