Lakers Get on the Board Against Thunder
The Los Angeles Lakers made a late-game surge over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night, winning 99-96 in the third game of their second-round matchup.
The Lakers were inches away from evening the series in Game 2 but after blowing a seven-point lead with about two minutes left, Game 3 very quickly became a must-win scenario.
Now LA has a chance to even the series at two, less than 24 hours later in a back-to-back playoff game on Saturday night.
Free throws were the story of Game 3 with the Lakers making a stunning 41 of 42 shots (97.6%). The Thunder weren’t far behind on percentage at 92.9% (26-28).
“We fouled too many times. That’s the bottom line,” said Coach Scott Brooks. “We have to do a better job of not fouling – defending, rebounding and getting out and running.”
The pace was slow. The whistle blew all night. Neither team shot 40%.
It seemingly took all the Lakers had to tie or take a small lead and in seconds the Thunder would go on a 5-0 or 7-0 run.
Ultimately the Lakers hung on with 36 points from Kobe Bryant and a little burst from reserve guard Steve Blake (12 points on 4-5 shooting, eight boards).
“I thought Steve Blake’s two shots were big,” said Brown of the five points Steve hit in succession in the fourth. “We need some production from other guys and he came off the pick and roll and shot his pull up . . . a second time and knocked down a three.”
Kevin Durant scored 31 for the Thunder. Both Russell Westbrook and James Harden scored 21 apiece but shot a combined 35.5% from the field.
While Andrew Bynum struggled to score from the field (2-13), he anchored the Lakers defense well and hit 11 of 12 free throws for 15 points, 11 boards and three blocks.
“Drew was very active for us tonight,” said Coach Mike Brown. “We have him doing a lot of stuff that nobody sees and nobody recognizes. He was an absolute monster. I could not take my hat off to anyone on our team more than Andrew Bynum. His activity with what we’re asking him to do almost every single possession defensively, on top of logging over 40 minutes, was terrific.”
Can the Lakers gear up to do the same tomorrow night?
“It’s going to take a mental commitment on our part in order to fight through the fatigue we might feel tomorrow,” said Pau Gasol. “It’s going to be all will and desire, and effort. Just pushing ourselves through everything and anything that we might be feeling or going on out there.”
Do the Lakers have that desire? Last year they were swept in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks. Now they’ve progressed farther this season but are they ready to do what it takes to get three more wins against this team?
“Yeah, I think we do,” said Gasol. “This game was another very tough game and we pulled through. We continued to work even when they got the lead a couple of times down in the fourth quarter. It’s in us. We want to win this series. We want to beat this team and we will do whatever it takes. Obviously we know how hard it’s going to be, but we are ready for it.”
Crucial for the Lakers is controlling the pace of the game. While they lost Game 2, it was theirs for the taking before the late collapse.
“That’s two games in a row that we controlled the tempo,” said Bryant. “We did a good job of controlling the pace of the game and being physical. As you see, even tonight there were stretches where . . . their explosiveness. They just go on runs quickly.”
Meanwhile the Thunder are younger, faster and looking to take a 3-1 edge back to Oklahoma City.
“It’s going to be a physical battle,” said Harden. “They got two big men and obviously Kobe. It’s going to be a grind this entire series but they got us tonight.”
The Thunder are happy to play slow, grind-it-out ball if that’s what it takes.
“We can play any type of basketball,” said Durant. “That’s what good about our team. We can play fast. We can play slow. That’s what tonight was and so was Game 2. But both games, we did a good job fighting. Tonight we just didn’t come out on top.”
Coach Brooks said the same.
“We are a defensive team. We’re not afraid to mix it up and play defensive basketball,” said Scott. “I think people think that with Kevin, Russell, Serge [Ibaka] and our athletic guys, that all we want to do is run and use our youth. We play defensive basketball . . . but we can play both ways.”
There was an incident during the game in which Metta World Peace and Westbrook got tied up on a loose ball. It appeared that Westbrook may have thrown a punch or a forearm or something on the ground. It also looked like Peace put his knee into Russell.
Both were assessed technical fouls and nothing seemed blatant enough to warrant a suspension.
“I was just trying to get the loose ball and quickly call a timeout,” said Westbrook. “But I guess it was hard for the refs to see it. That’s all I was trying to do.”
Three games in and it’s a little chippy.
The direction of the series will be decided quickly. Game 4 is scheduled for Saturday at 7:30pm . . .