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Did the Thunder do enough this offseason? Oklahoma City Thunder Season Preview

(Posted on behalf of massive fan of Oklahoma City professional basketball, Thunderstolt.)

Starting Five: PG Russell Westbrook, SG Thabo Sefolosha, SF Kevin Durant, PF Serge Ibaka, C Kendrick Perkins
 
Key Bench Players: PG Reggie Jackson, SG Jeremy Lamb, PF Nick Collison, SF Perry Jones III
 
Notable offseason additions: C Steven Adams (12th overall pick)
 
Notable offseason subtractions: SG Kevin Martin
 
FACT OR FICTION: The quiet Thunder offseason was a failure for a team with title aspirations?
 
FICTION. The relatively quiet offseason for the Thunder was a story in itself. While other teams in the Western Conference like the Clippers, Warriors and Rockets were making big moves to bolster their rosters, the Thunder stayed pat. Kevin Martin, in the eyes of OKC, didn’t warrant what Martin was expecting in his next contract and lost him to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Martin is the only player in the nine-man rotation from last year who won’t be suiting up in OKC this season.
 
But those who were yelling for OKC to do more in the offseason should realize the Thunder led the NBA in point differential and possessed the No. 1 offense and No. 4 defense last season. There is cause for concern though, as the past 12 months have seen the Thunder go from James Harden, to Kevin Martin, to Jeremy Lamb as the shooting guard off the bench for Scott Brooks.… Read more...

Winning Three More Games – Oklahoma City Thunder Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Russ Westbrook, SG Thabo Sefolosha, SF Kevin Durant, PF Serge Ibaka, C Kendrick Perkins

Key Bench Players: PG Eric Maynor, SG James Harden, G/F Daquan Cook, PF Nick Collison, F Perry Jones III
Notable offseason additions: F Perry Jones (28th overall pick)
Notable offseason subtractions: PG Derek Fisher, C Nazr Mohammed
How do the Oklahoma City Thunder win three more games? That’s it. Just three more?

With the NBA Finals notched at a 1-0 advantage Thunder, OKC went on to lose an unfathomable four games in a row to the Miami Heat. Each passing game the Thunder seemed to look younger and younger, with James Harden looking more like a petrified kid wearing a Brian Wilson costume than a future All-Star. Kevin Durant and Russ Westbrook still shined under LeBron’s total eclipse of the court, but both young stars couldn’t do enough to prevent the gentleman’s sweep. 

Think about that: it’s not just that the Thunder were beaten by the better team: they essentially were swept out of the Finals after being spotted a game. Yes, two of those contests were only decided by six points, but those losses happened because of the superior execution by the more seasoned villains from South Beach. OKC didn’t get beaten by coincidence or luck or suspect circumstance. They didn’t even “come up just a bit short”. They got mauled right out of the Finals. Three more games? Yes, they only have to win three more games. But what they need to close a gap of 144 minutes is far more complicated than just a few more W’s. 


Coming into the summer, the Thunder knew how much better they had to get. It wasn’t a secret–the youthful exuberance on the faces of the OKC stars was gone, replaced with a humility only served up by such a scalding loss. Lots of wholesale changes were bandied about by the media at large, especially when analyzed financially. The Thunder had secured both Durant and Westbrook to long-term contract extensions, but F Serge Ibaka and Harden remained unsigned beyond 2012-2013. If indeed the core needed some changes to win the NBA title, perhaps the coinciding cap crunch OKC would inevitably fall into could be the catalyst for a major trade.

But the summer came and went, and the Thunder made only a few cosmetic changes in personnel. New to the team is rookie Perry Jones III, a forward with big potential but huge questions about his aggressiveness and true desire in improving as a basketball player. The Baylor forward was once projected as a lottery lock with Lamar Odom comparisons, but after staying in school through the 2011-2012 season, his stock plummeted in accordance with his ca
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NBA Finals Game 5 Running Diary: The Miami Heat and LeBron James Are NBA Champions

(At perhaps a seminal moment in NBA history, we here at MAMBINO HQ knew it’d be important to document a minute by minute running diary during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. LeBron had lived up to his various monikers so far this series, but could he close it out in the biggest game of his career? Or would OKC send this back home? Read on for some in-game thoughts)

Pregame Introductions: We’ve talked for years about how LeBron is some sort of indestructible robot cyborg created to play basketball and assassinate all comers – he actually looks like it tonight. He’s stone-faced, walking slowly and with purpose. He’s even got a slight tick in his neck, as if part of his cold, mechanical programming is somehow malfunctioning. Despite the connotation of his pistons misfiring, that’s not a good sign for the Thunder.

