Lakers find Thunder is not going quietly
Reporting from Oklahoma City -- An entire arena bore down on the Lakers, if not an entire state, the noise and the jubilation making it easy to fathom what happened in a second half that changed a series.
Kobe Bryant faded, Kevin Durant elevated and the Oklahoma City Thunder had the most important victory of its brief two-year existence, 101-96, moving within 2-1 of the Lakers in a first-round playoff series.
It turned into Bryant vs. Durant, and it became a one-sided contest when it mattered most, the 21-year-old getting the best of the 31-year-old in the final 12 minutes Thursday at Ford Center.
Bryant made two of 10 shots after Durant began guarding him in the fourth quarter. He finished with 24 points on 10-for-29 shooting.
“It was a matchup that caught me by surprise,” Bryant said. “I think he did a great job.”
Durant wasn’t very accurate himself, scoring 29 points on eight-for-24 shooting, but he was better than Bryant down the stretch, making four of seven in the fourth quarter. Game 4 in the best-of-seven series is Saturday at Ford Center.
The Lakers aren’t panicking, but they’re wondering aloud why they didn’t get the ball more often to their big men.
Andrew Bynum had 13 points on six-for-nine shooting and Pau Gasol had 17 points on seven-for-12 shooting. They each took two shots in the fourth quarter.
“Pau should definitely get more touches,” Bynum said. “Every time he touches the ball, something good happens.”
But the Lakers were lazy on offense, settling for 31 three-point attempts, tying for the most in a game in their playoff history.
“That’s way too many,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Jackson also noted the disparity in free-throw attempts. Oklahoma City made 27 of 34, the Lakers made 10 of 12.
“The most outstanding stat is 34 free throws to 12, but that’s not a reflection of the referees,” he said, fully cognizant that he already has been fined $35,000 twice this month for criticizing referees.
Lakers owner Jerry Buss made the trip, a rarity, as did General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Thunder fans will be there again in Game 4, standing for entire quarters as they did in Game 3.
“It was one of the loudest crowds that I’ve played in front of in the postseason,” said Bryant, who passed Jerry West for the Lakers’ all-time playoff scoring record, finishing Thursday with 4,465 points. “At the end of the third quarter, it was like the barn in Sacramento. It was really loud.”
Lamar Odom continued to be a no-show in the series, scoring eight points in only 21 minutes of action, and Ron Artest had another bad night from long distance, making one of five three-point attempts.
But why didn’t Bynum and Gasol get more chances?
Jackson found fault with Bryant’s teammates in the fourth quarter, not Bryant.
“We wanted the ball going inside,” Jackson said. “We didn’t get the ball inside and it ended up in Kobe’s hands and he was like, ‘OK,’ and he got into attack mode.”
Said Bryant: “We’ve got to strategize to figure out how to get the ball to them.”
The Lakers seemed fine in the first half despite the change in venue and the zillion-decibel increase from Staples Center.
The Lakers scored the first 10 points and led at halftime, 50-43, Bryant scoring 14 points on fairly acceptable five-for-12 shooting. Durant at the time had eight points on two-for-10 shooting.
But the Lakers were outscored in the second half, 58-46, unable to stop Durant or Russell Westbrook (27 points in Game 3).
The victory was vitally important for the Thunder. After all, an NBA team has never come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
Before the game, Jackson gave a frank assessment of the regular season when asked if he was surprised he didn’t receive a vote for coach of the year.
“I think we underachieved and most people probably recognize that,” he said.
In the end, a fan held up a sign that said, “Thunder Never Tire.”
It was appropriate. The Lakers blinked for the first time this series.