Facing off against one of the league’s youngest but most electrifying young teams, the Los Angeles Lakers (42-20) took the court in Oklahoma City on Sunday morning as they looked to extend their winning streak to four games against Kevin Durant and the Thunder (36-22).
Feeding off of the home crowd’s energy, the Thunder took control of the game from the get-go and jumped out to an early 10-point lead after Thabo Sefolosha drilled back-to-back 3-pointers.
The Lakers fought back, however, and used their sizable advantage inside to mount a 18-9 run to pull within one point of the Thunder. But behind a 7-2 run to close out the period, the Lakers ended the first 12 minutes of play trailing 28-22.
The Lakers were powered by their big men in the first period as Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol scored 14 of the Lakers 22 first quarter points.
The second quarter began just how the opening frame did – with the Thunder in the driver’s seat, as James Harden jumpstarted their period with consecutive layups and Daequan Cook nailed two trey’s in a row to give Oklahoma City its biggest lead of the night, 38-24.
Just like the first quarter, the Lakers only trailed for so long, as they fought back once again – this time behind the strong play of their reserves, who outscored the Thunder 16-7 over a four minutes period to pull within four points, forcing an Oklahoma City timeout.
The Lakers were able to maintain their momentum coming out of the break in the action, as Bynum knocked down two free throws and Ron Artest found Derek Fisher for a layup to knot the game at 42 with 5:03 remaining in the first half.
Durant and Westbrook scored five points in the final 56 seconds to extend their lead to seven with three seconds remaining, but prior to the halftime buzzer, Lamar Odom found Gasol under the basket for a two-point score right before time expired, and the Lakers and Thunder entered the locker rooms with scoreboard tipped in the home team’s favor, 56-51.
Serge Ibaka slammed the ball home to kick off the second half, which Fisher followed up with a jumper of his own, but Sefolosha responded with a layup to put the Thunder back up by seven. However, that’s the biggest cushion the Thunder would hold, as the Lakers came back once again.
Using an 8-0 run which was capped off by a layup by Bynum, the Lakers took their first lead of the game, 61-60 with 7:20 remaining. Durant scored seven straight points for the Thunder, increasing their lead to seven, but the Lakers refused to the let the game get out of their hands and they kept the game close for the remainder of the period.
With the game tied at 69 points, Steve Blake nailed a triple to give the Lakers their biggest lead of the night, 72-69, as the two teams headed into the fourth and final period.
The fourth quarter was no different than the previous three as neither team was able to take a lead and build off of it. A 7-2 run by the Thunder, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Cook, put Oklahoma City up by two, 74-72.
The Lakers took a four point lead – their biggest of the night – after Lamar Odom converted a 16-footer to put the Lakers up 80-76.
It wouldn’t be a Lakers game if it wasn’t historic, and Kobe Bryant made it just that, as he became the NBA’s seventh all-time leading scorer – passing hall of famer Elvin Hayes – on a banked in jumper with just under six minutes to play to give the Lakers a four-point lead, 82-78.
A 25-foot trey by Bryant helped the Lakers build on their largest lead of the night, as they took a seven point advantage with 4:37 to play and although the game remained close, the Lakers were able to hang on for the barn-burning victory.
With exactly two minutes remaining, Westbrook drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut the Lakers four point lead to one, 88-87, and Bryant missed a three of his on on the other end to give the Thunder a chance to retake control of the scoreboard.
With just under a minute to play, Bryant nailed a classic “Kobe Bryant turnaround jumper” while Sefolosha was draped all over him, giving the Lakers a three-point cushion as the game entered its final moments.
Artest made a pivotal defensive play as he knocked the ball out of Durant’s hands with just over 40 seconds to play, which resulted in a loose ball picked up by Gasol, giving the Lakers a crucial extra-posession. The Lakers misfired on their additional attempt, but Russell Westbrook was callled for an offensive foul with 17 seconds remaining, returning the ball to the Lakers as time began to run out.
Trailing by three, the Thunder were forced to foul and sent Odom to the line with 9.8 remaining, but Odom was unable to make either free throw, and the Thunder grabbed the defensive rebound, giving them one final attempt to send the game into overtime.
However, despite having two great looks from downtown, the Thunder couldn’t convert, and the Lakers came out victorious, 90-87.
The Lakers defense keyed their victory, as it held the Thunder’s offense to just 31 second-half points, while both Lakers big men – Bynum and Gasol – finished with double-doubles, notching 16 points/10 rebounds and 18 points/11 rebounds, respectively.
Despite shooting 8-22, Bryant finished with 17 points and seven assists as the Lakers won their fourth consecutive game after the all-star break.
The Thunder were paced by Westbrook’s 22 points, six assists and six rebounds – but it was not enough for the Thunder, who lost their third consecutive game for the first time this season.
The Lakers will conclude their two game road trip on Tuesday, when they travel to the Twin Cities to take on Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves (13-46) at 5 p.m. PST.