The Lakers headed home to Los Angeles on Friday in hopes of taking a step in the right direction after a two game skid to start their second round series. Falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder in two different yet still devastating games to land in an 0-2 hole, L.A. looked to continue improving their defensive game while finding answers to shut down the 2012 scoring champion Kevin Durant.
After a blowout 29-point victory in Game 1, and fighting back in the closing two minutes to snatch Game 2 77-75 , the only thing the Thunder had to worry about entering Friday’s matchup was the fact they had lost their previous 13 playoff games in Los Angeles. The Lakers had worse numbers to worry about, however, as they had lost nine of their previous 13 playoff games themselves, picking up their only four wins in the seven game series versus the Nuggets. It was definitely time for the Lakers to rediscover what had made them so successful in the playoffs over the years, with the need of huge games from both the big men in the paint and the previously weak bench in order to compete. This strong and youthful Thunder team could easily force L.A. out with another second round exit for the second time in two seasons. The Lakers had the opportunity to walk into Game 3 with all the positives their way, as they did play well in Game 2 and should continue to build off of the momentum they had before the final two minutes.
Reclaiming dominance on their home floor after allowing the Nuggets to easily take games in Staples could also be a key to keeping this seasoned Lakers team in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers could easily get themselves back into this series with the initiation of smarter shot selections, a bigger team effort on both sides of the court and using their abilities to once again hold a hot shooting Thunder under 80 points.
The Lakers started off the game well, bouncing back from their horrific Game 2 loss with a nice eight points from Bryant, Gasol, Sessions and Bynum. The Thunder were unable to establish an early rhythm, missing their first five shot attempts, allowing the Lakers to start off with their largest lead of the series. Durant drained his side’s first bucket of the game, with an acrobatic layup to which Wesbrook followed up with a pull up jumper to cut the Lakers lead to four. Sessions hit another basket, already an improvement from his previous two games where he clearly looked as if his sprained ankle was leaving him with hesitation.
Metta World Peace proved he was present for the Lakers on defense, grabbing a steal after a missed Lakers’ shot attempt which led to a Bynum-Pau combination to take a 10-point lead. Another big presence on defense forcing a Thunder turnover kept the Lakers looking healthy on offense, and Sessions scored once again to already total a higher amount of points than he has had the whole series. Kobe Bryant picked up two fouls early, and the Thunder began inching back into the game, but Oklahoma City continued to struggle shooting and the Lakers called their first timeout just before the two minute mark.
The Lakers began losing some of their energy and the Thunder kept hitting more and more baskets, but a three from Metta World Peace with a minute remaining put the Lakers on a 7-0 run. Derek Fisher continued to crush the hearts of the fans with another floating layup, but the Lakers quick start kept them on top of the 30 percent shooting Thunder as they entered the second quarter up 23-15.
James Harden hit a three to open up the second quarter, cutting even deeper into the Lakers lead. Steve Blake took the opportunity to make up for the missed game-winning three in the previous game by draining a three off of an impressive Matt Barnes pass, and putting in a layup the next play down the court. James Harden boosted his point total up to 12 with a pair of free throws, and a Nick Collison 20-foot jumper cut the Lakers once healthy lead to just two. The Thunder bench was completely dominating the game, with 18 points in comparison to the Lakers’ bench, who were representing with just five.
Durant nailed a pressured three to retake the lead for the visitors 33-32, forcing L.A. to call a timeout. A third personal foul was called on Bryant just as the halfway mark in the quarter passed, which was clearly the last thing the Lakers wanted to deal with right after losing their big lead. Andrew Bynum continued to work in the post for good looks, but nothing he put up was able to fall as Perkins continued to dominate the paint. A scuffle for possession led to a confrontation between both Metta World Peace and Russell Westbrook, which resulted in technical fouls to both players. Harden quickly accumulated three fouls in the quarter to be forced to have a seat, and Bynum was able to finally get a post up basket to fall, shifting the momentum in the Lakers’ favor in the closing two minutes.
