LOS ANGELES — Well, there goes the sweep.
The Oklahoma City Thunder had a chance to continue its march through this postseason by dusting off its second straight opponent with four straight wins.
But the Los Angeles Lakers narrowly dodged its third straight loss to the Thunder on Friday night, escaping with a 99-96 win in Game 3 inside Staples Center.
Game 4 is right back here Saturday night.
Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 36 points, including eight of the Lakers final 10 points to help L.A. hold onto the win and keep hope alive for his team. No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, and the Lakers were seconds away from facing potentially staring at that hole.
But, led by Bryant, the Lakers now seek to even the series at two games apiece.
Six of Bryant's final eight points came at the free throw line, a place where the Lakers lived all night. Los Angeles shot 42 foul shots and made a whopping 41 of them.
The Thunder shot just 28, not nearly enough to keep up despite sinking 26 of them.
Bryant alone attempted 18 foul shots, making all 18 to offset a 9-of-25 shooting night. His final pair with 9.8 seconds remaining provided the final margin.
“Every possession is huge in a series against a team like the Thunder,” said Lakers coach Mike Brown. “You're not going to get any better look than a free throw against these guys. For us to step up and … knock down 41-of-42 is huge.”
Kevin Durant had a chance to tie it, but his 3-pointer from the top of the arc rimmed out with three seconds left. Thunder forward Serge Ibaka corralled the rebound but made the mistake of going right back up rather than kicking it out for a last-second 3-point attempt.
The Thunder was then forced to walk off the court with on the wrong end of a heartbreaker as confetti rained down from the rafters.
But Oklahoma City can carry a ton of positives from Friday into Saturday.
The Thunder withstood the Lakers best shot — which started with a 8-0 run that ballooned to 16-4 before long — and still nearly survived on the road.
Durant scored a game-high 31 points on 12-of-23 shots despite stifling defense from Metta World Peace. James Harden and Russell Westbrook added 21 points apiece. The Thunder turned the ball over only nine times, and just three times in the second half. And despite the stat sheet showing double-doubles for Lakers big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the Thunder did an excellent job of holding them in check. They combined to score 27 points with 11 rebounds but went just 6-of-21 from the field.
The game, though, was decided at the foul line.
“We fouled too many times,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We've got to do a better job of not fouling.”