Festival of ‘Brook’s: Lakers’ development is arrested, as Westbrook loosens collar, Durant handcuffs Kobe, and OKC refuses to drop charges
“Westbrook is a STUD!”
“A Star is Born!”
Those were just two of the accolades being heaped on former UCLA star Russell Westbrook last night, after he and fellow Thunder phenom Kevin Durant led 8th-seed Oklahoma City to their first-ever Playoff victory. Westbrook and Durant combined for 56 Points, as the Thunder once again charged back, and then held on, to beat the Lakers 101-96 and cut their Series lead in half, to 2-1.
It was the first Postseason game ever to be played in Oklahoma City, aka “Loud City,” and the sold-out crowd was pumped. They were all wearing blue t-shirts, and their “tradition” is that they all stay standing on their feet until the Thunder scores. And on this night, they needed comfortable shoes. OKC came out tight and overamped, missing everything and turning the ball over 3 times in 4 trips, as the Lakers stormed out to a 10-0 lead. OKC stars Westbrook and Durant both started out cold, with Russell missing his first 3 shots, and Durant missing his first 7.
But even with OKC’s dynamic duo ice cold, the Lakers couldn’t pull away by more than a dozen Points. Then the Thunder settled down, with a key bench player carrying them early — None other than James Harden from Arizona State. Harden hadn’t scored in either of the first two games, but suddenly caught fire and scored 15 of his 18 Points in the 1st Half, which ended with the Lakers up by 7. Westbrook had 10 in the 1st Half, but without Harden’s scoring punch in the 2nd Half, and with Durant struggling mightily with his shot, Westbrook stepped it up. Russell scored 27 for the game, with 8 Rebounds and 4 Assists. He continuously drove around Derek Fisher (and Jordan Farmar too), getting to the hoop for highlight-reel finishes. He also has mastered the off-balance pull-up jumper. But in this game, he even hit a huge THREE-POINTER, that put the Thunder up by 8 with 3 minutes left, and he followed that with an old-fashioned three-point play, which made the lead 5 with 1:47 to go. Westbrook and Durant scored 22 of the last 23 Points for OKC.
Even though Durant shot only 8-for-24 from the floor and 1-for-6 from behind the arc, he found other ways to turn the game in their favor. In a game where Kobe did not attempt one single Free Throw, Durant got to the Stripe 13 times, and he made 12, including 4 out of 4 in the final minute, as the Lakers futilely tried to claw back. Durant also pulled down a career-high 19 Rebounds to go with his 29 Points, as the Thunder out-Boarded the Lakers — for the first time in the Series — 53-39. But possibly Durant’s biggest contribution was his 4th quarter Defense on Kobe. The NBA’s newly-annointed Coach of the Year Scott Brooks decided to make a Defensive switch, putting Durant on Bryant, and Kobe said the move surprised him. It also flustered and stymied him. Kobe went 2-10 in the 4th, as he kept forcing long Three’s instead of driving. There is a REASON why he didn’t shoot any Free Throws — He almost never drove into traffic. It was an extremely passive performance, especially considering that he was not “in the zone” from the perimeter. And with 5:24 left, Durant blocked a Kobe shot, then scored back-to-back buckets himself to put the Thunder up by 8, and set up Westbrook’s consecutive three-point shot/play.
Despite the heroics of Westbrook and Durant, the Lakers still had a sliver of hope with 7 seconds left, down 100-96, until an unsure-of-himself Farmar missed a Trey. The Lakers got the Rebound, but missed another Three with 2 seconds left, and History was made in Oklahoma.
It sures seems like an “UPSET” when a #8 beats a #1, but technically, this was NOT an upset, as the Thunder was actually FAVORED to win the game by 2 Points. Obviously, the frenzied, Playoff-virgin Home fans were expected to make a difference, AND, there is no stronger motivation than looking at a death knell 0-3 Series deficit. The Lakers will be much more URGENT in Game 4, and Kobe will get to the Free Throw Line, guaranteed. The Lakers might even be favored for that one. Now all they need to do is find someone who can defend Russell Westbrook.
The 1st Round of the NFL Draft was held last night, and no Bruins or trojans got selected. Hard to believe that NO ONE from Pom Pom’s squad was deemed worthy, when he always seemed to get one of the Country’s top recruiting classes. The trojans have three guys near the top of the “Best Available” list, which means there are three very disappointed trojans out there tonight. Joining them is UCLA’s Brian Price, who is right there with them on the list, but was really not expected by the experts recently, to go on Day 1, so the humble Bruin’s disappointment is probably not as palpable as that of the cocky guys like Taylor Mays from across town.
The Draft has been televised for over 30 years, but this was the first time it was in Prime Time. And in my opinion, they need to fix two things: First of all, you should find out who is picked by the actual announcement, NOT by seeing a prospect in the audience get a cell phone call! It made the Commisioner’s announcements ridiculously anti-climactic. Secondly, the “Best Available” List should be built on a consensus of experts, as opposed to being from the imagination of just one guy. I understand that Mel Kiper is considered the Guru of the Draft, but he is not psychic, so it seems that it would be more logical to base the list on a panel of experts who had more diverse knowledge and connections.
Not even a panel of psychics could have predicted the Round’s ONE biggest surprise: Denver took a chance on Tim Tebow, with the 25th pick. The Broncos already have Quarterback Kyle Orton, and had just acquired former Irish QB Brady Quinn, so it’s possible that they will design some Wildcat plays for Tebow to run, so that he can see the field before he retires.
Tebow got a huge amount of media attention, but it made sense, since his selection was unexpected. But my favorite part of his post-selection interview: Shockingly, he did NOT thank God. He was thankful, and sounded dedicated to doing whatever it takes to succeed, and even said twice that he felt blessed, but that’s as religious as it got… thank God! And the only reason that he repeated his blessedness, was that the braindead interviewer asked him about four questions in a row, that all called for the exact same answer. It was something like: Why did they pick you, what do they expect from you, what did you tell them you will do, and what do you think will happen? And the answer all four times? A combination of: I’ll work hard, I’ll do whatever they ask, I’m blessed to get picked. The perils of Live TV, and unqualified interviewers. Like I said, it wasn’t Tebow’s fault.
And just in case you care, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was the first pick, by St. Louis, then Suh from Nebraska, then two more from Oklahoma, so it was a Big 12 Sweep: Sooner, Husker, Sooner, Sooner… and the Sooners didn’t even have a good year. But Oklahoma had a good night, with 3 top NFL picks, and their first NBA Playoff win.