But it was all downhill from there for the Los Angeles Lakers. With typically strong nights from their All-Star duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and better ball handling, Oklahoma City ran the Lakers out of the gym with a 119-90 win — or a right hook to the jaw of an already wounded foe.
After an eight-day break following their first-round sweep of the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, the Thunder needed no time to regain their form. Meantime the Lakers looked spent after going a full seven games against Denver.
And as for that World Peace-James Harden matchup? The Thunder got the better end of that one, too, as Harden scored 17 points — nine coming from the free throw line — to World Peace’s 12 despite playing eight fewer minutes.
But while Durant (25 points, 8 rebounds) and Westbrook (27 points, 9 assists) were on their games, the most striking number on Oklahoma City’s stat sheet was 4 — the number of turnovers they committed after averaging more than 16 during the regular season.
“I think that’s huge,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Four — we’ve had that in the first six minutes of games at times.”
Westbrook’s 9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio was particularly encouraging for a player who averaged 3.3 giveaways in the regular season.
“I just feel a little more experienced,” Westbrook told The Oklahoman. “I feel a lot more comfortable. My teammates do a great job of getting me open and getting me to the spots where I can be effective.”
Despite the lop-sided loss, the Lakers have shown a propensity for short-term memory loss this postseason. They trailed by as many as 28 points in their Game 6 loss to the Nuggets but rallied late to take Game 7. After the Game 6 defeat, Kobe Bryant called out his teammates for a lack of effort and toughness.
“I’ve seen both sides of that equation and my experience has taught me just to be patient and to think the game through,” Bryant said after Monday’s loss. “We can come up with a different strategy and we can do a much better job and have a much better showing in the next game.”
But can the Lakers do enough to win the series? Or is this Thunder team simply too good not to return to the Western Conference finals?