Pregame Shotaround: I see Wade throwing up J’s, but Bron is sitting on the bench, fists to his head, mouthing some sort of mantra, which is probably something like “I’m going to murder everyone tonight”. I’m a little worried that he might be putting a little bit too much pressure on himself. I feel like he’s excelled these playoffs because he’s had the mindset of “this is what I do, I dominate”, and then gone out there and done just that. Obviously the gravity of the situation has affected his play, but he seems almost silently angry rather than stoic. Curious.

11:23: Chalmers steals, followed by a LeBron dunk that screamed “We are not losing tonight”. Uh-oh.

10:48: Sefolosha fouls LeBron mid-jump. LeBron shakes it off with that robotic tick. He’s like a black T-800 with fewer weaknesses and bad facial hair.

10:27: Westbrook jumper clangs hard off the iron. At least we know he isn’t wilting to any criticism.

9:32: Westbrook has taken 3 of the team’s 4 shots and hasn’t even looked for his teammates. It’s either stupidity or extreme confidence.

8:42: After getting doubled in the lane, Westbrook forces the ball to Ibaka for an easy bucket.  A really difficult pass right past Battier’s outstretched fingertips. Say what you want about his gaffe at the end of Game 4, he’s playing phenomenal, CONFIDENT basketball right now.

8:14: KD with his first bucket of the game, 18 feet from the basket. He’s looked a little passive early.

7:43: Interestingly, the Heat are leaving all the OKC shooters wide open to try and stop Westbrook. Luckily for Russ and the servers at Twitter, he’s making these baskets.

7:09: Pretty oop from Chalmers to Wade, who finger-rolls it in. A lot hasn’t been mentioned about Wade, but he’s really been locked in for the past 3 quarters. Say what you will about his off the court attitude, but despite stupid sound bytes comprising 65% of his speech, he gives 100% full effort every night on the hardwood.

6:02: James Harden’s first hoop barely touches the rim. Not a great sign for the Thunder  who desperately need his production tonight. Not just the points, but a spark off the bench. OKC hasn’t displayed that fire they showed in the first quarter of Game 4 since, well, that first quarter of Game 4.

5:14: Ibaka gives Wade a wing 15 footer, and he puts it in his face. No preening, no trash-talking and most shockingly of all, no complaining to the refs. Wade, like James, is all business tonight. Uh-oh.

4:34: Perkins nice put-in around the hoop. With this team, it’s amazing that Perkins ever gets touches. I mean, sometimes plays are designeRead more...

The 2012 NBA Finals: One of the Most Historically Significant…Ever

Let’s ignore the usual rhetoric for now. We’re going to take the LeBron fourth quarter statistics and put them off to the side. We’re going to, for the moment, disregard his erratic and immature behavior that even we here at MAMBINO can’t shy away from critiquing. We’re going to stop talking about the questionable nature in which the Miami Heat came together two years ago. This isn’t going to be about how Dwyane Wade has slowly morphed into one of the most despicable on and off-court character in the league. Hell, this isn’t going to be a sychophantic pedestal-job on Kevin Durant, Russ Westbrook and James Harden that we’ve professed to loving so much more than Bron and his ilk.

The prevailing storyline might be if the Miami Heat can finally win their title that they pissed off the entire world while questing to do so. The secondary yarn here is if LeBron James, by all accounts and MVP trophies the best player on the planet, can carry an unorthodox and limited team to a title. And a footnote to all of this is if Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Russ Westbrook – all under the age of 24 – can upstage their celebrity opponents and upend them for their first championship.

