Reporting from Oklahoma City -- Kevin Durant stood tall for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
His defense on Kobe Bryant — the player many consider the best in the NBA and the best closer in game — was stupendous in the fourth quarter. His ability to be the man in the fourth at a time when Bryant normally has been The Man was outstanding.
Durant put his prints all over Game 3 of the Western Conference first-round opener, leading the Thunder to a 101-96 victory over the Lakers Thursday night at the Ford Center.
His all-around play made the difference and helped the Thunder cut L.A.'s best-of-seven lead to 2-1.
Durant had 29 points, 12 in his impressive fourth quarter.
He had 19 rebounds, a career-high in the playoffs and regular season.
He had four assists and one blocked shot, on Bryant.
“My shot wasn’t falling for me,” Durant said. “I just tried to do other things, man — get some rebounds, get some assists.”
Durant said he defended Bryant during the four-game regular-season series for about 10 or 11 possessions.
But at the start of the fourth quarter, Thunder Coach Scott Brooks and assistant Ron Adams suggested Durant defend Bryant, telling him, “It’s your turn.”
So Durant took up the biggest chore his team has to deal with, trying to guard Bryant.
“He wanted to guard Kobe. I wanted him to guard Kobe,” Brooks said. “It was group effort on that decision.”
Bryant was two for 10 and had one of his shots blocked by Durant in the fourth.
Bryant finished with 24 points, but he was just 10 for 29 from the field.
“He missed some shots, some shots he normally hits,” Durant said. “But he missed them tonight, luckily. I was praying that they were going out, that they were going to bounce off the rim. I just tried to play my hardest and use my length to disturb his shot. My teammates did a great job of helping me out. It was far from just being myself.”
At 6-9 and with a long wingspan, Durant has the length to bother Bryant’s shot.
Durant stayed low on defense and moved his feet.
He was willing to take the challenge.
“It’s a chance for me to get better,” Durant said. “Every time I step on the floor, I want to get better. Playing against the best player in the world is only going to make me better on the defensive end.”
Durant had 12 points in the fourth quarter.
His three-pointer in the third tied the score at 74-74, the first time the Thunder had been tied since the game started.
“I thought he played really good defense on Kobe,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “He made some free throws tonight. He didn’t shoot the ball very well. He stepped into a three-pointer on transition. But I thought his defense was kind of the inspirational part, making Kobe have to pull up and blocking one of his shots.”