Monday, April 19, 2010

Changing of the Guard - or Forward?

After a terrific and exhausting Day 1 of the NBA Playoffs on Saturday, on Sunday, I thought I would start a series that will document each game of the Western Conference first round series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Why? Because the Heat/Celtics Game 1 was too ugly and I know that series is going to be like a late-90's Heat/Knicks matchup.  Plus, during that game I was drinking in preparation for a Saturday Night out and Dwyane Wade's disappearance in the fourth quarter put me in a bad mood anyway.  He has to  bounce back in Game 2.

The second reason to follow the Thunder/Lakers matchup is because this series will  be the first good look that America will have at Kevin Durant, the third year, 21 year old scoring champion of the NBA this year (30.1 PPG).  What a better showcase for him than against the defending champion Lakers and Kobe Bryant, the former scorer champion and 2007-2008 NBA MVP.  Kobe still has a lot left in his tank and if not, then he knows all the tricks and makes all the shots that keep him as one of the top-5 dominating players in the league.  At this moment, this series may not have the look of a  "changing of the guard situation," but perhaps years from now we may be able to point to this series as a moment when Kobe began his fade from prominence in his career.  Who knows? That's why sports are terrific and why this series should be terrific. Now, to the play-by-play of Game 1:

- It's 3:00 PM and the game is about to start.  I am hoping for a serious Mavericks vs. Warriors situation here like in 2007.  That was during my Senior Week at collge.  All we did was drink beer, dread graduating, and rally around that damn entertaining Warriors team led by the Metaphysical Rapper, Baron Davis and "Captain Jack" Stephen Jackson.  I will never forget that time or that team.

- Montage of Durant on ABC.  Mark Jackson says that Durant, "loves the game of basketball."  Poetry.

- "The Thunder have the youngest starting lineup in the NBA." We will hear this line uttered literally one million times throughout this series.

- Thunder win the tip and Durant opens up with a smooth looking three-pointer, but he misses.

- Gasol comes back and nails a high arching hook over Jeff "Mr. Complimentary" Green.

- Bynum with a quick hook. 4-0 LAL (L.A. Lakers).

- Westbrook feeds to Durant. Durant misses easy layup.  Could the kid be nervous?

- Gasol misses a close lay-in.

-Artest is rocking a Rodman blonde dyejob.  I love him.  The Thunder can't get a shot off and commit a 24-second violation. The organ work in the Forum is phenomenal as we have "House of the Rising Sun"-> "Let's Go Lakers."

- Kristic with a nice offensive rebound and put-back. 4-2 LAL.

- Thabo Sefalosha drives and is fouled.  Earlier, Mike Breen pointed out that he is one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. I did not know that and I am glad that America knows that now.  Sefalosha makes both free throws.  4-4.

- Bynum drives, easy lay-in. 6-4 LAL.  Durant comes back and shoots a 3 that is off the mark.

- Artest with nice pivot work on Durant and makes a layup.  The Thunder can't covert and on the other end and then Kobe comes down and puts on an exhibition of pivot/post foot work.   He makes a tough layin around Westbrook and Green.  Durant answers with a smooth 15 footer.  10-6 LAL.

- After an LA miss, Kristic with a perfect outlet pass to Westbrook who dishes to Green for a lay-in. Very pretty transition offense.

- OKC loses a rebound opportunity.  Kobe grabs the lose ball and drives in for vintage baseline dunk. 12-8 LAL.

- Fischer with a drive and an easy-layin.  14-8 LAL.

- OKC is having a tough time making shots.  They are getting good and open looks at the basket, but they can't convert.  After an L.A. basket, the refs miss a Bynum forearm to Jeff Green's chest. "Jeff Green is smiling," Mike Breen tells us after the forearm.  And its true.

- Bynum with a huge block on Sefalosha at the other end that gets the crowd into it.

- Kristic breaks up a Lakers lob pass attempt.  Westbrook drives the ball down with lightning speed, misses the lay-up, but Durant follows and finishes.  The Thunder are impressive in transition.  I am liking the tone of the game already, both teams seem urgent and are acting like they need this game, which they both do.