That’s not what’s important here. Is it a big part of the story? Yes, it is. Very. Extremely. LeBron, Wade and Bosh are all in their ninth seasons, with only Wade capturing the ever-elusive chip in 2006, though with Shaquille and Alonzo at his side. Durant, Russ and Harden surpassing them would be a fantastic story that the NBA-watching public could absolutely engorge themselves with – the thought of the noble, beloved, blue-collar Thunder from the humble breadbasket of America defeating the glamorous villains hailing from the neon-satured, sun-soaked South Beach would be a screenplay come to life.

For the NBA-head though, this isn’t just a tale of the young, hard-working Thunder vanquishing the evil thespians from Miami. This is a match-up of the two best teams in the NBA. Lasting up to seven games, this year’s Finals pits six of the NBA’s best 20 players against each other, highlighted by the consensus top dog in James and the runner-up in Durant. As anyone who watched Tuesday’s Game 1 will attest, this isn’t just about a set with star-power – this is going to be a tough, grinding series that no matter who the victor is, we’ll all agree that the trophy was well-deserved.

The Oklahoma City Thunder versus the Miami Heat isn’t just going to be a great Finals. This is one of the most historically significant Finals ever. And heres’ why.
I’ve spoken at length about the “generationalism” there is in the NBA. Determined sometimes by draft class, age or style of play, groups of players are often banded together with an unmistakable bond that fans always seem to identify them by.

There was Jordan’s generation, and before that, Magic and Bird’s. After Jordan, it was Shaquille, Timmy and Kobe ruled the roost. The specific players mentioned up top is always up for debate, but in the end, no one’s really questioning whether or not these guys were the leaders of their peers.

What’s incredible about the NBA is that unlike baseball, football or hockey, there seems to be rules that adhere to the game decade after decade. One of these rules, or concepts I should say, is that for the past 30 years of NBA basketball, there is a definite breaking point, a specific event, that delineates generation… Read more...

"I’m Kind of Freaking Out" – Keys to an OKC Victory in the NBA Finals

Along with The CDP doing aces on the Miami Heat keys to victory in the Finals, we’ve dispatched our main man Thunderstolt to look at the OKC side and determine what the keys to victory are. Keep in mind that this has been edited, as he’s barely slept, can’t eat and quite frankly, is barely a human being right now. This is him at his most serene, probably the result of some sort of placebo. As the title of the post says, earlier today his first message to me was “I’m kind of freaking out.” Peace be with you, brother. Let’s get to it!

He saw this coming.  From the moment he told Clay Bennett he would be his GM, Sam Presti saw this as his vision.  His vision has brought them to within four wins of raising a banner. 

Presti has done his job.  Now its time for Scott Brooks and his staff to finish theirs for this 2011-2012 season.  The good news is the Thunder doesn’t have to change much from the previous three series to be successful in the Finals.

It seems fitting the first championship foe ever for this Thunder squad is against the Heat – after the next two weeks either KD or LeBron will have a ring and a banner to raise this fall.  Soak that one in.

Other than that quick little hit, I going to stay away from the obvious KD vs LBJ narrative because I’m pretty sure 99% of the blogosphere is writing about that (My thoughts on that matchup: The two best players in the league going at it for their first title and we’re in for a hell of a series. That cover it? Okay, good). So let’s stick to basketball, shall we? Presenting the Thunder’s keys to victory.

Russell Westbrook vs The World

As I mentioned in my last post for MAMBINO,  Westbrook has evolved as a player not only throughout this lockout shortened regular season but over the last 15 playoff games as well.  He has kept his foot on the gas pedal when need be, but surprsingly has pulled back to get other guys involved as well.  His defense in the playoffs has been underrated, relentless and most importantly, he is finding ways to contribute to wins other than the stat sheet. 

This could be a big, BIG series for Russ.  Westbook has been a sponge in these playoffs not only from what his coaching staff is telling him but from opponents as well.  In my four years of watching the Thunder play, I don’t think I have ever seen Russ use a screener more than once in a set.  Against the Spurs, they ran him ragged through screen after screen as Tony Parker used the same big man to find a crease in the defense.  You know what happened?  Russ threw it back right at ’em and started using his big men to use a screen two or three times until he saw daylight to drive to ball and either find a slashing big man or shooter in the corner.

