Prior to the start of Sunday's Lakers playoff opener at STAPLES Center, I checked the weather forecast. It called for bright and sunny skies, with highs in the upper 70's. Yet, throughout the game a discernable sound, reminiscent of thunder, could be heard. Not surprising, since the team the Lakers were pitted against were the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder entered the playoffs, winners of 50 games, after finishing with just 23 victories last season. That marked the sixth biggest turnaround in NBA history.
One thing to bear in mind is that this match-up between an 8th seed and a 1st seed reminds us that only three eighth-seeded teams have upset a #1 seeded team in NBA playoff history: Denver over Seattle in 1994, New York over Miami in 1999, and Golden State over Dallas in 2007.
The first quarter of the series opener started out well for the Lakers in several ways. First, OKC started out shooting 1-7 (14%) from the field in the first 4:43, while the Lakers went 5-9 (56%). League Scoring Champ Kevin Durant began the game 0-4, not hitting his first shot until the 7:03 mark of the quarter.
The Lakers closed the opening quarter on a 13-3 run, enabling them to build a 27-13 to start the second quarter. The Thunder shot 5-19 in the opening frame, while the Lakers went 12-22. From 3-point range, the Lakers shot an impressive 3-6, while the Thunder went 1-5.
And the first quarter was the Lakers best, as they were never to outscore the Thunder in any of the final three quarters.
Here's a look at some of the more interesting stats from the rest of the game:
Ron Artest proved to be the defensive nemesis for Durant throughout the game. Even though scoring a game high 24 points, Durant shot a dismal 7-24 from the field and 1-8 from 3-point range.
Here's a detailed look at Durant's numbers when he was guarded by Artest, as opposed to when he was guarded by other Lakers:
vs. rest of Lakers
Lamar Odom, who returned to his customary role coming off the bench; did not score his first points until there was just 53.4 seconds remaining in the third quarter. He finished with 7 points and 6 rebounds, before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Russell Westbrook, who started out 0-2 for OKC, caught fire and proceeded to go 10-14 the rest of the way to finish with 23 points.
The Lakers bench, which had just 2 points at the half, finished the game with 16 points on 6-12 shooting and 2-3 from '3'.
The Thunder had a potent fast break, outscoring the Lakers 14-2 in fast break points.
Andrew Bynum marked his return to the Laker lineup by scoring 13 points on 6-10 shooting, snaring 12 rebounds (of which 9 came on the defensive end which established a playoff career high), and tied his career high in blocks with 4. He was a dominant physical presence, which is what the Lakers had been lacking since he had been out with a strained Achilles.
The Lakers had a pronounced edge over the Thunder in 3-point shooting. The Lakers went 8-22, while the visitors finished a paltry 2-16. That's an 18 point swing. The Lakers went 4-6 from beyond the arc in the final quarter alone, while the Thunder went 0-4.
The Lakers helped themselves defensively by getting 9 blocks (led by Bynum's 4). The Thunder had 3 blocks.
Although the Lakers generated just 14 assists off their 32 field goals, it should be pointed out that they were able to generate more from their inside game, especially in the opening quarter when they outscored Oklahoma City 14-6 on points in the paint, while shooting 7-11 from inside.
A solid effort from forward Pau Gasol, who finished with 19 points (on 7-14 shooting), 13 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 assists. What is particularly disturbing is that Gasol had 10 shots at the half, but just 4 in the second half. His teammates and coaches need to find a way to get him more shots, especially when Artest and Derek Fisher are not hitting theirs.
Kobe Bryant finished with 21 points, but had another poor shooting performance. He went 6-19 from the field and 7-12 from the free throw line. There is no question that his broken finger is not allowing him to get the proper grip and rotation on the ball.
Guard Derek Fisher, who hit a clutch '3' in the fourth quarter, finished with 11 points on 4-12 from the field (3-6 from 3-point range). However, he was a defensive liability, not being able to keep up with the younger and quicker Russell Westbrook.
With the victory, the Lakers now have the all-time best home playoff record percentage. Their record in home playoff games is: 270-88 with a winning percentage of 75.41% They surpassed the Chicago Bulls, who now reside in second with a mark of 75.35%
Here is what could be an ominous warning going into Tuesday's Game 2: Kevin Durant led the league in scoring average this season, but did you know that Durant also led the league during the regular season in scoring average in games played on TWO DAYS REST? He averaged 29.7 points in the 13 games that the Thunder played on two days rest.
And the weather forecast for Tuesday outside STAPLES Center calls for rain. Perhaps the Lakers should be somewhat concerned about a weather condition which sometimes accompanies rain--THUNDER.