If the Lakers do the unthinkable, if they fail to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in their first-round playoff series, will it be the biggest postseason upset in NBA history? Eighth-seeded teams have beaten top-seeded teams in the past, but the Lakers also are the defending champions, a team that’s made consecutive trips to the Finals. The Thunder are a team with almost zero playoff experience. The series is deadlocked at 2-all.
OKLAHOMA CITY — It got so bad for the Lakers tonight in Game 4 that Kobe Bryant left the bench and returned to the locker room for a massage long before the final buzzer. Insert your own joke here. He finished with 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting in 32 minutes, 4 seconds and raised a whole new round of postgame questions about his health. The Lakers have two days to regroup and regain their lost momentum before playing Game 5 at Staples Center. The series is tied at two wins apiece. What’s next is anyone’s guess.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Lakers got off to a reasonably good start tonight in Game 4 and then went to pieces. They got the ball inside, as promised, but didn’t do enough with it. They scored 24 points in the paint, but shot only 12-for-25. They also were only 3 of 10 at the free throw line. Oklahoma City shot 20 free throws, making 19. The Thunder shot 34 during their victory in Game 3, so they’re on pace for many more tonight. Andrew Bynum led the Lakers with 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the first half. Kobe Bryant had eight points and four assists. Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 16 points.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Lamar Odom called on the reserves to play better Saturday in Game 4 than they did in Game 3. He said today before the Lakers’ practiced at the Ford Center: “I think our bench play has to step up offensively and defensively. The first unit is doing a great job of getting a good start. We’re not keeping the momentum up. … We’ve got to find a way for the second group to come in and stretch the game out a little bit and maintain the lead.”
OKLAHOMA CITY — Lakers coach Phil Jackson said today that NBA commissioner David Stern was being too heavy handed when it came to threatening suspensions to players and coaches for criticizing referees. Jackson has been fined $35,000 twice already this month for comments about the officiating and he might be dinged again. Stern said Thursday such public criticism is “corrosive” Stern also said, “So our coaches should be quiet because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families. If they don’t like it, they should go get a job someplace else.”
Jackson responded: “When you start throwing one- and two-game suspensions in the threats, I think that means a lot to the ballclubs and to the coaches. That seems awful heavy handed to me, but David is one who isn’t shy. There’s a certain gamesmanship that he feels cheapens the game.”
OKLAHOMA CITY — Did the Lakers give Game 3 away tonight or did the Thunder snatch it from their grasp? It depended who you talked to. “Give them credit because they did their job, but we let the game slip from our hands when we had it under control,” Pau Gasol said. Kobe Bryant had a little different viewpoint. “For the most part we controlled the game,” he said. “(But) against this team (the Thunder) you can’t afford to have those slippages because they’re so explosive. I think they won it. They had a moment where they made big plays.” Game 4 is Saturday night. Expect the Lakers to make adjustments to get the ball inside to Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Don’t expect them to try 31 shots from 3-point range.
OKLAHOMA CITY — All things considered, the first half of Game 3 couldn’t have gone better for the Lakers as they attempted to take a 3-0 series lead over the Thunder. The Lakers got off to leads of 10-0 and 15-3 and held the Thunder to 7-for-20 shooting by the end of the first quarter. Kevin Durant scored two points on 0-for-4 shooting in the first quarter as the Lakers led, 27-22. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher got the Lakers pointed in the right direction, scoring 14 and 11 points, respectively. Hindered by fouls, Durant scored eight points on 2-for-10 shooting. He also had a team-leading 11 rebounds.
OKLAHOMA CITY — David Stern, the NBA commish, stopped by the Ford Center tonight watch the first playoff game in OKC’s story history. Stern was asked about the twin fines to Lakers coach Phil Jackson for criticizing the league’s referees, including saying the Thunder’s Kevin Durant gets superstar treatment from the officials.
Here’s some of what Stern had to say: “I wish I had it to do all over again, and starting 20 years ago I would be suspending Phil and Pat Riley (then coach of the New York Knicks) for all the games they play in the media, because you guys know our referees go out there and knock themselves out doing the best job they can.
“But we have coaches who try to work them publicly and what that does is erode fan confidence and you get some of the situations we’ve had. So our coaches should be quiet because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families. If they don’t like it they should go get a job someplace else.”
Andrew Bynum did not practice today with his teammates, sitting out to undergo treatment on his strained left Achilles tendon. He said there was some soreness in his Achilles, which was not unexpected after playing Sunday and Tuesday for the first time since he was hurt March 19. Bynum plans to play in Game 3 on Thursday.
The Lakers expect more from the Thunder. Here’s Derek Fisher: “I think we knew it was going to be a hard-fought series .They’re a team, even though they’re young, the style of play they bring on the floor gives them confidence. They’re well coached. So, we’re not surprised by anything. We’re trying to concentrate on ourselves and doing what we do well.”
Sasha Vujacic continues to rest and rehabilitate his sprained left ankle. He said he would not join the team for its trip to Oklahoma City for Games 3 and 4.
The Lakers won Game 2 tonight, but only just barely. Kobe Bryant reverted to form, scoring 15 of his team-leading 39 points in the fourth quarter. He also had 25 in the second half. So, that was good for the defending NBA champs. Kevin Durant scored only six of his 32 points in the fourth quarter for the Thunder as Ron Artest hounded him. That was a positive note, too, for the Lakers. However, the Lakers shot enough bricks to build a house. They must improve on their 37.5 percent shooting if they hope to win Game 3 in OKC. They also must find a way to avoid getting their stuff swatted. The Thunder had 17 blocks.