More than likely Chalmers will start on Westbrook to start the series but that could have disasterous ramifications if they stick with Mario too long.  Westbook will see Chalmers, Wade, LeBron, Battier and anyone else who Coach Spoelstra thinks can slow him down for stretches.  Russ must keep doing what he has been doing and playing with poise and composure.  He has been fantastic at picking his spots thus far and they need him to continue that for the Thunder to make the final step.  Plus, the idea of Westbrook having more shot attempts in the Finals and Thunder winning would make Skip Bayless’ head explode (so America wins, as well as OKC!). Depending on what the Heat defense gives him, that could be a reality. 

Like A Bosh 

Chris Bosh is the key cog on both ends of the floor for the Heat, Thus, Serge Ibaka must … Read more...

MAMBINO’s NBA Finals Preview: Keys to a Miami Victory

In many ways, the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are mirror images of the same team. Guided by three athletic superstars and one of the youngest coaches in the league, both teams had to survive the old powers in their respective conferences to make it here. The Thunder played the Mavericks, the Spurs, and the Lakers, who collectively represent every single NBA finals representative from the West since 1999. The Heat took out Boston for the second straight year and prevented the C’s from getting to the Finals for the 3rd time in 5 years.  In terms of NBA narrative, however, these teams could not be more different.  The Heat will undoubtedly be the villains in this series and most casual fans will side with the Boy Scouts from OKC.

OKC is the homegrown model, the team created by smart lottery draft picks, cap flexibility, and opportune trades. With their culture and management structure, they are set up to be the Spurs of the next decade if they can find a way to lock up their young core. And with Harden still on his rookie deal, OKC has the added advantage of the kinds of role players that Miami wished it had. My heart says that OKC will win, but my brain is telling me that I’m merely hoping instead. Miami certainly has more experience, as both Wade and LeBron have 2 appearances in the Finals each under their belts. You might say that the Thunder are merely precocious and that the Heat are still the current generation of stars. Either way, this is the time for the Miami Heat to establish a dynasty if they’re ever going to.

Looking at the numbers, you can see that we’re looking at two teams that can both score and defend at a high level. Everyone expects this to be a competitive series. If Miami is going to take home the title, they’re going to need their A-Game. Here are my keys to the series for the Heatles:
Ready for some
Boy Scouts, Bron?
  • Stars Need to Shine: This is truly a generational battle of NBA superstars and the Heat have a lot less margin for error than against Boston. LeBron has been unreal in these playoffs, but Kevin Durant has been outstanding too. In the Finals, LeBron needs to be invincible. LeBron still has dimensions that KD is just starting to develop; however, it’s time for him to show that he’s the best player in the league, not just in the regular season. The Heat cannot afford the erratic performances Wade has been providing, particularly with Sefolosha playing so well right now. The 8th ranked Heat struggled mightily on offense at times against Boston and OKC has a lot of athletic defenders to throw at them. Their stars need to be nothing less than transcendent.
  • Tough, Team Defense: The Heat allowed Boston (the NBA’s 27thmost efficient offense this year) to score punches in droves. Now they face OKC’s 2nd ranked offense and you can’t afford it against a team that can score like that AND get easy points in transition off of your mistakes. Miami’s team thrives on defense and its time to rediscover that identity. In the Western Conference, teams tried to exploit OKC in the frontcourt and play their stars physically. The Heat don’t have the same advantage, but they have incredibly athletic defenders in Wade and LeBron that can disrupt the OKC stars. Spoelstra is a defensive maestro and it’s time for him to earn the title with his schemes, particularly at disrupting the OKC pick and rolls and making their stars into jump shooters. It can be done, but the Heat need a game plan when Harden, Westbrook, and Durant are all on the court.
  • Steal One on the Road: The NBA Finals has an interesting 2-3-2 format, so the Heat will g
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Spurs/Thunder Mid-Series Check-Up

With two dramatic victories this weekend by the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder, both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals series have essentially been reduced to 3 game series. The final four teams all held home-court serve, so it’s down to three games apiece every other day this week to decide who heads towards the championship round. For NBA fans in Miami, Boston, Oklahoma and San Antonio, the next 6 days are going to be sheer agony – none of these cities are going to be sated by a mere conference crown. They’re all title contenders whose goals start and end with an NBA championship. Win or lose, nothing’s been accomplished except for taking years off the lives of these four fan bases.