- Out of a timeout, Odom with a nice lob pass to Gasol for an easy dunk.  The Lakers are so damn talented, if they turn it on in the Playoffs like the 2000-2001 year, that's it for everyone.

- The rookie out of Arizona State, James Harden, is in for OKC.  He misses a three.  Great metaphysical rapper beard, though - THE SPIRIT OF BARON DAVIS!

- Derek Fischer hits a big three to give the Lakers some swagger. 19-10 LAL. However, Durant answers with a beautiful looking three.  His shot is really breathtaking. But Fischer knocks down another three.  He is extremely annoying once the Playoffs arrive.  22-13 LAL.

- The Thunder miss a chance at an offensive rebound. LA brings the ball the other way and Artest nails a three.  25-13 LAL.  This could be getting away from the Thunder right now if they don't stay calm.

- Odom tries to get fancy with his dribbling, trips and falls.  I love Lamar, but I can't take him seriously anymore after marrying Chloe Kardashian (Khloe?).  I mean, her?

- Kobe hits a nice fadeaway.  I want to say a vintage MJ fadeaway, but I'll let Kobe have his own identity.  27-13 LAL.

- Green is blocked by Gasol in traffic.  OKC is really having shooting difficulties and they are making a lot of simple mistakes.  The Lakers look very sharp early but they are receiving the benefit of OKC's shooting woes.  We'll see how this develops.

Second Quarter

11:08 - Durant with a nice pass to Collison for a layup.  29-15 LAL.

11:22 - Durant gets open off a screen - 18 footer, swishes it. So smooth.

10:02 - Eric Maynor, the pride of VCU, makes a laser pass to Serge Ibaka, the pride of Congo (no, not Ernie Hudson). Ibaka handles the pass and puts away a dunk.  OKC is such a likable team. 29-19.

9:57 - Jeff Gundy is amazed that Avatar is already out on DVD.  So am I.

8:32 - Kobe passes on a three, makes a few nice hesitation moves, fakes, drives and gets fouled. Complete body control - kind of insane.

7:58 - You have to give it to Gasol, he is a smart, smart player.  He works on Ibaka in the post, draws the foul and then hits a tough shot for the three point play.

7:24 - Kobe rises over Jeff Green and nails a 3. 36-21 LAL.  The Lakers have too much firepower. Bynum blocks a Durant shot at the other end and then comes back with a forceful dunk that brings the crowd to its feet.  38-21 Lakers. They are focused and they are rolling.

6:31 - Durant drives and gets to the line for two shots.  Jeff Van Gundy shares a childhood story about dunking a nerf basketball on his brother's, Stan Van Gundy, head.  Meanwhile, Durant makes one of two free throws.

5:54 - Lakers defense is terrific, they are not letting OKC do anything in transition. However, Westbrook nails a pullup jumper.  38-24.

5:28 - Kobe dishes to Bynum. Two handed slam. No answer for Bynum on OKC.  Bynum was fouled and he makes the free throw for the three point play.

5:21 - Jeff Green answers with a three pointer. 41-27 LAL.  OKC is keeping that lead manageable.

4:18 - Green misses a three, but Durant grabs the loose ball, drives, makes a nice bounce pass to Westbrook along the baseline. Westbrook dishes to Kristic for a two-handed slam.  Very crisp. Jeff Van Gundy makes the comment that OKC is not panicking and still playing their game.  This is very true and not often a trait of the youngest team in basketball. 41-29 LAL.

3:14 - OKC loses the ball again.  The Lakers have been knocking the ball loose every other time down the floor. Durant is 4 of 12 from the field.  And just as I write that, he makes a good looking 18 foot jump shot.

2:05 - Jason Bateman is in the crowd.  He looks great.  He never ages. 

-Conveniently, they show Chloe Kardashian right after him.  Her?

- Westbrook drives the ball down, draws contact and makes a jumper.  45-33 LAL. He follows that up with another transition drive and makes a pretty lay-in, plus the foul.  He makes the And 1.  45-35 LAL.

- OKC is picking up some steam as the half is coming to a close.  They force a 24-second violation on the Lakers.  Westbrook drives again and nails a pullup.  He has come alive.  45-37 LAL.  However, Gasol comes right back and dunks off a Shannon Brown feed.  But Westbrook is down the court immediately and has another lightning fast layup.  He is insanely fast.

