NBA playoffs: Oklahoma City Thunder at L.A. Lakers, Game 3
Could the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship window be about to be slammed shut for good in the Kobe Bryant era? If L.A. loses on Friday night at home in the Western Conference semifinals to Oklahoma City, it will be down 3-0 and no team has ever rallied from that deficit to win a series in NBA history. But the Lakers are 2.5-point favorites on WagerWeb.com.
While L.A. didn’t belong on the same court as the Thunder in losing Game 1 by 29 points, the Lakers should have won Game 2. Kevin Durant scored 22 points and rattled in the go-ahead basket on a baseline runner with 18 seconds left, and the Thunder scored the final nine points to rally for a 77-75 victory.
Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum scored 20 points apiece for the Lakers, who came up empty on their last six possessions after Bynum’s hook shot made it 75-68 with 2:09 remaining. Steve Blake missed an open 3-pointer from the right side with about five seconds left after Metta World Peace couldn’t get the ball to Bryant on the inbounds play. Bryant was right at the heart of the meltdown, missing two shots and having a hand in two turnovers in the final 2 minutes.
Durant led the Thunder with 22 points while Russell Westbrook was held to 15 as the Thunder scored their fewest points this season.
Historically, the loss makes a huge difference. Los Angeles is 29-12 when splitting the first two games of a seven-game series and has lost 17 of 19 when falling into a 2-0 hole. The Lakers’ last comeback was in the 2004 West semifinals against San Antonio. The Thunder have won all nine of their series after leading 2-0, dating back to the franchise’s days in Seattle.
On the positive side, despite their gut-wrenching Game 2 loss, the Lakers made dramatic improvements on the defensive end, holding the Thunder to just 77 points (compared to 119 in Game 1) on 42.0 percent shooting (compared to 53.0 percent), while forcing 13 Oklahoma City turnovers (compared to four).
Kobe must get some perimeter help from point guard Ramon Sessions. Sessions averaged 13.0 points, 4.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds on 40.1 percent shooting in the Lakers’ first six games against Denver and even made a clutch 3 on the road late in Game 4 to secure L.A. the victory. In his last three games, starting with Game 7 against the Nuggets, Sessions is averaging just 2.7 points, 1.7 assists and 1.3 rebounds on 22.2 percent shooting. Blake hasn’t fared much better than Sessions through the first two games of the Thunder series, averaging just 2.5 points, 2.0 assists and 2.5 turnovers while missing the potential game-winning 3 with 3.9 seconds left in Game 2.