LOS ANGELES — Lesson No. 1 in the NBA playoffs: There are no moral victories.
But this one came mighty close.
With those long arms and young legs, the Thunder kept swiping Laker shots into the Staples Center seats. Stayed in the game despite Russell Westbrook’s early foul trouble. Had a chance to win even though Kobe Bryant reminded us why he’s Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers beat the Thunder 95-92 in a rousing Game 2 Tuesday night in the Western Conference playoffs, but the Thunder served notice that not only will it not let the Lakers breeze into the second round, but when the Thunder grows up, this team is going to be a bear.
“That was about as well as we can play and just came up a little short,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That’s two games in a row we gave the effort defensively. That’s how you win games. I thought our guys played with great pride.”
The game wasn’t decided until the final 10 seconds, during which both Kevin Durant’s long 3-point shot (which would have put the Thunder ahead) and Jeff Green’s 3-point shot (which would have tied it at the buzzer) bounced off the rim.
The Thunder will be better off when it realizes Green isn’t really a 3-point shooter — he was 1-of-6 Tuesday night, after going 1-of-3 in Game 1 — but that’s a minor quibble.
Brooks was right. This game was about pride. And anyone who hasn’t bought into the Thunder’s ascension isn’t paying attention.
“One of the hardest games we have played all season,” Durant said. “Our energy on the defensive end was phenomenal.”
This team is more than the Durantulas, though Spiderman himself was fabulous, with 32 points on 12-of-26 shooting.
The Thunder scared the la-la out of the Lakers with grit and swarm. The Thunder blocked 17 shots, only three shy of the NBA playoff record.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, those long-armed Laker 7-footers, had their shots punched and swatted like they were so much trash. Gasol still was superb; 25 points and 12 rebounds. But no other Laker besides Gasol and Bryant netted more than six points.
Even when Westbrook was on the bench much of the first half, even when no one except Durant could make a shot, even when, as expected, all the calls went the Lakers’ way down the stretch, even when Kobe took over the game in the fourth quarter, the Thunder refused to wilt.
This is another step of maturity. No way is the Thunder going to win this playoff series, but it leaves Los Angeles a better team than it came, and the Lakers know nothing will come easy.
“They came out and played a stellar second quarter,” said Laker coach Phil Jackson. “Got some blocked shots, we messed up some fast breaks. Changed the momentum in the game ..