LOS ANGELES — New year, same problems finishing games for the Los Angeles Lakers (21-17) who continued their closing woes with a 107-100 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder (24-13) on Jan. 2.
Nonetheless, the No. 3 seeded Thunder took a 90-85 advantage with under seven minutes left and the Lakers couldn’t recover. L.A. scored only 18 points in the fourth despite scoring more than 25 in the first three quarters.
Every time Paul George touched the ball or had his name called, the Staples Center crowd echoed boos. That didn’t stop the Palmdale-native from having an answer every time the Lakers seemed to have some momentum.
George led the Thunder in scoring with 37 points on 15-of-27 shooting including 17 points on 8-for-15 shooting and two steals in the first half.
Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said George was great despite starting the night slow with two first quarter fouls. However, he did not want to give the Lakers or crowd credit for giving his All-Star extra motivation in the first emotional game since PG13 re-signed with the Thunder in the offseason.
“I feel like every game to him is important so I don’t want to say that he was extra amped for this game. ” Donovan said after the game.
George’s night was capped off by a one handed slam that gave the Thunder a 103-92 lead over the Lakers with two minutes left.
That same play gave Russell Westbrook his triple-double too. Westbrook finished with 14 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. However, he went 3-for-20 from the field versus his hometown team.
“Scoring’s just a part of my game.” Westbrook said after his scoring struggles in the victory. “I do everything, so on nights like that I’m able to impact the game in other ways.”
As for the Lakers, head coach Luke Walton was proud of his team’s effort and competitiveness as they played a good team and dealing with injuries. He did say they need to work on cleaning up fourth quarters.
“…We got to continue to trust.” Walton said after the game. “Trust in the pass and trust in each other no matter what down the stretch.”
There were seven lead changes and 11 ties when the Lakers led 82-76 entering the fourth quarter. However, they struggled on offense in the fourth with veterans LeBron James (left groin strain) and Rajon Rondo (ring finger surgery) both out.
Off the bench for the Lakers, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope injected a needed offensive spark throughout the game. Caldwell-Pope shot 43 percent from the field and scored 25 points in 34 minutes. KCP finished the first half with 18 points on 4-of-7 shooting including nine points in the first half.
“One go down, next man up.” Caldwell-Pope said about adjusting to injuries after the game. “We got to be ready, prepared and just bring it.”
This was KCP’s second consecutive game stepping up with five three pointers including. Caldwell-Pope scored a season high 26 points in the 121-114 win over the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 30. That was the most by a Lakers reserve this season.
JaVale McGee was also stepped-up for the Lakers early. McGee had 11 points and 6 rebounds in the first half and completed the game with 15 points and 8 rebounds.
“There’s no pressure,” McGee said keeping pace in the Western Conference. “We know what we have, we know we have great players.”
McGee also had a couple of blocks in the first quarter. He gave the Lakers their first lead with a dunk and and-one over Abdel Nader early in the second.
The offensive struggles were even worse for Lonzo Ball who finished with only 3 points on four attempts.
Kyle Kuzma only played 16 minutes because he suffered a back contusion in the first half and didn’t return. Kuzma averaged 22.2 points, 7 rebounds and 3.6 assists through 15 games in December so his presence was missed.
For the Thunder, Sam Adams had an impressive 11 points, 3 assists and 9 rebounds at the half. He finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds. Jerami Grant finished in double figures too with 13 points and 6 rebounds.
The Lakers’ loss versus the Thunder was the first game of the season series. These two teams will play again Jan. 17 at Staples Center and again in OKC on April 2.
As for the standings, the Lakers started the night as the seventh seed in the Western Conference with the same 21-16 record as the sixth seeded Clippers. They were also just one game above the 8th seeded Spurs.
Next, the Lakers will face the New York Knicks at home on Jan. 4 at 7:30 P.M. PST.