ORLANDO, Florida- Down goes the No. 1 seed in the West as the Oklahoma City Thunder dominate the Los Angeles Lakers 105-86.
After falling short to the Denver Nuggets in overtime on Monday at 121-113, the Thunder came into Wednesday night’s matchup against the Lakers hungry for success and eager to make it known they still had a lot of fight left in them.
The Thunder announced Dennis Schröder (personal reasons), Mike Muscala (concussion protocol), and Terrance Ferguson (right leg contusion) would be out leaving the Thunder shorthanded, but that didn’t stop Chris Paul and his team from putting on a show against the Lake Show.
“We just tried to stick to the game plan,” Paul said. “We tried to keep those guys [Lakers] off the line. AD [Anthony Davis] shoots about 16-17 free throws a game, and we tried to build a wall with LeBron [James]. We just tried to make it tough on them.”
Anthony Davis shot only four free throws and found himself in foul trouble, while LeBron James finished with 19 points going 0-5 from the three-point line.
CP3 led the way for the Thunder with 21 points on 8-12 shooting with 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Paul highlighted key opportunities during the game to keep the Thunder at a comfortable lead with his ability to knock down the midrange shot and his attack to the rim generating fouls that took him to the charity stripe for 4-4 shooting.
“You want to make sure you have a team that feels like they can’t be beat,” Paul said. “The best teams know they can’t be beat four out of seven times, so we’re trying to build that identity.”
Alongside Paul’s dominant performance, Lu Dort shared the spotlight as a young rookie given the task to guard 17-year veteran LeBron James.
Dort, along with Andre Roberson, limited James to only four assists and posed a deep threat to the Lakers star around the perimeter.
“In my mind, it was just another game,” Dort said when asked about his mindset guarding James. “It was a complete team effort, and I feel like we all contributed in this win.”
Dort brought his defensive strengths to light despite shooting 4-11 (0-4 from 3), but says he still has a long way to go before he feels like he is at his best on the offensive end.
“I’m going through a tough time right now,” Dort said. “I’m a little off, but it’s on to the next. I haven’t shot the ball well these past two games, but I’m getting back into the gym to work on that.”
Even with Dort’s shooting struggles, Steven Adams praised Lu’s ability to keep the momentum of the game going with his agility and his defensive progression.
“He’s always been good,” Adams said. “The things he does will help us tremendously in the playoffs.”
The Thunder led the Lakers the entire game, limited the amount of turnovers made (13), and did exactly what Billy Donovan said would be crucial for his team as they continued to battle inside the NBA bubble: Focus on what the opponents’ strengths are and capitalize on shutting them down.
“Against good teams, you have to be able to push to stay ahead,” Donovan said. “Leads are not necessarily safe, and things can happen very quickly. In those situations, you have to be able to answer and stop momentum.”
And stop the Lakers’ momentum is exactly what the Thunder did.
The Thunder finish shooting 40 percent from the floor outlasting the Lakers’ 35 percent shooting and 5-37 from behind the arc.
This is win No. 42 for OKC as they prepare for Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies at 4 p.m. ET (3 p.m. CT).