Sessions hit another basket to bring his total up to 10, but Kevin Durant shot right back with four points in 20 seconds to tie the game up with less than 20 seconds remaining in the half. A smart pass from Sessions to Metta World Peace resulted in a buzzer beating three-pointer to retake the lead entering halftime, with the Lakers inching ahead 50-47.
Serge Ibaka got the ball moving for the Thunder early in the second half, hitting back to back baskets to cut the Lakers lead to just one. Sessions continued to improve for the Lakers, sinking another two points to keep his team slightly ahead. Pau Gasol showed his strength in the post, grabbing a pass from Kobe and powering over two defenders to slam another basket home. The Thunder pieced together a run after, putting up seven unanswered points including a Sefolosha three-pointer, forcing the Lakers to call a timeout.
Kobe Bryant came back to the floor on a mission, hitting a 19-foot jumper while drawing a foul from Serge Ibaka to complete a three point play. The Thunder were still surging on a 13-3 run, keeping hold of their largest lead of the game at seven. Bynum finally began establishing himself again over Kendrick Perkins, grabbing a rebound off a Bryant missed jumper to draw a foul, head to the line and sink another two free throws. Kobe Bryant hit a bucket from the top of the key to crunch the Thunder’s lead to five, but slowly Oklahoma City began pulling father away and getting more successful on each offensive play.
Luckily, the Thunder went over their foul limit, so when Fisher fouled Kobe just outside the three-point line Bryant was able to sink both of his free throws. All of a sudden, the seven point lead was dropped to one, and Staples Center seemed to liven back up. A few fouls back and forth with Durant and Blake making all of their free throws kept the Lakers down one, and the quarter came to an end with the Thunder ahead 70-69.
Andrew Bynum continued to lead the way with the Lakers impressive free throw shooting, opening up the scoring in the final quarter for his side hitting another two free throws to put the Lakers game total at 26-26. Both teams were unable to create any field goal opportunities, allowing the Lakers to retake a one point lead with two minutes passed. Metta World Peace missed back to back three-point opportunities, and Harden drew a foul on the other end of the court to sink two more free throws.
Kobe Bryant reentered the game with nine minutes still on the clock, leaving plenty of time for the Lakers to retake control and get their first victory of the series. Kevin Durant hit a freak basket while falling over and throwing it up in the air, keeping hold of their two point lead. No matter how hard Bryant tried, he was unable to match Durant’s luck, with baskets he would typically sink clanking off the rim and falling back into a Thunder defender’s hands.
All of a sudden, the tables turned, and Kobe Bryant performed a spin move on Derek Fisher to drain a 14-foot shot and tie the game back up at 76. He struck again versus Fisher, retaking the lead, leading many people to question why the Thunder even attempted this defensive match up. Harden continued to take constant trips to the free throw line, and the combination of two free throws, a Durant break away layup, a Harden steal and a Harden three-pointer put the Thunder on a 7-0 run with a five point lead.
The Lakers recovered, turned the ball over, recovered, and turned the ball over some more. It was a back and forth battle between L.A. trailing five and trailing one. Each team looked to free throws for a majority of their fourth quarter points, with the mass amount of fouls adding up as time progressed. Kobe Bryant put in a layup with under two minutes remaining to bring the Lakers back within one, and another foul on James Harden put Bryant at the free throw line to take a one point lead. Kevin Durant came out of the timeout to put in a layup, and after two missed shot attempts from Los Angeles, Bryant was able to draw another foul and sink both shots to retake another L.A. lead.
Serge Ibaka missed the 18-foot jumper to put the Thunder ahead with 12 seconds remaining, and a massive steal from Metta World Peace before drawing a foul sent him to the line to put the Lakers up three. Perkins scored off of the inbound play to cut the lead to one with nine seconds left, and the free throw clinic continued at Staples Center with Bryant hitting another pair. Andrew Bynum blocked Ibaka’s last layup attempt after a Durant missed three, and the Lakers pulled away with a 99-96 victory at home, now only trailing 2-1 in the series.