- Lakes have the last shot, but Fischer mises a long 3.  OKC has fought back despite their bad shooting and only trail 47-39 at the half.

Third Quarter

11:43 -Westbrook takes over from where he left off and makes a layup. Gasol answers with a smooth 16 footer. 49-41.  OKC moves away from giving the ball to Westbrook or Durant and are hesitant to shoot, which leads to a 24-second violation.

- Bryant backs down Sefalosha and makes a nice pass to Bynum underneath.  Bynum is fouled and misses both free throws.

9:51 - Bynum continues his domination and makes a layup, however, Gasol interfered and the basket doesn't count.

9:15 - Durant picks up a loose ball and takes it in for a layup, but Kobe gets insane air and blocks the shot! Who knew he could still do that?

8:00 - OKC is still having their shooting troubles.  Artest puts back at Bynum miss and the Lakers go up 52-42.  Jeff Van Gundy calls out Durant's box-out skills.

-The new KFC Chicken Sandwich commercial makes 30 Rock come to real life.  Meat is the new bread.  The insanity is spreading and it is disconcerting.

7:16 - Green misses a wide open 15 footer.  OKC is just missing shots left and right. Green gets another look at a wide open 3. Misses.

5:54 - Westbrook with another lightning fast layup.  He is the key to the game and the series.  He can blow away Fischer, Farmar and Brown if they try to guard him.

5:37 - Gasol with a sweet shot. Ho hum.  55-44 LAL.

5:03 - Westbrook again. He pushes the ball in transition and makes a floater.  He can do it every time.  55-46 LAL.

* Who is the guy that sits next to Jack Nicholson at courtside at all the Laker games?  He wears shades and has a long white beard and hair? Anybody?

4:00 - Gasol knocks down a 12 footer.  57-46 LAL.  Gasol has 15 points and 12 rebounds.  He just does it every night. As goofy as he is, I am glad he got the attention he deserved in L.A.

3:40 - Durant misses a jumper.  He has been off his game in the second half.

3:03 - Westbrook drives again.  He makes the layup and gets fouled.  Makes the And 1.  58-49. LAL. Shannon Brown comes right back and makes a 20 footer.

2:30 - Ibaka makes a lay-in. 60-51.  Offensive foul on Kobe.  OKC doesn't take advantage as Harden makes a bad jump pass to bail himself out of trouble and Durant has to step out of bounds to catch it.

1:23 - Ibaka with a tough rebound and Durant makes a 10 footer for OKC.  60-53 LAL.

53.4 -Odom makes a nice banking runner.

43.3 - Durant draws a 4th foul on Artest by swinging his long arms from the triple threat position when Artest presses up against him.  Let that be a lesson, young NBA fans, if you are freakishly tall and long, always swing your arms out from the triple threat when your man plays you close.  Durant makes one of two free throws. 62-54.

5.8 - Collison with a nice save from out of bounds.  Durant gets the ball, drives, almost makes a running bank, but is fouled.  He makes both.  62-56. However, he makes a mistake at the other end and fouls Odom as he drives.  Odom makes both free throws.  64-56 after three.

Fourth Quarter

11:44 - Maynor opens with a jumper for OKC.  64-58 LAL.

11:26 - Farmar comes back and matches with a baseline jumper.  66-58 LAL.

10:26 - Great defense by OKC causing a shot clock violation against the Lakers.  This is what a team making a run in the playoffs has to do.

9:50 - Farmar makes a huge three to put the Lakers up 69-58.  In my book, Farmar has officially reached the level of noticeably annoying.

9:27 - Green passes up a three and makes a nice driving lay-in.  69-60 LAL.

9:02 - OKC misses another opportunity to grab a rebound and Bynum dunks the ball.  OKC will not win this game that keeps happening, they need to seize every rebound opportunity they have.  They will also not win with yet another 24-second violation. That is the third of the game.  Durant enters the game.  Westbrook or Durant should be shooting every possession from here on in.

8:03 - Durant forces a three and airballs it.  However, he is able to come back and draw the foul on Shannon Brown on the next possesssion.

7:36 - Green nails an 18 footer from the baseline. 71-62 LAL.

