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PRO BASKETBALL

Kevin Durant helps make this game a steal

The Oklahoma City forward picks off a Kobe Bryant pass and the Thunder goes on to beat the Lakers, 77-75, in Game 2 of an NBA Western Conference semifinal series.

May 16, 2012|By Ben Bolch

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant doesn't need much resume building.

The Oklahoma City Thunder forward is already known the basketball world over for his prolific scoring and late-game shooting.

Now he can add a line when he lists his experience: clutch defender.

Durant's steal of a Kobe Bryant pass late in the fourth quarter helped ignite the Thunder's game-ending 9-0 run during a stunning 77-75 come-from-behind victory over the Lakers on Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series.

"People talk about how I score the ball," said Durant, who finished with 22 points on nine-for-15 shooting. "They don't look at me when we go on the other end. I think this whole playoff run, I've been picking it up on the defensive end, just trying to get my hands on the basketball."

Durant certainly did that when he jumped to intercept Bryant's pass intended for Pau Gasol with 1 minute 48 seconds remaining and the Lakers ahead by five points.

The move surprised even Bryant.

"That's a great play by Durant," Bryant said. "It's unconventional. He just jumped the passing lane and got a good steal."

Durant finished the play by going in for a breakaway dunk that pulled the Thunder within 75-72.

Oklahoma City and Durant were just getting started.

After Bryant badly missed a baseline jumper and James Harden went in for a layup to make it a one-point game, Durant did what he tends to do late in taut games.

He drove around Andrew Bynum and made a seven-foot baseline floater over Gasol to give Oklahoma City a 76-75 lead with 18.6 seconds left. It was the last basket the Thunder would need.

"When it left my hand," Durant said, "I was close to the rim and I just tried to put some touch on it and it went in."

It was the latest heroic shot for a player whose one-handed floater over Shawn Marion with 1.5 seconds left helped Oklahoma City beat Dallas in Game 1 of the Thunder's first-round series sweep.

Durant finished with eight points in the fourth quarter Wednesday, including five during the Thunder's game-ending run.

He nearly ended the game on a disastrous note.

With the Thunder still leading by a point and 0.3 seconds left, the Lakers fouled Durant. An 86% free-throw shooter during the regular season, Durant made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second. But his miss was so off the mark that it grazed the net and fell out of bounds. The Lakers had one more chance.

"You want to miss it," Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks said. "You don't want to airball it or hit the net."

No biggie. Harden grabbed the Lakers' full-court inbounds heave and the game was over. Durant could hug Brooks after again carrying his team in the final minutes.

"That's what great players do," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "They take on the challenge at the end of the game and he did. He won the game for them, basically."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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