The one silver lining to BockerKnocker’s Knicks and my Lakers getting bounced weeks ago is that our hearts have been rapidly calcified in the wake of our collective playoff disappointment. No longer feel the palpitations associated with a ball clanging hard off the back iron or careless pass floating to the other team. I happily and calmly watched this weekend’s action with wavering attachment depending on whoever had the lead. The Lakers fan in me wanted the games to end up in a tie, just so that everyone would be miserable. However, the basketball fan in me felt the slightest tickle in my cold, black heart watching Rondo pick apart the Miami defense and Kevin Durant continue his ascendancy to another level of stardom.

However, we need to check-in with people that still have a pulse, feel feelings and of course, care about the game’s outcome past pathetic Lakers apologist biases. Two MAMBINO correspondents, have graciously agreed to help us out and take the temperature of these series with the score tied at 2-2.

First up, ThunderStolt on his Oklahoma City Thunder:

KOBEsh: In the first two games, San Antonio looked like an unstoppable offensive juggernaut, shooting a combined 50% from the field and averaging 110 points a game. They were on a freakin’ 20-game win streak. In so many ways, they looked completely unbelievable – getting open shots whenever they wanted, and completely effortlessly at that. The OKC defense was reduced to rubble, and the only thing that Scott Brooks could do to slow down the Spurs attack was to play the much maligned “Hack-a-Splitter’ (which, to Brooks’ credit worked). In your words, the Spurs just flat-out looked like the better team.

So what’s changed the last two games? In Game 3, it seemed like San Antonio came back to Earth a bit, only scoring 82 points, shooting 39% and not looking like the Harlem Globetrotters. However, in a Game 4 loss, they still racked up 103 points, shot 47% from three and 50% from the field. How are the Thunder winning these games? What would you say is the main component that’s changed? 

Thunderstolt: The key word here is effort. the Thunder are winning games with effort.  In games three and four the Thunder have put together games chalked full of effort to a man.  Scott Brooks said it best: to beat this Spurs team, you cannot have only one effort on a single defensive possession but two, three, and even four times in a 24-second shot clock – you must account for those five guys because when you don’t, you give up a layup or wide open three.  
 
Granted, in game four the Spurs topped 100 points and were efficient from the field. However, the Thunder were hounding them all night long and the quality of the shots the Spurs were taking were far below that of game one and two, when they were getting … Read more...

Generationally Defective: Why We Hate LeBron and Melo, but Admire Rose and Durant

LeBron James is a coward. The self-anointed Chosen One has led a NBA career with varying highs and lows, astounding us along the way with a dazzling combination of size, speed, grace and strength. Never before had we ever seen an athlete that drew comparisons to a Transformer; a burning locomotive train that could change into a blackbird jet at any given moment. LeBron’s promise to his consumers has been that indeed, he would be the one to bring basketball to heights never before seen – we are all witnesses, afterall. However, in a folly of hubris fit only for a King, James has yet to deliver on his various pledges; while he has amazed, he has yet to conquer. The progenitor of the South Beach Theory, a situation where in trying to add value to your own personal “brand”, you actually diminish it,  LeBron has somehow become the most despised player in the league. We should be thankful that he spends his time bestowing his gifts and otherworldly play upon us, and yet, we’ve come to resent the cowardice from a man who has shown a reluctance to walk the self-instituted path we’ve lined the streets of, waiting for ascendance. LeBron James was drafted in 2003.
Dwight Howard is a indecisive lout. Thought to be the next in the lineage of the great NBA centers of all-time, Dwight has ostensibly strayed from his labeled ancestry that Kareem, Ewing, Hakeem, the Admiral and Shaquille occupied. Though each of those men were laden with early to mid-career blunders, Howard’s value in his eighth season seems lower than ever. At this point, Howard is best known for three things : 1) his all-world defense, 2) his noteworthy physical features, which range from his goliath-like shoulders to smile nearly broader than his countenance, and 3) an unbelievable hesitancy to be decisive. For nearly a year, the daily rumor mill has been rife with buzz of where Howard will continue his career. In a media storm that would embarrass a drunk Jose Conseco, Dwight managed to throw his coach, general manager, team and unwittingly, himself, under the bus. Though committed to the Orlando Magic for the 2012-2013 season, Howard continues to leave his team in managerial purgatory, not knowing whether he’ll sign an extension to stay or leave for nothing. Oddly enough, Howard’s unwillingness to make a decision regarding his contract future is mirrored by the lack of progress in his basketball repertoire. He is largely the same offensive and defensive player he was 4 years ago. Regardless of how you feel about LeBron as a person or a salesman, you have to admire that at least he’s attempted to improve his game. Orlando’s center has not. Dwight Howard was drafted in 2004.

