The Los Angeles Lakers, avoided being in a 0-3 deficit, by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 99-96 on Friday night. The Lakers wasted no time setting the tone, going on an 8-0 run to begin the game. 4 of the Lakers 5 starters scored the first 10 points, and the Lakers had a 23-15 lead after the 1st quarter. Their defense softened in the 2nd quarter however, and the Thunder managed 32 2nd quarter points. Things became emotional in the second quarter when Russell Westbrook furiously attempted to prevent Metta World Peace from tying him up for a jump ball. World Peace’s knee came down on Westbrook’s leg during a brief skirmish including Jordan Hill, and both Westbrook and World Peace received technical fouls. Lakers would head to the intermission with a 50-47 lead.
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with a game-high 36 points on 9-25 shooting. He was perfect from the line though, attempting a massive 18 free throws, and making all of them. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 31 points on 12-23 shooting, while committing 5 turnovers. NBA Sixth man of the year, James Harden had 21 points off the bench. He attempted 12 free throws and made 11 of them. In what became a very physical game, we saw 70 free throw attempts, 42 of them coming from the Lakers. Andrew Bynum had a poor shooting night, going 2-13 from the field, but still managed a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. He made 11 of his 12 free throw attempts, and was the only player in the game to not be called for a personal foul.
In the 3rd quarter, the Lakers struggled with their offense and only managed 19 points. The Thunder took advantage, but it could have been a lot worse than the 70-69 lead they took into the 4th quarter. It was a back and forth type of game in the early minutes of the last period, up until the 8 minute mark. The Thunder were leading 76-74, when Kobe Bryant started to take advantage of ex-teammate Derek Fisher guarding him. He hit two beautiful fade-away jump shots from the same exact spot, to give the Lakers a 78-76 lead. Kobe gave himself a heat check, shooting his 3rd consecutive jumper, but this one wasn’t even close. In fact, it was an air ball. This would lead to a 7-0 Thunder run. Kevin Durant made a layup on the ensuing play, and Matt Barnes made a lazy pass coming back down the court which was intercepted by James Harden. The turnover equaled 3 points for the Thunder, as Harden rewarded himself with a right-wing three pointer. Just like that, it was a 83-78 Thunder lead.
Lakers would hang tough, however, as Steve Blake hit a top of the key 3 pointer at the 6:00 mark to tie the game at 83. A relentless Thunder squad, would go on another 9-4 run, giving them a 92-87 lead with 3 minutes to go. After 2 Pau Gasol free throws, the Lakers cut the lead to 92-89. Lakers buckled down on defense, Metta World Peace blocked a Kendrick Perkins dunk attempt, and the Lakers finally grasped the lead after a pair of free throws from Kobe. Thunder would respond with a Kevin Durant jumper with 1:06 left, and a 94-93 Thunder lead. Kobe Bryant missed a layup and a jump shot, all in one possession, but the hustle of Pau Gasol and Steve Blake kept the play alive. Kobe was fouled by Russell Westbrook and hit both to give the Lakers a 95-94 lead.
Metta World Peace and Kobe both hit a pair of free throws down the stretch to give the Lakers a 99-96 lead. Kevin Durant, who has played hero so many times already in his young career, lined up a top of the key 3 pointer with 5 seconds left, but tonight was not the night. Off the rim, and the Lakers survive, avoiding a dreadful 0-3 hole. Looking to even up the series 2-2, Game 4 is scheduled for tomorrow night, back-to-back sets, NBA fans. This should be fun.
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