The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on a sunny Sunday at Staples Center, as Jodie Meeks became the first Laker not named Kobe Bryant to score 40 or more points in over five years.
About 14 minutes into Sunday’s game, the Lakers trailed by 18 points. The worst team in the Western Conference was playing host to the best team in the Western Conference, and it was easy to explain where each team sat in the standings by pointing to the scoreboard.
However, the visitors, the Oklahoma City Thunder, were unable to maintain the momentum, and the matinee crowd at Staples Center spurred the Lakers to close the gap to only five points by the halftime intermission.
"We allowed the crowd to get into the game and help us and push us through some critical moments," Pau Gasol said after the win. "It's just great great energy."
About 14 minutes into the second half, the Lakers had turned the tables and were leading by 18 points. Jodie Meeks, without contest, was the star of the day and led the charge in giving the Lakers their lead. Meeks finished with 42 points, a new career-high. His previous best was a modest 31 points.
“Jodie has been our most consistent performer. He is just playing well,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game. “It’s really fun to watch someone get better and he has improved.”
In his moment in the spotlight, Meeks could not help but credit Bryant with teaching him how to become more of a consistent professional.
“Thing I learned about Kobe is his mental approach to the game. No matter if we played last night or if he’s sick, or he’s hurt, he’s always ready to play.” Meeks said at the podium after the game. “No excuses.”
Despite Meeks’ 42-point output, the Lakers still only led by three points with 45 seconds to play in the game. Oklahoma City had the ball at that point, and Russell Westbrook opted to take the shot. He took a potential game-tying 33-footer that drew nothing but air.
After the crowd berated Westbrook with chants of “Airball!” at one end, Kent Bazemore stepped forward to make a big bucket for the Lakers on the other. A five-point lead with 15 seconds remaining secured the win even if Westbrook hit a three-pointer on his next possession.
For the Thunder, Kevin Durant recorded a triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, but he was held scoreless in the crucial final minute. Westbrook's decision to take the critical shot will be questioned, but that was an argument for the losing locker room.
In the winning locker room, the Lakers were smiling again. Only three days after suffering the worst loss in the history of the storied franchise, the Lakers made their fans proud by beating the best team in the West. Unfortunately, the Lakers’ next game is against the same Thunder team in Oklahoma City.
"We did it today. Let's do it Thursday," D'Antoni said. "There's no reason why we can't do it."