LOS ANGELES — The final day of the longest road trip in franchise history ended in a day filled with frustration.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined to miss 32 of 48 shots, the Thunder's defense was the most dreadful it's been all season, and by the time the Lakers put the finishing touches on their 105-96 victory inside Staples Center on Sunday afternoon Kobe Bryant had the locals calling him “Kobe Johnson.”
“Kobe picked us apart,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Fourteen assists back-to-back games. I don't know if he's ever had that before. But that tells you how great he is.”
Bryant scored a team-high 21 points with nine rebounds to complement his 14 assists, which helped the Lakers shoot an opponent-high 55.4 percent and land six players in double figure scoring.
Oklahoma City trailed by just two when Bryant and Lakers point guard Steve Nash returned with 7:03 remaining. Bryant then took control of the game, doing most of his damage from the right wing and right low block. He scored or assisted on 12 of the Lakers' final 19 points, carving up the Thunder on both isolations and post-ups.
“I'm trying to evolve and find out what we need as a ballclub,” Bryant said. “I can take a lot of pressure off of Steve to have to play-make all of the time. Instead of me being a finisher, it's really facilitating, drawing the defense and making plays. I game plan for it, and it seems to be working.”
Bryant dished 14 assists in the Lakers' 18-point win over Utah on Friday and again was a rebound away a triple-double in that contest. It was after that game that Bryant took to Twitter and playfully embraced the “Kobe Johnson” nickname, a tribute to former Lakers great Magic Johnson.
“He is playing like Magic Johnson,” said Nash. “He's taking the ball down, controlling the offense, creating opportunities for his teammates.”
The Thunder looked utterly unprepared for this version of Bryant, who had led the league in scoring for much of the season until Durant overtook him last week. Bryant's career high for assists is 15. But when he embraced ball movement, everyone on the Lakers became a threat. Bryant registered assists to six different teammates, five of them to Nash — his 17 points coming one shy of tying his season-high — and four to Gasol, who had 16 points off the bench.
“They got some smart players on the court,” said Thabo Sefolosha. “They did a good job of moving without the ball and Kobe did a good job passing to them. There's not much to it. He had the ball in his hands and made plays.”
The game got away from the Thunder when its top two playmakers couldn't match Bryant's dominance.
Durant and Westbrook combined to shoot 16-for-48 from the field and missed seven of their 10 3-point attempts. In the decisive fourth quarter, which began with the game tied 75-all, the Thunder's All-Star duo scored 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting.
Neither blamed their shooting struggles on the team's record six-game, 11-day road trip. But by the way their shots fell short — most notably a last-second missed layup by Durant — it's hard to not think the taxing West Coast tour played at least a small role.
Westbrook was wretched from the jump, starting the game 0-for-8 from the field. He air-balled his eighth attempt, a pull-up jumper from the right wing, and didn't get his first field goal to drop until 9.9 seconds remained in the second quarter. His second basket didn't come until 2:45 was left in the third quarter. He finished 6-for-22 from the floor, ending this road swing shooting 47 of 127, or 37 percent.
Westbrook's floor game, however, was exceptional. He had seven rebounds and nine assists by halftime and ended up with 13 assists and nine rebounds. His 27 assists over the past two games are the most he's ever had in a two-game span.
Durant scored a game-high 35 points but missed 16 of 26 shots, and the Thunder role players didn't offer much in the way of scoring help. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins had 10 points apiece but were the only other OKC players to score in double figures.
The Lakers' bench outscored the Thunder's 33-17. Lakers reserves Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks combined to score as much as the entire Thunder bench.
“It was a must win for them,” Durant said, “and they came out and performed well.”
The Thunder, meanwhile, went 3-3 on the trip and was forced to fly back home seeking answers for what went wrong and how it can get rolling back in the right direction. Allowing an average of 106 points on 46.6 percent shooting in these six games certainly can't be what the Thunder had in mind.
“We know that we're not just going to go home and everything's going to work out for us,” Brooks said.
“It'll be good to go home and see family and get comfortable in familiar surroundings. But we still got to play well and execute well to get the win.”