By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — There was a time when the Los Angeles Lakers came to Oklahoma to take on the Thunder, it was the most anticipated game of the season. With guard Kobe Bryant leading the charge, there were guaranteed fireworks in store.
However, it was a different Lakers team that pulled into Oklahoma City on Friday. Led by forward Kevin Durant, the Thunder trounced L.A. 122-97 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The loss dropped the Lakers (10-12) to 0-3 since Bryant returned to the lineup.
“Tonight was a tough team,” Bryant said. “They are a tough team to match up against. Their size and their speed. We ran into a bit of a buzz saw tonight. But we have another one tomorrow.”
Durant had a game-high 31 points on 10-for-13 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, five assists and four steals in 31 minutes of action. Forward Serge Ibaka chipped in with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Russell Westbrook flirted with a near triple-double as he collected 19 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.
“Obviously, they’d rather me (shoot 3-pointers) than drive to the basket,” Westbrook said. “But if they keep doing that, they’re gonna learn.”
The Lakers got 14 points and seven rebounds from center Pau Gasol, while Bryant handed out 13 assists but scored only four points on 2-for-6 shooting in 23 minutes.
With the Lakers having no healthy point guards available, Bryant was forced into double duty to start the night. In only his third game back from rehabbing a torn Achilles, he not only had to run the offense, he was assigned the task of guarding Westbrook.
However, after Westbrook scored a quick seven points, Lakes coach Mike D’Antoni switched Kobe off of Westbrook and on to rookie guard Andre Roberson.
But it was Durant who had the hot hand early. The NBA’s leading scorer collected 12 points to give Oklahoma City a 38-28 lead after 12 minutes of action.
Guards Wesley Johnson and Jodie Meeks led the Lakers on a surge and closed the Thunder’s lead to six. Johnson came off the bench looking for his shot from behind the arc and scored 11 points before Oklahoma was able to doing anything about it.
However, the Thunder responded with a 15-2 run keyed by Durant and reserve guard Reggie Jackson.
Near the end of the first half, Bryant tried to guard Durant the entire length of the court before a foul was called. Both exchanged laughs after the whistle.
“Kobe is the ultimate competitor,” Durant said. “I knew he was going to do that. He was going to challenge me. With a guy like Kobe, if I don’t accept the challenge, I’m going to hear about it for a while.”
Throughout the first half, Bryant played facilitator, trying to get the rest of his team involved. In doing so, he took only two shots the entire half as Oklahoma City held a 66-51 advantage. Oklahoma City set a new season high for points scored in the first half. The old mark was 64, which was set against Detroit.
The second half was more of the same as Oklahoma City didn’t let up.The Thunder pushed their lead to 20 heading into the fourth and then benched their starters.
The Lakers had no answer for the any of the Thunder’s big three or their roles players. It was a complete and total rout of a team that used to be considered a benchmark.
Oklahoma City (18-4) moved to 11-0 at home. It joins the Indiana Pacers as the only teams in the league who haven’t suffered a defeat at home.
“You have to give them credit,” Durant said. “They came out really strong, confident and making shots. We just had to be better. We got a steal and a dunk. I think it ignited us, especially with our crowd.”
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