Led by Kobe Bryant's clutch shooting, the Los Angeles Lakers came back from a double-digit deficit Sunday to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in double overtime at Staples Center, 114-106.
Here are three lessons that we learned from the game:
1. Metta World Peace is Still Ron Artest
In the last month, Metta World Peace has played fantastic basketball for the Lakers, averaging 15.4 points a game, shooting 48% from the field, and looking like the player who more or less won Game 7 of the NBA finals for LA back in 2010.
In the first half of Sunday’s game, Metta World Peace was continuing his inspired play. The one-time defensive player of the year was making the game a struggle for Kevin Durant and forcing him into difficult shots. Moreover, he had 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals, one of which led to an emphatic slam that capped off a furious second-quarter Lakers rally.
Then, suddenly, shockingly, disturbingly – Metta World Peace momentarily ceased to exist, and Ron Artest was alive again.
In the midst of a celebratory chest-beating after his slam, World Peace, or Artest, rather, bumped into James Harden. He then viciously and inexplicably launched his right elbow into the side of Harden’s skull, rendering Harden helpless on the floor.
Serge Ibaka immediately confronted Artest, and the camera showed Artest with an animated look on his face saying, “What? What? What?” His fists were clenched at his waist, and he appeared to be positioning himself for a fight.
As this happened, ABC announcer Mike Breen said, “Oh no, Ron Artest squaring off with Serge Ibaka! Or, World Peace, I should say.” There was no mistake about it - it was a reflexive reaction by Breen. After all, he had been the announcer in the booth the night of the original melee that Artest had so infamously been a part of back in 2003. Breen voiced the thought on everyone’s mind : He’s back.
The replay was shown continuously for what felt like a half an hour before the game finally resumed. Regardless of whether Artest meant to clock him in the head or just bump him out of the way is irrelevant. He knew an OKC player was there, and like Artest has always been known to do, he got carried away in the heat of competition.
Lets face it: His name change was inevitably doomed to an avalanche of irony and cheap jokes from the beginning. After all, “World Peace,” was responsible for the NBA’s near-apocalypse in 2003, the infamous “The Malice at the Palace.”
Who knows what is really responsible for the way Metta World Peace, Ron Artest, number 37 -- whatever you want to call him -- acts. He seems to mean well, and he has an endearing personality off the court.
All we know now is that Ron Artest hasn’t been completely buried yet. For the Lakers, that’s not a comforting thought going into the playoffs.
2. Oklahoma City is Still Young and Vulnerable
Head Coach Scott Brooks’ motto for his team has been to never stop growing, and for a few years now the Thunder have been doing just that. They’ve been considered a work in progress and therefore have had the privilege of relatively low-expectations on the part of their fan base and the rest of the league. That’s always a comfortable position for any team, and it has undeniably helped them grow into the emerging powerhouse they became this year.
On some occasions, the Thunder have looked like the sure favorites to the reach the NBA Finals. At other times, not so much.
Today’s game in LA was one of those other times. They were up 79-62 going into the fourth quarter, and the Lakers looked dead. There was no life in Staples Center, the atmosphere seemingly deadened by the collective thought of “here we go again,” as the game was a carbon copy of the Lakers last blowout loss to Oklahoma City.
Then the Thunder relaxed. Slowly but surely, they let the Lakers creep back into the game. When the energy was back in the building and the momentum had shifted in LA’s favor, the Thunder started resorting to long jump shots -- a self-destructive tendency they have in pressure situations.
Instead of attacking the basket, Durant and Russell Westbrook started hurling contested three-pointers and long jump shots, trying to bail themselves out with home runs rather than base-hits.
Meanwhile, when Westbrook did try to attack late, he got out of control and seemingly flustered. In the two overtimes, he was playing hurried rather than playing quickly, ultimately leading to a bunch of unforced turnovers down the stretch.
3. The Lakers Bench May Be Deeper than We Thought
To say the Lakers bench has been bad this year is an understatement. On Sunday however, the bench was responsible for perhaps the Lakers best win of the season.
With the game all but over, and facing a seventeen-point deficit going into the fourth quarter, Mike Brown used a lineup consisting of three bench players: Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks, and the seldom seen Jordan Hill.
Those three players ended up providing the difference in the game for the Lakers. Steve Blake, who has been rarely productive for the team all year, hit two huge three pointers, back-to-back, cutting the Thunder lead down to five with just under four minutes left in the fourth quarter. He would later hit a contested three-pointer in the first overtime, effectively bailing the Lakers out of a bad possession.
Devin Ebanks did a very solid job defending Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter and the two overtimes, ably filling in for Metta World Peace. Finishing with 8 points and 5 rebounds, Ebanks made some critical, scrappy plays, including two steals in the second overtime that sealed the win for LA.
Lastly, Jordan Hill played fantastic in what was really the first chance he’s had all season to play some real minutes. Brought in for defensive purposes in the fourth quarter and overtime, Hill was able to help the Lakers tremendously in the paint on both ends of the floor. He finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots in 35 minutes of action.
The Lakers will need all the help they can get from their bench in the playoffs, and if today was any indication, they may be in luck.
By Max Rucker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald