If there was any question about how much the Los Angeles Lakers miss LeBron James, Wednesday night’s ugly 123-115 loss to the previously winless Oklahoma City Thunder serves as exhibits A, B, C and D. With James out due to an ankle injury, the Lakers blew a 26-point first-half lead in one of the worst losses that the franchise has ever suffered.
Including the playoffs, the Lakers had won their previous 230 games when leading by 25 or more at any point during the contest. Welp, make that 230-1.
“This is a game that we’re definitely supposed to win, we’re not supposed to lose at all,” Lakers big man Anthony Davis said after the loss. “But we learn from it and move forward.”
The Lakers looked unstoppable early against OKC, who came into the game 0-4 and looked to be on their way to another loss. Behind Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and some hot shooting, the Lakers had built a 26-point lead with 6:44 left in the second quarter. Davis, who entered the game with a questionable designation due to a knee issue, looked like he would most likely get the fourth quarter off in a blowout win.
But then things took a drastic turn. The Thunder slowly cut into the lead and trailed by 16 at halftime. In the third quarter, OKC outscored the Lakers 41-23, taking the lead on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s banked-in 3-pointer as time expired.
The Thunder built their lead to as many as eight points in the fourth quarter, but even still the Lakers had ample opportunity to salvage the victory late. After Westbrook missed a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left that would have tied the game, the Thunder inexplicably committed an 8-second violation despite having a timeout.
The Lakers had another chance to tie the game on the ensuing possession, so who did they go to? Westbrook? Davis? Carmelo Anthony? Nah, Malik Monk said, “I got this,” and hoisted an airball from 27 feet while under extreme duress from Gilgeous-Alexander.
Then, yet another gift from the basketball gods. OKC rookie Josh Giddey, who played extremely well down the stretch and finished with 18 points and 10 assists, fired the ensuing inbounds pass directly to …… Carmelo Anthony, who, in case you forgot, plays for the Lakers.
Anthony walked into a wide-open 3-pointer that would have tied the game, but instead, he came up about a foot short and the ball landed in the hands of Gilgeous-Alexander, who was promptly fouled.
This time the Thunder were able to get the ball inbounds successfully, Luguentz Dort made two free throws, and the game was effectively over. Since it’s the Lakers, however, there had to be more drama before the night was over.
Thunder forward Darius Bazley stole the Lakers’ inbounds pass with four seconds left and dribbled in for a breakaway dunk. Apparently, Westbrook took exception to Bazley choosing to dunk the ball as the OKC crowd celebrated its first win of the season, rather than dribble out the clock, and made sure his opinion was known. Westbrook was ejected from the game, adding a fine to one of the worst losses in the NBA so far this season.
“How I play the game, I’m more old school. When s— like that happens, I don’t let it slide. In the game of basketball, there’s certain things you just don’t do,” Westbrook said of Bazley’s final dunk. “The game was already over, and I didn’t like it. Simple as that.”
Westbrook finished with an ignominious quadruple-double of 20 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 turnovers, while Davis scored 30 points, only one of which came in the final three minutes. Gilgeous-Alexander was brilliant for OKC, finishing with 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists on 5-for-11 3-point shooting in the comeback win.
The Lakers clearly had problems orchestrating half-court offense late in the game with James out of the lineup. That’s understandable, since James is one of the best, if not the best, to ever do it. But that’s why you have other stars in Davis and Westbrook. They’re supposed to prevent you from blowing huge leads against winless teams, but clearly that didn’t happen on Wednesday night.
The Lakers fall to 2-3 with the loss and are 1-1 this season without James in the lineup.