OKLAHOMA CITY — This is the loss that will haunt the Lakers for months, years, perhaps even longer for Kobe Bryant, if their season ends again in the Western Conference semifinals.
They led the Oklahoma City Thunder by seven with two minutes to play but fumbled badly, 120 seconds of chaos creating a 77-75 Thunder victory Wednesday in Game 2 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
What looked like a tied-up series turned into a 2-0 Thunder lead amid a flurry of blunders and missed shots by, stunningly, Bryant.
It was the exact pacing the Lakers wanted for 46 minutes but surely not the finish. Games 3 and 4 are Friday and Saturday at Staples Center.
After Andrew Bynum made a seven-foot hook shot with 2:08 to play, Bryant gathered him, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and
Steve Blake at halfcourt. The Lakers led, 75-68.
"Finish strong," he yelled.
They didn't. They couldn't even score again. The Thunder finished with a 9-0 run that began on James Harden's driving layup with 1:59 to play.
A pass by Bryant was then intercepted by Kevin Durant for a dunk. Then Blake lofted a soft pass toward the sideline that flicked off Bryant's hands and out of bounds. Russell Westbrook appeared to distract Bryant on the play.
"They just made gambles. Jumping in passing lanes," Bryant said. "Just flat-out risk defensively. It's a little unconventional. They did a great job."
Bryant's baseline shot with 1:01 to play was blocked by Harden. Bryant missed a three-point attempt on the Lakers' next possession.
All along, the Thunder kept scoring, Durant's seven-foot floater the go-ahead shot with 18.6 seconds left.
"It was just crazy," Bynum said. "We're better than Santa Claus. We don't give out gifts. We give out games, contracts and rings."
With 5.7 seconds left and the Lakers down a point, World Peace inbounded from the side to an open Blake in the right corner. Blake was a little off on his three-point shot with 3.9 seconds left.
The play was designed to go to Bryant cutting through the middle. He reacted in disgust, whipping his right arm in anger.
"I don't know what Metta saw," Bryant said. "Once I turned around, I saw the ball in the air."
The Lakers are 1-7 in playoff series with Bryant after losing the first two games of a series. Not known as a team with a quick recovery time, they now face back-to-back playoff games for the first time since 1999.
Bynum had 20 points and nine rebounds, making eight of 19 shots. Bryant also finished with 20 points on nine-for-25 shooting as the Lakers shot 38.5%.
Bryant would never be called friendly on the court, but he was even more irritable than usual.
He fouled Westbrook on a fastbreak and immediately barked at World Peace, miffed that World Peace didn't play better defense, if not foul Westbrook.
Bryant also frowned at Lakers Coach Mike Brown in the first quarter, unhappy with a play call on offense that almost led to a turnover.
The first half, though, was played at the Lakers' speed. Even though they trailed, 48-45, there wouldn't be any 35-point deficits in the third quarter this time.
Durant was solid, 22 points on nine-for-15 shooting, but Westbrook had 15 points on five-for-17 shooting. Thunder forwards Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins weren't effective on offense, combining for 10 points on five-for-16 shooting.
"The biggest thing for us is we found some things out defensively that we can do," Bryant said.
The Lakers were a mess on offense. They continued to struggle from outside, making only two of 15 from three-point range (13.3%).
Point guard Ramon Sessions has four points over the first two games. He has made two of 10 shots in the series.
There were 18 lead changes and 12 ties Wednesday, a huge difference from the Thunder's 119-90 Game 1 victory.
"They got themselves a gritty win," Bryant said. "Now it's on us to go back home and defend our homecourt."