OKLAHOMA CITY — Winners of 11 of 13, playing on their home court and getting to face the Western Division leading Lakers, the Thunder were probably supposed to win this one.
On the other hand, when the other team can’t miss and you can’t make much of anything until well into the third quarter, and you get crushed on the boards, you’re probably not supposed to win and Oklahoma City didn’t.
Once a 32-point game, the Thunder fell 125-110 on a night marked by Kyle Kuzma playing his best offensive game of the season and Rajon Rondo turning back the clock and likely playing his best game in longer than that.
The way Los Angeles played, it hardly mattered that flu-like symptoms kept LeBron James off the court, nor the fact a still-sore tailbone sidelined Anthony Davis or that starting guard Danny Green also missed the game.
Nor did it help that the two things Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan wanted his team to prioritize failed to materialize: transition defense and rebounding.
At one point in the first quarter, the Thunder were being out-rebounded 11 to 2. When it ended the Lakers had a 54 to 37 edge, including a 12 to 5 advantage on the offensive glass.
Officially, both teams scored eight fast break points, though it didn’t feel like it, as the Thunder spent a great deal of time chasing the ball, giving up good shots and watching them drop in the basket. And when they were defending well, LA’s shots tended to go in anyway.
“[Making] 10 of 13 wide open [3-point attempts] is really hard,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said, “and they weren’t wide open all the time.”
Kuzma’s previous high-point total this season was 26, one night earlier at Dallas. Saturday, he finished with 36 on 15 of 24 shooting and 4 of 6 3-point shooting.
Though Rondo finished 10 of 22 from the floor, he only did by missing his last eight shots. He grabbed 12 rebounds and dished eight assists, too, narrowly missing a triple-double.
“They just came out with a lot of energy,” Thunder point guard Chris Paul said. “I think this might have been their first game without both [James and Davis] … All of them got a chance to show what they can do.”
Before the game began, Laker coach Frank Vogel said his team possessed “great depth” and expected to win.
LA played like it.
Beyond Rondo and Kuzma, five other Lakers — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dwight Howard, Alex Caruso, Troy Daniels, Quinn Cook — all finished in double figures, combining to score 59 points.
Though the Thunder questioned their own energy afterward, plain old shooting may have been the biggest culprit.
At the half, the Lakers were hitting 58 percent (29 of 50) overall and 76.9 percent (10 of 13) from 3-point land. Meanwhile, the Thunder were shooting 42 percent (21 of 50) and 14.3 percent (2 of 14) from distance.
The Thunder put one big run together when there was still time to come back after trailing 85-53 with 9:31 remaining in the third quarter.
In the space of 10 possessions, OKC came up empty only once, getting a 3-pointer each from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Paul and Mike Muscala, two 3-pointers, two free throws and a dunk from Danilo Gallinari and two layups from Dennis Schroder.
It amounted to a 27-11 run in the space of 5:12 on the clock. When it was over, Oklahoma City still trailed 96-80.
Donovan was philosophical.
“There’s some nights where it’s just kind of not your night,” he said. “And I would say tonight was one of those nights that just wasn’t our night.
The Thunder got 24 points from both Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander. Paul finished with 16 and eight assists. Steven Adams added 12 points and eight rebounds.
“If you want to win against very good teams,” Gallinari said, “you have to play for 48 [minutes], bring it from the beginning.”
Or make a lot more shots.
Either would have helped.