Thunder silence Lakers to take series lead
By Mark Lamport-Stokes
May 21, 2012, 12:06 am TWN
LOS ANGELES -- A late three-pointer by Kevin Durant capped a dramatic fightback by the Oklahoma City Thunder as they left the Los Angeles Lakers on the verge of playoff elimination with a 103-100 win in Game 4 on Saturday.
The second-seeded Thunder stormed from 11 points behind early in the final quarter to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.
Forward Durant finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds while guard Russell Westbrook weighed in with 37 points as Oklahoma City stunned a sellout crowd at Staples Center that had sensed a home win.
“I wanted to run the shot clock down and get the last shot,” Durant told reporters of his dagger blow of a three-pointer with 13.7 seconds remaining.
“It left my hand, (and) I was thinking, 'If this doesn't go in, it's going to be a terrible shot.' It was able to go down.”
Kobe Bryant led the way for the third-seeded Lakers with a game-high 38 points and eight rebounds but his team were ultimately let down by poor shooting, a rash of turnovers and a leaking defense over the closing stretch.
“We're all upset and extremely frustrated, (but) I don't think anybody is worried about going into Oklahoma City and getting a win,” All-Star guard Bryant said, referring to Game 5 on Monday.
“We don't think about winning three in a row. We just think about taking care of business on Monday. Just win that game and go from there.”
Trailing by 11 points with just under 8 minutes remaining, the Thunder steadily clawed their way back before a layup shot by center Kendrick Perkins put them ahead 98-96 with 1.16 minutes left.
Though Bryant made two free throws to tie the score at 98-98, Durant poured in a three-pointer to give Oklahoma City welcome breathing space with 13.7 left on the clock.
Two free throws by reserve guard James Harden gave the visitors a 103-98 cushion before a Bryant jump shot on the buzzer lifted the Lakers into three figures.
For Lakers coach Mike Brown, Saturday's tough loss boiled down to one worrying factor.
“We could talk about us offensively, yes, because we had some struggles,” he said.
“But it comes down to those guys (the Thunder) scoring 32 points in the fourth quarter. I felt like they did that very easily, and that's what disappoints me more than anything else.”
In front of a packed Staples Center crowd, the lead changed hands seven times in a closely contested first quarter before the Lakers ended it with a rousing 8-2 run to go 29-24 up.
Los Angeles tightened their grip in the second quarter, suffocating defense and strong rebounding helping them into a 56-46 lead by halftime.
Though the Thunder twice cut the deficit to seven as Westbrook found a hot hand, Bryant scored with a jump shot to put Los Angeles ahead 80-71 going into the final quarter.
Oklahoma City then mounted their stirring comeback.
“It was an amazing win,” said Westbrook, whose 37 points came from 15-of-26 shooting. “Everybody kept fighting. We all believed in each other. It's the playoffs.”