LOS ANGELES — You can do away with every encouraging sign that was seen Sunday, and forget about how educational this experience is supposed to be for future years.
Suddenly, the Oklahoma City Thunder appears capable of actually winning this thing.
Sure, the Thunder now trails 2-0 in this first-round series against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers following Tuesday night’s 95-92 thrilling defeat inside Staples Center.
But this best-of-seven showdown is shifting to Oklahoma City, where 18,000-plus will try to spur on their beloved boys to two victories and a chance to send it back to L.A. knotted at two games apiece.
And if that scenario plays out, the Thunder, after Tuesday, should have supreme confidence that it can return to the land of La La and land a victory.
Jeff Green missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime. His miss followed Kevin Durant’s missed 3-pointer that would have given the Thunder a one-point lead with just more than seven seconds to play.
It was a shocking turn of events for a Thunder team that seemingly no one had picked to win this series, and certainly not steal one on L.A.’s home court.
“We always had that confidence that we could come in here and win the game and play with these guys,” Durant said. “A lot of people didn’t even think we could play with these guys.”
Oklahoma City put up plenty of fight against the Lakers, overcoming adversity and a much rowdier sellout crowd of 18,997 inside Staples Center.
Three consecutive errors, though, doomed the Thunder in the final 2 1/2 minutes, a trio of blunders that might have given credence to any claim that Oklahoma City’s inexperience is indeed an issue that is too tall for the Thunder to overcome.
The first came with the game tied at 88-88. Serge Ibaka goal-tended a shot by Russell Westbrook and negated a jumper that appeared to be going in. Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant responded with a pull-up jumper to give L.A. a two-point lead.
Durant was then called for an offensive foul on the next possession. Bryant swished two foul shots at the other end to push the margin to 92-88 with 1:31 to play. And finally, Durant turned the ball over on a drive to the basket, leading to Shannon Brown hitting one of two free throws to give the Lakers a 93-88 lead with 1:18 remaining.
“A couple of things went our way down the stretch that made the difference in that ballgame,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. “We were down two points in the last five minutes and we were able to pull it out.”
If you’re scoring at home, that’s twice now that Jackson has watched his team eke out a victory. The Thunder trailed by 17 in Game 1 and battled to within six in the closing minutes Sunday before losing by eight. On Tuesday, the Thunder never trailed by more than six in the second half.
“They have the hunger to try to prove themselves and get to the level where we are,” Bryant said.