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Time is still on Lakers' side in 101-94 victory over Oklahoma City

In a game that turns back the clock to last April, L.A. hangs on to beat the lightning-fast Thunder in their first meeting since their harrowing first-round series in the 2010 playoffs. Kobe Bryant is a key figure, psychologically as well as physically.

January 17, 2011|By Mike Bresnahan

It felt as if time stepped back nine months, when Oklahoma City ran all over the Lakers and put the fear of the basketball gods into the NBA champions.

But just like last season's playoffs, the Lakers beat back the fervor and splash of the Thunder, emerging again with a victory after a tight game that rolled back the calendar to last April.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol each had 21 points as the Lakers held off Oklahoma City, 101-94, Monday night at Staples Center.

The Lakers and Thunder hadn't seen each other since the Lakers advanced in six games of their first-round series; if Monday seemed like a playoff-caliber game, it was understandable.

Russell Westbrook had his way with the Lakers, but Bryant countered with an animated effort, cajoling and convincing his teammates more than at any other time this season, emoting after numerous plays and even sending a few words toward the Thunder bench, specifically its coaching staff, after hitting a third-quarter fadeaway.

It was that kind of game, and it was needed by the Lakers after their fourth-quarter meltdown the previous day against the Clippers.

"It looked for a while like we were just going to have to hold on and face the barrage of what those guards and [Kevin] Durant can do to us," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "It's a good win for us. Our intensity was right on a back-to-back night. We had the energy necessary to win against a young and very active team."

Bryant was a study in psychology throughout the game, yelling at Lamar Odom for not running a play the right way, then getting on Ron Artest for not taking an open shot.

He also provided encouragement, offering a chest bump after Gasol hit an open jumper with 3:49 left to put the Lakers up, 98-88.

And he created his own share of highlights, a reminder that 32 years of age doesn't mean 42, Bryant blowing past Thabo Sefolosha and Jeff Green for a second-quarter dunk.

Had the Thunder been able to hit a three-pointer (two for 22 in the game), there might have been a different ending, but the Lakers will take it, especially after their seven-game winning streak was snapped so ruthlessly by the Clippers.

Derek Fisher had a season-high 15 points and took a charge from the 6-foot-9 Durant in the third quarter, as good a metaphor as any for the Lakers' determination to not back down from the Thunder.

"We did a lot of things extremely well," Bryant said, pausing for a moment. "Nice."

Bryant missed three free-throw attempts in the final minute, but Westbrook missed two from the line and also air-balled a three-point attempt, finally closing the door on the Thunder.

Bryant spent most of the night guarding Westbrook, just like last the last few games of their playoff series, but Westbrook still had a breathtaking 32 points and 12 assists. Durant scored 24 but missed 16 of 24 shots.

Bryant didn't necessarily like his teammates' help when trying to guard Westbrook in pick-and-roll situations. "I told my big guys to get . . . out there," Bryant said. "If I'm going to get lit up, I'm going to get lit up one-on-one. I'm not going to get lit up because they don't show up."

"He got a lot of confidence about his scoring during the playoffs last year. He was a major factor for their team," Jackson said of Westbrook. "It must give you a lot of juice to think that Kobe Bryant decided he's going to come over and guard you, and he had success even against Kobe."

The Lakers were the successful ones Monday, the scoreboard and Bryant's postgame demeanor — admirable handshakes for all the Thunder particulars — all that needed to be known.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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