Thunder Struck

The decline and fall of an empire?

What has transpired is nothing short of shocking to those who believe that empires never crumble. A new power is emerging where a once mighty dynasty crumbles. Of course this dynasty will do everything in its power to stay aloft for as long as it can but the writing has been on the wall for some years. Occasionally they have looked like the once impregnable power that they were but now mere pricks in their armor have become gaping holes revealing wounds that have yet to heal. To mask the wounds an elaborate spectacle is put on as to distract those on the outside looking in. It is a spectacle filled with non sequiturs and Zen-like witticisms among other dribble and banter. The spectators eat it up; they drink all of the milkshake, chuckle to themselves and then report that all is well in the kingdom blindly glossing over the visible wounds because all they see is gold. However, the wounds are prominently on display now. The current incarnation of the former dynasty, which reclaimed glory its lost glory the previous year, is now returning to their kingdom, wounds agape, after a disastrous expedition to the plains.

What has transpired over the course of the last two games has been eye opening to say the least. The Los Angeles Lakers traveled to Oklahoma City with a two game to nothing lead in the series as they prepared to face off with the Thunder in the Ford Center. Everything looked right in Lakerland, but that could not have been farther from the truth. Kobe Bryant erupted in game two scoring 39 points in the Lakers’ win. Pundits were quick to shower down praise of Bryant’s performance, it was a great one, but they sugar coated the failings of the rest of the team. Bryant’s 39 point outburst should have meant that the Lakers had easily beaten the Thunder. The final score was 95-92, a mere three point victory. Kobama was forced to dial up yet another bailout. Pau Gasol tallied 25 points and 12 rebounds but the rest of the Lakers failed to make any meaningful impact on the game. Curious as to who the next highest scoring Laker was? It was a tie: Andrew Bynum and the overhype machine that is Shannon Brown each had six points. Yes, that is right, six points. Championship quality isn’t it? In game two the writing on the wall became embossed.

A change in scenery was all it took for the true focus and determination of the Lakers and Thunder to emerge. There are many who are still bitter, and rightly so, that Oklahoma City has a professional basketball team due to the circumstances surrounding the relocation. However, the people of Oklahoma City have fully embraced them. There is little more than a Greyhound station, Toby Keith’s mega restaurant, and an art museum that is slightly bigger than a well off gallery in Oklahoma City so realistically citizens there have limited entertainment options but their love and support of the Thunder is sincere. The support of the home crowd fueled the play of the young Thunder team in game three. Kevin Durant, with the raucous crowd behind him, took to task the duties of Bryant after his scoring out bust in game two. It worked wonderfully. Bryant scored 24 points on 10-29 shooting. The Lakers’ starting five had a much more balanced attack but yet again, as has been written about countless time here on the Beef, the Lakers’ bench was nonexistent, their stint as a barren wasteland of non talent continues. Lamar Odom is generally excused from this grouping but he has been a non factor this series so he is included. Durant, to go along with his outstanding defense, scored 29 points and pulled down 19 rebounds to pace the Thunder to a 101-96 victory. The Thunder now had life.

The stage was set for game four and the crowd and Thunder players were ready as they looked to even the series at two games apiece. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here and once we got here, people were saying we were going to get swept,” Durant said. He was spot on with that statement, read any blogs and message boards and hardly anyone gave the Thunder a chance. Here at the Beef we projected them to win two games. They have done that. However, it would not be inconceivable for them to win another. The rout was on early as the Thunder never trailed after the opening five minutes. Oklahoma City led by as many as 29 points at one point. Embarrassing is the only word that can describe the performance of the Lakers, no that is not true. There are others: outmatched, lazy, slow, lacking focus, and overrated are just a few. The Thunder poured it on from the floor and also from the line and when the wind stopped sweeping through the plains the Lakers were left on the wrong side of 110-89 margin.

“Who knew?” Those were the two words spoken by Stuart Scott about the one constant over the four games played so far in this series. Stuart Scott must not read the Kobe Beef. (Hey, Stu, we’re what’s good.) Russell Westbrook has torched the Lakers in each of the four games and there is no solution that the Zen Master can come up with that can stop him. Los Angeles does not have the personnel. In Oklahoma City the tandem of Westbrook and Durant clicked together like it had all season. In Los Angeles the play of Durant was subpar but Westbrook was superb. In game one Westbrook scored 23 points and dished out eight dimes, he had 19 points in game two. At home he was even better totaling 27 points and eight rebounds in game three and 18 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in game four. Can the Lakers stop him going forward in this series? Short answer: no, long answer: not a chance.

The Lakers may yet win the series as the hold the home court advantage but another misguided venture into the plains is the last thing that L.A. wants to think about but it is in their heads. It is yet another open wound that has been revealed as the armor and gold has been chipped away. Only a championship run could restore the fading nostalgia of dynasties gone by. Yet, the more the writing on the kingdom walls grows more prevalent as it spreads from the back alleys to Main Street. A young and vicious opponent is knocking at the gate and the kingdom is threatened. No longer can one turn a blind eye to the troubling state of affairs within the once idolized standard of glamour and success. Hole in the armor have given way to no armor at all. They have become impotent at the hands of a younger aggressor. Championship aspirations should be cast to the wind as the glory of the past has no place and cannot be replicated in the present. The kingdom is crumbling.

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