Fast Breaks: L.A.-OKC, Game 3
Kevin Durant fought his way to the free throw line a game-high 13 times
The Lakers' lack of aggression was reflected in a 34-12 disparity in free throws
James Harden came alive in Game 3, knocking down three key three-pointers
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- More than 18,000 fans packed the Ford Center for the Thunder's playoff debut and supported the home team with ear splitting noise that reached 109 decibels. Yes, playoff basketball is a success in Oklahoma City. And there could be more of it, as the Thunder climbed back into their first round series with a gritty 101-96 win Thursday.
Big players make big plays. And Kevin Durant made a lot of them With the Lakers feeding Durant a steady diet of Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant, who bumped Durant on the perimeter and funneled him towards the big men on the baseline, Durant struggled to develop a rhythm offensively, finishing 8-for-24. But he compensated by ripping down 19 rebounds, fighting his way to the free throw line a game-high 13 times and locking down Bryant defensively in the fourth quarter. The Lakers swarming defense may keep Durant's field goal percentage down for the rest of the series but his ability to make the kind of plays he did in Game 3 are invaluable assets.
The Lakers stopped attacking. L.A. has an enormous size advantage with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on the low blocks but they inexplicably elected to try and jump shoot the Thunder out of the game. They attempted a series-high 31 three-pointers (making 10 of them) and their lack of aggression was reflected in a 34-12 disparity in free-throw attempts (including an astounding zero attempts by Bryant). Even Phil Jackson, who was fined $35,000 earlier this week for criticizing the officials, couldn't pin the blame on the refs; Jackson admitted afterwards the Thunder earned their trips to the line and his team didn't. LA is too big for the likes of Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison to handle down low. It's an advantage they need to take advantage of more in Game 4.
James Harden woke up. Durant called Harden "the difference in the game," and it's hard to argue. After failing to post a point in either of the first two games, Harden came alive in Game 3, knocking down three key three-pointers and finishing with 18 points in 32 minutes. Harden's shooting has been a big part of the Thunder's success this season; it opens up lanes for Durant and Westbrook and gives defenses another threat to worry about. Before the game Scott Brooks talked about Harden's reduced minutes as a reason for his early struggles. Don't expect a lack of playing time to be a problem for the rest of the series.
Russell Westbrook might be a better offensive option than Durant this series. For the third straight game L.A. had no answer for Westbrook (27 points, eight rebounds, four assists), who didn't dart so much as he exploded past every defender L.A. put in front of him. With so much attention being paid to Durant, it would behoove the Thunder to feature Westbrook more often. Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown just aren't quick enough to stay in front of Westbrook off the dribble and his physique (think middle linebacker) makes it virtually impossible to keep his shots off the rim.
The Commish strikes back. David Stern was wrapping up a fairly benign press conference when he was asked about recent criticisms coaches have been levying at referees. A visibly irritated Stern didn't hold back.
"I wish I had it to do all over again, and starting 20 years ago, I'd be suspending Phil [Jackson] and Pat Riley for all the games they play in the media," said Stern. "Because you guys know that our referees go out there and they knock themselves out and do the best job they can. We have coaches who will do whatever it takes to try to work them publicly.
"What that does is erode fan confidence, and then we get some of the situations that we have. So, our coaches should be quiet because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families, and if they don't like, they should go get a job someplace else."
Stern singled out Jackson and Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy for their attacks on officials.
"It's corrosive," Stern said. "It's corrosive, and because of the pressure cooker that is the NBA playoffs, over the years I've let it go, but when you hear a Chicago coach say, 'Oh, they're doing it because' or, 'This game was lost because NBC wants an extra game,' and you hear a New York coach say, 'Well, what are you going to do? [Michael] Jordan gets all the calls.' Or you hear a Stan Van Gundy do what he wants to say and then the players join in."
Stern finished his diatribe with a warning that if the attacks don't stop, the punishments could become more severe.
"If someone wants to try me in the rest of these playoffs, you know, make my day because the game is too important and I don't think that the people who trash it are respecting it and we'll do what we have to do -- to players and coaches alike. If I had to do it again, I would stop it and the price wouldn't be a modest $35,000 fine. It would be whatever a day's pay is and then two days pay and then a week's pay."
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