Carmelo Anthony is a selfish ball-stopper. I suppose there’s a decent reason for that; he is one of the deadliest scorers in the league. Gifted with a powerful 6’8″ frame and a quickness that betrays that build, Anthony can score from any space on the floor. Facing up, in the post, out on the perimeter, back to the basket, on the fast break, cutting to the rack, mid-range, free throw line, multiple-defenders – the situation matters not. Carmelo Anthony can put the ball in the hoop. However, the Knicks All-Star forward has an all-around game that he rarely shows on the court. In flashes, Melo unveils his alter-ego; the black Larry Bird. His ability to rebound, defend and pass are often overlooked – because he infrequently displays them. With his strength, size and speed, there’s not rebound Melo can’t Read more...

MAMBINO’s Western Conference Finals Preview

Can Kawahi contain KD?

Charles Barkley has boldly proclaimed that these two teams left are the best two teams in the NBA. It’s hard to disagree.

The San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder will begin the Western Conference Finals on Sunday, with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. The two teams have gone 16-1 combined so far in the playoffs, with the Spurs on a 18 game winning streak and the Thunder only losing one postseason contest to a squeaker last Friday with the Lakers. No other teams are playing as well as these two squads right now, so the consesus should be, like Chuck says, that whoever wins this matchup is the presumptive NBA champion. Maybe.

We’re of two minds on this at MAMBINO HQ, but we’ve got not only our consensus decision here, but also spicy little alternative for you out there. Check it!


SPURS in 7 games

San Antonio 2.0
The CDP: OKC is the model for rebuilding at the moment, but we should take a long look at the Spurs as well. While it’s hard to call it classical rebuilding when you retain Ginobili, Parker, and Duncan, there’s no doubt the Spurs have reinvented themselves over the last few seasons. After a title in 2007, they made it to the Conference Finals in 2008, but were manhandled by the Lakers. The Spurs had a top 3 defense, but a middling 15th rankeddefense. They filled out the roster with Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Ime Udoka, Oberto, Matt Bonner, Brent Barry, Kurt Thomas, and Jacque Vaughn. 2/3 next seasons, the Spurs lost in the first round and it was clear they needed a fresh infusion of talent to remain competitive.
Fast forward to 2012 and Matt Bonner is the only role player holdover. The Spurs have added talent like DeJuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard, and Tiago Splitter through the draft while picking up Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, Patrick Mills, and Danny Green through shrewd pickups and trades. The Spurs arenow the 10th best defense, but the top-ranked offense. They haven’t lost yet in the playoffs or at home since April 11. Can you imagine the coverage that this would receive if it were the Heat? The media would even throw Tebow aside for that scoop.
The Spurs may not have had to beat the Mavericks/Lakers like OKC, but I’m not worried about a team with Popovich and Duncan being ready. In many ways, OKC is a mirror image of the Spurs, a top-heavy small market team built on three superstars and the right supporting cast. OKC has the 2nd ranked defense and #11 offense,both right behind the Spurs. They are an extremely talented young group that is growing quickly and capable of overwhelming teams with their athleticism. I just think that the Spurs still have their number this year and are playing too well. Here’s why I’ll take the Spurs in 7:
  1. All-Star Match-ups: With Danny Green, Stephen Jackson, and Kawahi Leonard in tow, the Spurs actually have the kind of long, athletic defenders that could potentially bother KD. Tony Parker is a much bigger defensive challenge than Russell Westbrook has faced thus far and has the foot speed to stay with him. Duncan looks better than he has in years. At his best, Ginobili is one of the league’s only playmakers explosive enough to counter James Harden. The Spurs are one of the only units in the league capable of keeping up with OKC’s Three Musketeers.
  2. Thunder D: The Thunder lack the kind of punishing big man that has been able to hurt the Spurs in the past (think Grizzlies), which creates defensive problems for OKC. As a result, the Spurs don’t have to play as much Tiago Splitter and can play Bonner, Diaw, and Blair – who all help the offense hum. With their
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Lakers Game 5 Recap: The Best Team Won

