By Michael Kinney
Oklahoma City has too many talented players on its roster to accept moral victories. Even when facing the best team in the league (record-wise), they do not feel they can settle for just playing a team tough.
However, in two games against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Los Angeles Lakers this week, the Thunder took them to the brink of defeat before falling sort.
The latest matchup came Friday night in Oklahoma City. Once again, the Thunder had their chances to steal the victory in the final seconds, but the star-studded Lakers held on for the 130-127 win at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I wouldn’t do anything differently,” Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson said. “We were moving the ball, sharing the ball, making the right plays, hitting open shots, finding the right man. We were playing good basketball, like I said, when we came back. It just wasn’t enough.”
With 2:26 left in the game, the Lakers led 122-121. Los Angeles forward Anthony Davis was fouled by Steven Adams while hitting a 3-pointer from the corner. The free throw gave L.A. a five point advantage.
Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander cut the lead down to 126-123 with a midrange jumper with 1:44 left in the contest. The Thunder got the ball back and had a chance to tie the game or get the score to within one, but Thunder guard Ferguson turned the ball over trying to get a pass to Danilo Gallinari in the post.
The two teams went scoreless for more than a minute and half. It wasn’t until Chris Paul converted a finger roll layup with 11.8 seconds that Oklahoma City was able to cut the deficit to 126-125.
The Thunder had to foul at that point and sent Davis to the free throw line twice. He responded by making all four attempts to keep L.A (13-2) ahead by three.
“It’s something I work on all the time and I put a lot of pressure on myself to make free throws,” Davis said. “I worked at it a lot on putting myself at the line for situations like that and so just going up there and know your routine. Just going up there and being poised, having confidence in your shot.”
Oklahoma City’s last attempt to get the ball down court to set up a game-tying shot turned into a turnover when Gallinari’s pass was stolen by James to end the night.
Davis led all scorers with 33 points. he also grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out seven assists and was 11 for 11 from the foul line.
James added 23 points, six rebounds and 14 assists. Kentavious Caldwell-Pop added 17 points.
“For me it’s just kind of read and react,” James said of playing with Davis. “We both play off one another. You know AD has the ability to pop, he has the ability to roll and it’s my job to put the ball on time and on target no matter what he does.”
Gilgeous-Alexander paced Oklahoma City with 24 points on 10 of 18 shooting. Adams posted 22 points but was held to only six boards. Paul chipped in with 18 points and seven assists.
“I think he has had to battle some different things, injury-wise, that has kind of maybe set him back a little bit, but I think he’s getting healthier and healthier, and it was good to see him go out and play the way he did today,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said of Adams. “I thought he did a lot of good things on both ends of the floor for us and was a factor and a force out there.”
Playing without Nerlens Noel (sick), the Thunder (5-10) lost the rebound battle 45-37 and hit seven fewer 3-pointers than the Lakers. Yet, they were in the game until the buzzer.
“I think they made it an emphasis coming out of the half trying to get up the court faster,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “They are at their best when they play that way. I think they just tried to do so a little bit more in that third quarter.”
Oklahoma City got off to a strong start to the night. Behind 15 points from the bench, the Thunder trailed 34-33 after one quarter of action.
Darius Bazely and Hamidou Diallo and was particularly aggressive on the offensive end for Oklahoma City. They were able to use their athletic ability to get to the basket for easy dunks.
That all changed in the third quarter. The Lakers came out of the locker room looking like the team with the best record in the league.
James and Davis spearheaded the L.A. charge. Using a 13-1 run the Lakers raced out to a 94-79 advantage midway through the quarter.
However, the Thunder would go away. They clawed back to get within three at 106-103 heading into the fourth quarter.
In the final stanza, things got testy. Lakers guard Rajon Rondo was ejected after being called for kneeing Dennis Schroder in the groin. It was his second technical.
A few minutes later, Diallo had to be helped off the floor after injuring his left arm guarding James on a drive to the basket.
“You find a way to win no matter what the game is,” James said. “This is a very good team at home. They struggled on the road a little bit, but we knew we were going to get their best punch, especially after just playing them on Tuesday in L.A. So anytime you play a team in back-to-back situation in the same week, you know you’re going to get their best punch. And we got that, and we still were able to get the win.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider