Now, the Thunder’s task is to find a way to hurdle its fourth-quarter hump and close out the Lakers. If Oklahoma City duplicates its effort from these first two games, the Thunder will give itself an opportunity to make the third time the charm.
The Thunder maintained its pesky defense from Game 1 and held the Lakers to 37.5 percent shooting. Only two Lakers players scored in double digits. Problem was, those two players, Bryant and Pau Gasol, combined for 64 points.
“That was about as well as we can play, and (we) just came up a little short,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Overall, I was very happy with the way we played.”
What stood out most was the Thunder’s resiliency.
The most significant showing came from Durant, who made the proper adjustments against bulldog defender Ron Artest and delivered the type of performance the Thunder needs to make this a series. The Thunder’s star and NBA’s leading scorer shook off his dreadful playoff debut and netted a team-high 32 points on 12-of-26 shooting.
Durant’s eight turnovers, however, were problematic. And he couldn’t outshine Bryant’s game-high 39 points, 15 of them coming in a fourth quarter that temporarily answered the questions about Bryant’s health.
“What did Mark Twain say?” Jackson asked. “Rumors of my demise are overrated.”
Coach Scott Brooks made the right adjustments as well, giving Ibaka more playing time against Lakers duo Andrew Bynum and Gasol. With the more athletic Ibaka in the mix, the payoff was a franchise playoff record 17 blocked shots, including seven by Ibaka.
The Thunder also overcame a foul-plagued night by Russell Westbrook. The point guard, who was the Thunder’s lone offensive weapon in Game 1, was whistled for his second foul with 5:35 remaining in the first quarter and never had a chance to put his stamp on the game early. After returning 24 seconds into the second quarter, Westbrook was called for his third foul with 6:06 remaining in the first half and the Thunder trailing 37-28.
Still, Westbrook finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes. Green, however, shot just 2-for-11 from the field and had 12 points. Nenad Krstic, who scored six of his 10 points in the third quarter, was the only other player to finish in double figure scoring, as the Thunder shot 39 percent from the field and 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) from behind the 3-point line.
“The Lakers did what they’re supposed to do,” Brooks said. “They protected their home court.”
And now it’s the Thunder’s turn to show it can do the same.