It just didn’t feel right. In trying to distill down my swirling thoughts into a simple reductionist theory that would hopefully quell my aching fanhood, that sentiment kept on rolling around and around in my head. It just didn’t feel right.

I’ve seen champions before and lived in the cities while they happened. I’ve seen five Lakers title teams, and two in the 2004 and 2007 Boston Red Sox. I’ve watched intently as teams have broken decades-long curses, and other teams who arose seemingly out of nowhere to take a championship no one thought could be theirs, but in the end was rightfully earned. I know that feeling you get, a sensation similar to a great idea hitting you slowly but deeply. In every championship season I’ve witnessed, there’s a moment when you realize that the team you’re watching could take it all. Or maybe more accurately, should take it all.

You see it in their eyes and in their effort. It’s present in the teammates on the bench, whether they’re in the throes of competition or in the malaise of a practice. It’s that undeniable feeling you get that no matter how bad the loss was, or how emphatic the score, that your team can go all the way. The 2012 Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t give me that.


Where to start with Game 5? There’s so many angles to take: Andrew Bynum’s passive stat line of 10/4 with three quick fouls, zero offensive rebounds and a -6,000 on how engaged he seemed to be in the game. Ramon Sessions making just one bucket all whilst watching Russ Westbrook drop 25 points, each hoop more dynamic than the last. Pau Gasol, in what might have been his last game in purple and gold, aggressively going for a 14/16 night, but ultimately not giving enough for a W. Metta World Peace, despite the worst flagrant foul call I’ve seen since Tyson Chandler put a flaming sledge-hammer coated in uranium to LeBron’s back hit LeBron in the first round, played his ass off in a OKC gym that booed him every time he touched the ball. And then there was Kobe, who dropped 42 points on over 50% shooting, solemnly reminding us how much we’ll miss his greatness when he’s gone. It’s not even worth going over the statistics. The Lakers scratched and clawed for 3 quarters, while the Thunder looked like they were just getting warmed up, like Skynyrd playing a bunch of new middling songs before getting into Freebird. When OKC turned it on, it was too much for the Lakers to handle, and the game ended in a blowout. Of course Andrew’s lack of production and the incredible performances by Westbrook and Durant are primary culprits for the loss, but really, this contest was just a microcosm for the entire series.

The bottom line is, the Lakers got beat by the better team. Even in a 5-game series that felt like it went 9, the Thunder didn’t just outwork the Lakers; they were flat-out more talented, explosive and hungry. No matter how badly you thought the Lakers played at the end of the fourth quarters, or the mistakes they made to give Games 2 and 4 away, the Thunder had to win them. Down seven with two minutes left? Down 13 with seven minutes left? Both in games where the Lakers largely dictated the pace and rhythm? Maybe this more than anything demonstrates the greatness of the OKC attack – their 9 minutes of play were better than 87 from the Lakers. It only took them 540 seconds to outdo what LA had struggled over 5,200 to achieve. Chew on that thought for a minute and tell me that this was the Lakers series to lose. The Lakers couldn’t c… Read more...