You cannot blame everyone for being a little tight when the Lakers traveled to Oklahoma City for Game One of their matchup against the Thunder.
It was not too long ago (about three weeks) that the league suspended Lakers forward Ron Artest Metta World Peace for seven games after he appeared to purposefully elbow Thunder guard James Harden while celebrating a dunk. World Peace went through the requisite attrition, apologizing publicly and sending an apology to Harden through a third party.
During Game One, TNT’s Craig Sager reported that the staff at Chesapeake Energy Arena was on the lookout for signs referring to World Peace’s infamous elbow and was confiscating any signs that mentioned the incident or were derogatory toward World Peace (the player… but being derogatory toward the idea is not a good thing either). Only “creative” signs made it through.
The broadcast of the game mentioned the incident a few times and seemed to downplay the crowd reaction. Make no mistake, the Thunder faithful were raining boos down on Metta World Peace every time he touched the ball.
There did not appear to be any bad blood between the combatants. But World Peace did not go out of his way to bury the hatchet and apologize to James Harden (what an odd sentence to write).
“I don’t shake substitutes’ hands,” World Peace told Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles after the Lakers defeated the Nuggets in Game Seven on Saturday. “I shake everybody’s hand before the game, but Oklahoma City, they don’t shake hands. Only some of them, but I don’t think they really shake hands before the game. Kendrick Perkins and now (Russell) Westbrook don’t shake hands either. (Russell) used to shake hands, but now he don’t shake hands anymore.”
OK, so World Peace is not shaking any hands. He has his focus intensely on the task at hand. It does not seem like Harden is going to give much response to World Peace. He is going to do what earned him the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.
And World Peace is right about one thing, his focus should not be on some form of revenge. In fact, the only form of revenge the Thunder seem determined to get is on the court.
Harden scored 17 points on 4-for-11 shooting. He got to the line for 10 free throw attempts, making nine. Individually he did not have his best game, but he clearly did not need that with Russell Westbrook and kevin Durant running roughshod through the middle of the Lakers defense. Los Angeles could not stop those two from getting open jumpers or getting into the lane and that led to an embarrassing 30-point defeat that has everyone questioning whether Los Angeles will make a series of this matchup.
World Peace, for his part, 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting. And, most importantly, he had no incidents.
The bigger embarrassment (or revenge, if you are an OKC fan) came on the defensive end. Oklahoma City shot 53 percent from the floor and 7 for 17 from beyond the 3-point line. Wesbrook had 27 points and Durant had 25 points on 8-for-16 shooting. The defense got so bad for the Lakers, that they resorted to a 3-2 zone. That might have been the ultimate embarrassment for World Peace, one of the league’s best defenders.
The Lakers know they need to do more for Game Two. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
Now that this little spat appears to have past (or maybe it is just beginning, this series did just start after all), the focus for the Lakers has to be squarely on finding a way to slow down the Thunder juggernaut — or at least keeping up with them. That part will not be easy.
Another blowout loss on the road will not be the end of the world for the Lakers, but it will not be a good thing.