The Oklahoma City Thunder exposed plenty against the Las Angeles Lakers Monday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in downtown Oklahoma City.
The Lakers are old, they are slow and they are above all, tired.
However, the one thing Oklahoma City exposed has nothing to do with how many more game the Lakers have played than the Thunder. It has nothing to do with Kobe Bryant’s age or the cohesiveness between Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
The Lakers just flat out can’t guard the Thunder.
Bryant was asked after Game 1 if his team is able to guard the Thunder and he sarcastically responded, “No.”
Obviously, Bryant thinks that his team can find a way to stop Oklahoma City’s attack. He wouldn’t have five rings if he couldn’t recognize a challenge staring him straight in the face. However, somewhere behind Bryant’s sarcasm there was a shred of truth to his answer, whether he actually believes it or not.
Now that the Lakers have Metta World Peace back from a seven-game suspension, they have two above-average defensive players in their starting lineup. Bryant and Peace are tough matchups for anybody, even Oklahoma City’s superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The problem the Lakers face though is the fact that James Harden, the Thunder’s sixth man, can do as much damage as both Durant and Westbrook, sometimes more.
Harden scored 17 points in just over 24 minutes in game one. He hit nine of 10 free throws, proving there wasn’t a Laker on the court that could stop him from getting to the rack.
“James (Harden) obviously played a very good game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Our offense was good and we didn’t turn the ball over. That’s been a problem most of the season and the last series we did a good job of taking care of that and we did it again tonight.”
Oklahoma City’s three superstars combined for 69 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists and no Thunder player played more than 28 minutes.
Westbrook had one of his most efficient games of the season with 27 points on 10-15 shooting with nine assists, seven rebounds and one turnover. He looked more like a point guard than a scorer all while being manned by one of the greatest perimeter defenders in NBA history.
When Westbrook fills up a box score like he did Monday, there aren’t too many teams that stand a chance. And if you’re a team that only has two above-average perimeter defenders like the Lakers, it’s going to be a long night.
World Peace did a solid job defending Durant for most of the game. Durant finished with 25 points and eight rebounds. He shot 50% from the field, but only attempted eight free throws. The Thunder shot 53% from the field as a team.
If the Lakers have any chance of getting back into this series they will have to scramble like Tiger Woods in his prime. They have no chance if they only defend two of the Thunder’s three-man attack.