Sunday brought the Los Angeles Lakers back to Oklahoma City Arena for the first time since last year's opening-round of the playoffs.
Not quite the same intensity as the last meeting, but close.
“As intense as a regular-season game can be,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after his team's 90-87 loss to the Lakers before a sellout crowd of 18,203.
Game 6 against the Lakers wound up being the final game last season for the Thunder, which lost 95-94 on a put-back from Pau Gasol with .5 seconds left. This time, the Thunder had two shots in the closing sequence to tie the two-time defending world champions.
Kevin Durant's 28-footer out front with 4.9 seconds left was off the mark. Nick Collison tapped the offensive board back out top, where James Harden had an open look from 26 feet with 2.8 seconds left, which also was off the mark.
“We were fortunate to come away with that win,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said afterward.
The loss saddles the Thunder (36-22) with its first three-game losing streak of the season. Entering the contest, OKC was one of only four teams to not lose more than two straight – the others still being San Antonio, Boston and Chicago.
The Thunder also drops to 2-8 on Sundays this season.
It was the first time since last Thursday's trades with Boston and Charlotte that guard Nate Robinson and center Nazr Mohammed were available for the Thunder. Former Celtics center Kendrick Perkins will miss 2-3 weeks with a sprained knee.
The acquisitions had the equivalent of one shoot-around practice with their new teammates on Saturday, which Brooks felt was not ample preparation time. The Thunder will have two more practices before Wednesday night's home game against Indiana.
“We had the advantage today,” Jackson acknowledged. “They're still a team that is getting their personnel together. They played small and still outrebounded us (48-42)."
The shorthanded Thunder led by as many as 14 points in the first half and owned a 56-51 lead at intermission thanks to 61.1-percent shooting (22 for 36) from the field.
The second half was the alter ego, as OKC managed just 31 points in the final 24 minutes and shot 30 percent (12 for 40) from the floor.
The biggest second-half dips came from All-Stars Kevin Durant (4 for 13 from the field; three turnovers) and Russell Westbrook (1 for 6; four turnovers). Westbrook finished with 22 points and seven turnovers, both game-highs. Durant had 21 points (8 for 20) and five turnovers.
“It felt like nothing could go our way,” Durant said. “We missed shots and layups … These losses are tough.”
The Lakers picked up their defensive intensity after halftime and prevented Westbrook from continuing to penetrate at will. LA took five charging calls, including a key one from Gasol on Westbrook with 17.3 seconds left.
“The plan was to get in front of them, and that is why you saw so many charges,” Gasol said.
Thunder shooting guards Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden defended Kobe Bryant admirably, holding the four-time All-Star MVP to 17 points (8-for-22 shooting from the field) and forcing four turnovers. Bryant did have seven assists.
Seven-footers Gasol (18 points; 11 rebounds) and Andrew Bynum (16 points; 10 rebounds) each finished with a double-double.
“Their length and their size and their toughness bother us,” Brooks said.
Such might not be the case when the teams meet April 10 at Staples Center and Perkins presumably has joined the Thunder's starting lineup.
“Kendrick provides a big body for them inside, and he is the best low-post defender we have in the game,” Bryant said.