7:18 - Kobe draws a clear shooting foul on Jeff Green by rising through Green's outstretched hand.  Kobe misses both free throws however.  OKC needs to take advantage.

7:03 - Artest ties up Durant.  Van Halen's "Jump" immediately blasts.  They should really make a "Jump" parody.  It would be the simplest parody of all time - "Don't Jump."  OKC gets the tip and Westbrook misses a long jumper.  Collison with a nice offensive rebound, he feeds the ball to Durant. Durant drives and is fouled.  He makes both free throws 71-64.

6:31 - Kobe makes a three.  Green was playing perfect defense, Kobe just make ridiculous shots sometimes.

6:14 - Durant tries to answer.  Misses.

5:37 - Durant gets an open 16 footer and drains it.  74-66 LAL.

5:25 - Odom comes back with a three.  The Lakers have too many weapons, too many people who will makes shots.  Westbrook and Durant will have to answer.  It would be helpful if Green had made a few more shots earlier in the game, but he has had a relatively quiet game.

4:54 - Durant feeds Collison who makes the layup and gets fouled.  Collison just does what he has to do.  Good role player for this team, mainly a winner in college.  He makes the three point play.  KU CLASS OF 2003 PRIDE!  78-69 LAL.

4:36 - Kobe goes Jordan with a fadeaway, but misses.  He then fouls Westbrook.  Lakers are in the penalty now.  This is huge for OKC.  Westbrook sinks both free throws.  77-71.

4:02 - Kobe makes a difficult bank shot. 79-71. I feel like people have started calling Kobe "the best closer in the game" after the closer became a big hit on TNT and TNT is one of the main networks that airs the NBA.  Something strange.

3:31 - Westbrook drives and misses the shot.  He gets the rebound (impressive rebounding all game) and passes to Durant.  Duran drives and gets a bailout foul.  79-73.

3:15 - Kobe misses a shot.  OKC comes back the other way and Durant forces a shot. The game definitely has high-playoff level intensity.

2:35 - Westbrook gets a tough foul call on a clean block on Gasol.  Gasol makes both free throws. 81-73.

2:20 - Durant misses another shot.  He is just having a tough day and a tough playoff debut.

1:40 - Ibaka gets bailed out by the refs on a sloppy play as they call a foul on Odom.  Ibaka makes one of two free throws.  81-74.

1:30 - Fischer comes back and nails a three.  Classic Derek Fischer.  You just want him to disappear (personal trials and being a good guy notwithstanding) but he continues to make big shots in the playoffs just when you count him out. 84-74 LAL.

1:23 - Green draws the fifth foul on Kobe.  He makes one of two free throws.  Too many missed free throws. 84-75

54.6 - OKC comes down the court and Westbrook finds Durant for a dunk. 84-77 LAL. Offensive foul on Odom going the other way.  Odom fouls out.

34.8 - OKC gets an open look for a 3 from Green, but he makes a mental mistake and travels.  That's to be expected from a young team, but it happened at the worst time. OKC will have to play the foul game now.  They foul Gasol who makes two free throws.  86-77.

23.5 - Durant rims out a long three.  Gasol blocks Collison's followup.  The Laker defense has really been the key all day.  They were determined to play tough.  Westbrook makes a tough bank shot.  86-79.

17.3 - Kobe is fouled and makes one of two free throws.  OKC comes back.  Harden misses a three.  Story of the day for OKC, they just could not make baskets.  The Lakers close out the game and take game one.

It was a tight first game.  The Thunder showed resiliancy in taking the early punches from the Lakers and still managing to stay in the game and play the Lakers tough.   However, the Lakers came to play, they played great defense and showed a level of focus people had been doubting in them for most of the season.  I expect Oklahoma City to come back on Tuesday and play the Lakers even tougher.  They also played great defense and Westbrook was unstoppable at times.  The Lakers will scheme to slow him down, but I don't know if they can do that and contain Durant.  If Oklahoma City can make even some of the open shots they missed, they will have a good chance.  They need to let Westbrook come out fast and strong and try to kick it to Jeff Green on the wing to get him involved earlier.  That will allow the openings to come to Durant.  We'll see how it plays out.  I think it is going to be a close series and I will be documenting it here.

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