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.
Sunday's box score