Thunder Regain Strength Late, Beat Lakers 103-100

After a well fought out and emotional victory at the Staples Center the night before, the Los Angeles Lakers hoped to tie the series up versus the Oklahoma City Thunder at 2-2 on Saturday. The emergence of Ramon Sessions after two lackluster games due to an ankle injury was one of the many remedies the Lakers finally concocted to put themselves back within a position to even up the series, and more big improvements were needed in Game 4 to keep a Los Angeles championship dream alive.

The Oklahoma City bench completely dominated Game 3, with James Harden scoring 21 points while making numerous trips to the free throw line hitting 11 of his 12 free throw attempts. The Lakers were performing a free throw clinic, however, scoring a whopping 41 of their 42 free throws and continuously making drives towards the basket, forcing frustrated Thunder defenders to foul each play. The Lakers cannot expect a similar amount of free throw attempts each game, however, especially once heading back to Oklahoma City, so Game 4 required better field goal percentages from each player on the floor, especially the Lakers bench.

Andrew Bynum, who only shot 2-13 from the field Friday, could be an automatic key to victory if the good looks he was taking Game 3 could finally fall into the basket. An improvement of play from Matt Barnes and Jordan Hill, who were key factors in the Lakers late season overtime victory over the Thunder, could also make the rest of this tense series more favorable to L.A. than in the first two games.

First Quarter

The Thunder started off hitting their outside shots, as the Lakers defense was focused on keeping the ball away from Kendrick Perkins in the paint. The whistle looked to be in the Lakers favor once again early, with Kobe Bryant heading to the free throw line with the Lakers first possession. Each player of the Los Angeles starting five got touches on the ball in a single possession, with the fast ball movement freeing up the open man and producing points.

Sessions looked rested from the night prior, especially when he feed the perfect ally-oop to Bynum to take an 8-6 lead. Bynum and Metta World Peace were present on both posts, grabbing rebounds and putting up shots unlike the first three games. The Thunder were shooting well, however, with every impressive play from Los Angeles being answered on the other end with a wide range jumper. A 15-foot jump shot from Bryant tied the game up for the ninth time with only nine minutes passed in the game, but a big three from Metta World Peace gave L.A. their second three point lead of the night.

The Thunder attempted playing at a faster pace after Durant blew past Bryant for a layup, but the Lakers used it to their advantage. With Kobe shooting well, the game continued to fall in their favor, as he hit a total of 10 points in the first quarter alone. The Lakers closed the quarter on a 13-6 run, controlling the tempo and heading into the second ahead 29-24.

Second Quarter

Bynum hit his sixth basket in six attempts to start off the quarter, a complete improvement from the night before. The Lakers defensive presence was giving the Thunder problems, as they continued to lack an edge offensively and gave away numerous turnovers. Steve Blake even hit his first three-pointer of the game, and Staples continued to get loud as the Lakers continued to push forward to a 10 point lead. The Lakers were out-shooting and out-rebounding the Thunder, who thus decided to play with a smaller lineup, having Harden, Westbrook and Durant on the floor at the same time.

Metta World Peace hit his second three of the game, and a great feed from Gasol to Jordan Hill the next trip down the court kept their 10-point lead healthy. Jordan Hill continued to shine as the quarter went on, getting on the end of numerous rebounds and even working for trips to the free throw line. The Lakers picked up enough fouls to put the Thunder in the bonus for the four remaining minutes of the half, but L.A. continued to play aggressively, stripping the ball in the post and executing baskets as a result.

Bynum and Gasol worked well in the paint in the final two minutes of the quarter, with Pau tipping in a missed shot from double teamed Bynum to regain a nine point lead. Oklahoma City began giving away late turnovers, but crazy baskets from Russell Westbrook kept them in the game as the clock struck down. The Lakers continued to be tougher and quicker for the ball, and the additional possessions from grabbing the loose balls gave them the lead. Kobe Bryant drew a foul from Perkins with two seconds remaining after completing a layup to put together the three point play, allowing the Lakers to finish the half ahead 56-46.

Third Quarter

Kobe Bryant scored to open up the quarter to bring his personal total to 18, and a steal from Andrew Bynum proved the Thunder were not completely ready for the second half. The Lakers physicality and ball movement allowed them to continue growing on their lead, and despite a few missed shot attempts from Los Angeles early, turnovers from Oklahoma City kept the ball within their possession. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant both drained three-pointers to keep their offense steady, but they were once again fouling the Lakers repeatedly, giving the impressive free throw shooting home team free points.

Kobe Bryant became the creator for the Lakers offense as the six minute mark passed, not only feeding Bynum in the post but also putting up six consecutive points. The Lakers gave away their first turnover in 14 minutes, but Bryant’s hustle forced the ball out of bounds, keeping the Thunder from getting a fast break basket. Oklahoma City began chipping away at Los Angeles’ lead as the quarter winded down, going on a 5-0 run assisted by a Durant three-pointer, forcing a Lakers timeout to regain composure.

They did just that, coming out of the timeout with a basket from Bryant and three consecutive defensive rebounds. Kevin Durant finally earned his first two free throws of the game with less than 20 seconds remaining, and a huge driving layup from Russell Westbrook cut L.A.’s lead to only seven. A big jumper from a Westbrook guarded Kobe Bryant at the buzzer ended the quarter with a bang, and put the Lakers ahead 80-71 entering the final quarter of the game.

Fourth Quarter

Russell Westbrook earned a trip to the line off of a Sessions foul, but after missing one of the free throws the Lakers picked up another three points off of a Metta World Peace three-pointer. The Lakers took some poor shots to open the quarter, making the crowd uneasy and allowing the Thunder to inch closer to their lead. Andrew Bynum took control, however, demanding the ball in the post, putting away a dunk and then forcing James Harden to turn the ball over on the other end of the court. With Kobe Bryant on the bench, Los Angeles’ play didn’t falter like it had in previous games, speaking volumes in regards to bench improvement and overall impact from the rest of the starters.

Metta World Peace smashed another three-pointer home, giving L.A. another comfortable 11 point lead. Derek Fisher responded against his previous team with a three, as well, proving that the Thunder were here to compete in the final 12 minutes. Andrew Bynum reentered the game looking to be a game changer, only getting a minute of rest on the bench coming back in for Pau Gasol. Russell Westbrook once again hit a jumper to cut the lead to just seven, but Oklahoma City had been unable to break the barrier since L.A. built it up, which soon changed. Another drive from Westbrook put his personal total to a massive 34, putting the Thunder on a 12-3 run.

A sensational shot from Bryant put him at 34 as well, as he turned and faded away from Harden’s tough defense to sink a basket at the shot clock buzzer. Steve Blake once again impressed in crunch time, holding the ball for smart passes, picking up offensive rebounds and committing smart fouls. The Thunder pulled within two points off of a pair of free throws from Kevin Durant, who stepped up for his team offensively in the fourth quarter. Just as the two minute mark passed, Kevin Durant hit a jump shot to tie the game back up, and the Lakers missed six shots in a row. Kendrick Perkins hit his first two points of the night to take the lead, but Bryant put away two free throws to tie the game up with 64 seconds left.

Back to back turnovers from Westbrook then Gasol put the ball back in Thunder possession, and Kevin Durant got the ball at the top of the arc to nail a three-pointer and take the lead. Bryant missed the three shot on the other side, and despite scoring another two point jumper, the Lakers crumbled in the fourth and fell to the Thunder 103-100.

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