The game was in the balance in the final two minutes Wednesday night in Oklahoma City. The Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant seemed in command. The Thunder and Kevin Durant took command.
Hardly anyone expected the Lakers to fall, 76-75, in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals. After all, the waning moments are Bryant’s domain. But not Wednesday night. This time, it was Durant who performed admirably in the decisive moments.
Not only did Durant score the game-winning basket with 18.6 seconds to play, but he also took on the task of defending Bryant much of the final five minutes, holding the perennial all-star guard to 0-for-5 shooting to close the game.
Also, after L.A. took a 75-68 lead on an Andrew Bynum basket with 2:08 to play, Durant lead the game-decising 8-0 sandwiching a steal of a Bryant inbounds pass with his baseline floater that gave Oklahoma City a one-point cushion.
The Lakers had a chance with 5.1 seconds to win it, but Metta World Peace deviated from the designed play for Bryant and instead inbounded the ball to an open Steve Black on the right baseline. Blake’s three-pointer missed, and Bryant’s frustration was obvious.
“Those minutes late in the fourth, that’s his time. That’s when he thrives the most,” Durant said about Bryant, who shot 7 of 25. “Coach told me to switch on him. I just used my length to make each play hard. He makes those tough shots, and luckily he missed them tonight. He’s so good in the fourth that no matter who is guarding him he is going to try to find his shots.”
Finding them was not the problem. Making them was. And Bryant did not, while Durant did. And, in the end, that was a huge difference: OKC’s superstar player delivered; L.A.’s did not.
“He is a great player, and he did what great players do,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said of Durant. “He had a great game, especially the last two minutes of the game. Defensively and offensively I thought he was huge for them. He had a big shot and big steal and a great presence down the stretch for them.”
Down 0-2 in the series, the Lakers hope playing Games 3 and 4 at the Staples Center will be the elixir to their problems.