Thunder strike down ‘crumbling’ Lakers
Thunder strike down ‘crumbling’ Lakers
Sharp-shooting forward Durant scored a season-high 42 points and guard Russell Westbrook weighed in with 27 and 10 assists as the Thunder drew level with the Los Angeles Clippers at the top of the Western Conference.
Bench player Kevin Martin added 15 points on six-of-12 shooting and Oklahoma outshot Los Angeles by 51 percent to 40 from the field at a sellout Staples Center while improving their record this season to 28-8.
“He’s a special player,” Martin told reporters about Durant, the three-time reigning NBA scoring champion. “He’s the heart of our team and we just like to follow his lead.
“He brought a lot of intensity and you see your superstar bring intensity like that, everybody else better bring it also.”
Kobe Bryant led the way with 28 points for the Lakers, who slipped to 15-21 after playing their third consecutive game without injured big men Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
Howard, a three-time defensive player of the year, is out after re-aggravating a right shoulder injury while fellow All-Star Gasol is sidelined due to concussion.
“We have to put things in proper perspective,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said after his team had out-rebounded the Lakers 53-46.
“They have some of their best players not playing tonight and they’re short-handed. They’re going to be a different team once they get everybody back.
“But we played well. Kevin had a hot hand and they missed some shots. When we defend and rebound, we’re a pretty good team on the offensive end.”
Setting the tone
With Durant swiftly setting the tone, Oklahoma raced ahead 25-14, but Los Angeles closed the opening quarter on an unanswered 11-point run to tie the score at 25-25.
The Lakers twice took narrow leads before the Thunder relentlessly seized control and, with Durant and Martin each burying two three-pointers, stormed ahead 64-48 by halftime.
Durant continued to put on a show in the third quarter, draining a mix of three-pointers, jump shots and one extravagant slum dunk as Oklahoma stretched their lead to 93-73.
Though Durant slowed in the final quarter, Westbrook caught fire and added a further 10 points to keep the Lakers at bay.
“We played hard the whole game, they were just better,” said Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni. “Kevin Durant was just unstoppable. They were just longer, faster, better team-wise and we crumbled away. Second quarter really hurt us.”
The Lakers lost six straight games for the first time since March 2007 and will aim to return to winnings ways when they host the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers (9-29) on Sunday.
“We put ourselves in this ditch and we are the only ones that can get us out,” said D’Antoni. “Hopefully we can get some guys back and start our season on Sunday.”
Antawn Jamison added 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers off the bench but veteran point guard Steve Nash had a quiet game with seven points and seven assists in 30 minutes.
“I think we showed some fight but we were just a little over-matched,” Nash said. “They’re bigger than us at almost every position. Kevin got hot and we couldn’t contain him in the second quarter.”
Heart and courage needed as Liverpool and Roma prepare for Champions League semifinal
- Both sides shocked more-fancied opposition to reach last four.
- Tremendous atmosphere expected in first leg at Anfield.
If football is about guts and glory, about matches that linger in the mind long after the final whistle has blown, the Champions League fulfils a curious role. On the one hand it is both symbol and agent of much that is wrong in modern football, the corporate culture, the ludicrous inequality of resources that have rendered many domestic leagues processions. But on the other it does offer more chances for those immortal nights than any other competition — and perhaps particularly so when the teams involved are Liverpool and Roma.
Roma have not won Serie A since 2001; Liverpool have not won the English top flight since 1990. These are not sides who will take success for granted. Whatever happens in the remainder of this season, fans of both teams will remember their quarterfinals with fondness: Liverpool for the way their side twice beat the runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City, a 20-minute blast in the first-half of the first leg in which they scored three times proving decisive; and Roma for their remarkable comeback from 4-1 down after the first leg to go through on away goals.
Roma again have the second leg at home, where they are yet to concede in the Champions League this season, having shut out sides of the calibre of not only Barcelona but also Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. That is, theoretically, an advantage but equally it is hard to conceive of this Liverpool side failing to score anywhere, which in turn means that Roma probably need a goal at Anfield. Liverpool themselves, for all their reputation for defensive fallibility, have kept clean sheets in each of their last four home Champions League games, and have generally been much improved at the back since the arrival of Virgil van Dijk in January.
That development is part of an overall sense of progress at Liverpool. In that regard, Jurgen Klopp is in a similar position to Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham. It is evident that there has been an improvement in each year he has been at the club but there is a growing sense that it would be nice for that to be validated by a trophy. And if that trophy can be the Champions League, so much the better.
Perhaps there are still concerns that the midfield does not offer the central defenders quite the protection it could, particularly when the full-backs are as attacking as they are, but Liverpool now have options in that area — and will probably perm three from Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and Georgino Wijnaldum — and have a unit that is quick, powerful and combative.
Given how Juventus wilted in the last 16 against Tottenham’s press, that physical advantage Premier League teams perhaps have over Italian sides, could be a major factor — particularly given the likelihood that Roma will start with the 34-year-old Daniele De Rossi as a fairly static playmaker behind Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan.
Against Barcelona, Eusebio Di Francesco opted for a back three for only the second time this season. That was probably a specific ploy to overman Barca’s 4-4-2 in the center. A return to the more familiar 4-3-3 seems likely here but one of the beauties of games at this stage, particularly in cauldrons like Anfield and the Olimpico, is that at least as important as the tactics are more visceral factors, like heart and courage.
MOHAMED SALAH v FEDERICO FAZIO
The first question any opposition manager has to answer when facing Liverpool is how to deal with Mohamed Salah who has scored 41 goals this season, cutting from the right into the space created when Roberto Firmino drops deep. One way to counter him might be to use a right-footed left-back to deal with those incursions inside, much as Rafa Benitez once switched Alvaro Arbeloa to the ‘wrong’ flank to deal with Lionel Messi. More likely here, though, is that the left-sided center-back Federico Fazio will be asked to guard against him, even if that means stepping out from the back-line. That, in turn, increases the defensive responsibility on Daniele De Rossi. There may even be a case for bringing in Juan Jesus, who did such a good job against Messi, either instead of Fazio or at left-back in place of the injury doubt Aleksandar Kolarov.