There are times when trying to recap an NBA game that there's not a lot to work with. One team wins, the other one loses, and if everything went more or less as expected, what is there to say? Sunday's game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder was not one of those games. The game, eventually won by the Lakers in double overtime 114-106, featured any number of storylines that would lead most any other recap. Which presents a different problem: which angle is the most compelling?
- Is it the mixed martial arts elbow that Metta World Peace delivered to the head of James Harden just before halftime, resulting in an ejection for MWP and a possible concussion for Harden?
- Or the fact that the Lakers erased an 18-point deficit, 17 in the fourth quarter, to win the game, and quite probably the Pacific Division in the process?
- How about the struggles of Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who between them missed an astounding 42 shots?
- Or the fact that the Lakers played the entire fourth quarter and both overtimes with Jordan Hill, Devin Ebanks and Steve Blake on the floor?
There's not a lot to say about the World Peace elbow. After his dunk to bring the Lakers within one, MWP went into a chest pounding celebration. Harden happened to be in the vicinity, and Metta morphed his gorilla dance into a full blown elbow directly to Harden's temple. His assertion after the game that the elbow was unintentional is patently absurd -- he might not have known who it was, but he knew there was a body there. He clearly modified his backswing to get more momentum behind the elbow, he clearly went high to get over Harden's shoulder for a direct shot at the head, and he clearly followed through after making contact. It was intentional all the way.
It remains to be seen what kind of suspension the league will impose on MWP. We haven't really seen an incident this ugly since Andrew Bynum leveled J.J. Barea in last season's playoffs, for which Bynum received a five-game suspension, later reduced to four. With only one regular season remaining for the Lakers, any suspension beyond a single game will involve World Peace missing playoff games.
The play seemed to energize the Thunder. Up a single point at the time of the elbow, the Thunder began steadily increasing their lead which grew to five by halftime, and all the way to 18 just before the end of the third. The lead was still a little more than 14 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game.
At that point the Lakers went on a 18-3 run to take a one point lead of their own with 82 seconds remaining. It was L.A.'s first lead since early in the first quarter. During the run, Durant was 1-6 and Westbrook was 0-2 -- and no other member of the Thunder so much as took a shot. Westbrook did manage to get to the line in the next two possessions where he kept the Thunder in the game with his free throws. But Durant's three pointer at the buzzer missed and the game went into overtime.
Like regulation, the first overtime ended with the ball in Oklahoma City's hands with a chance to win the game; this time it was Westbrook who missed a last second three. In the second overtime Kobe Bryant scored six points and the Lakers pulled away to secure the win.
For the game Durant shot just 11-34 while Westbrook was 3-22. With Harden unavailable and their two stars struggling, the Thunder just didn't have a lot going for them down the stretch.
The strangest twist of all may have been the crucial play of Jordan Hill. Acquired from Houston at the trade deadline in the Derek Fisher trade, Hill had been with the Lakers for five weeks and 22 games, during which time he had appeared in five games for a total of 18 minutes. Sunday afternoon, Hill played 35 minutes and recorded a double-double, scoring more points (14) and grabbing more rebounds (15) than he previously had in his entire Lakers career combined. It seems a little late in the season to be adjusting the rotation, what with just one game left before the playoffs begin, but the Hill that showed up Sunday is a significant upgrade over either Josh McRoberts who Troy Murphy and it will be interesting to see what Mike Brown does with him moving forward.
With the win, the Lakers remain a half game ahead of the Clippers. The two teams are tied in the loss column, but the Lakers own the season series tie breaker, so the Lakers just need one more win in their season finale against Sacramento to be assured of the third seed in the playoffs.
As for the Thunder, the loss is a major blow to their hopes of catching the Spurs for best record in the Western Conference. San Antonio owns a two-game lead in the loss column and the season series tie breaker, meaning that the Spurs would have to lose all three of their remaining games in order for Oklahoma City to pass them. That's not happening.
For all of Sunday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.