A frustrated Kobe Bryant yanks at his jersey after teammate Steve Blake… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
It appeared the Lakers would steal Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Andrew Bynum's hook shot gave L.A. a seven-point lead with 2:08 remaining as the crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena stayed largely silent. And the Lakers huddled up in a calm manner and discussed how to close out the game out properly.
"Finish strong," Bryant yelled.
That didn't happen. The Lakers didn't score again, coughing up that seven-point lead and losing 77-75. OKC now leads the series 2-0.
It's easy to fixate on Steve Blake missing a wide-open three-pointer on the final play. But that's not what cost the Lakers the game. Yes, the Lakers coaching staff should've had a better play designed that would've had Kobe Bryant come toward the ball instead of getting caught in traffic in the middle of the lane after performing a flare screen. Blake also has to knock down that open shot. But Metta World Peace made the right play by finding an open Blake. And Blake made the right choice in taking the open shot. The ball just didn't go in the basket.
The Lakers lost the game, however, on all the moments preceding that play in the final two minutes as they nursed a 75-68 lead. Both Bryant and Blake made two consecutive lazy passes. Bryant's poor inbounds pass led to Kevin Durant's steal and a fast-break dunk that trimmed the Lakers' lead to 75-72 with 1:45 remaining. Blake's ill-timed pass bounced off Bryant's hands and out of bounds, though it didn't lead to the Thunder immediately scoring.
As the Thunder continuously fronted Bynum in the post, the Lakers on the next few possessions stood around running isolation sets without much ball movement. Bryant received a look late in the shot clock on the far end, where he settled for an off-balance fadeaway. But Thunder reserve guard James Harden blocked the shot and then cut the Lakers' lead to 75-74 with 56 seconds remaining.
The Lakers again ran their offense on the next possession as Metta World Peace aimlessly dribbled into the lane only to meet a double team. He kicked the ball out to Bryant, who, with six seconds left on the shot clock, fired a long three-pointer. That shot rimmed out. On the next play, Durant drove around Bynum and made a seven-foot jumper over Gasol, giving the Thunder a 76-75 lead with 18 seconds remaining.
The Lakers called timeout at that point, but it appears they didn't discuss the fact that Oklahoma City still had a foul to give. That's because the Lakers ran the next play by Bryant just dribbling out the clock before driving in isolation with seven seconds remaining. With Thabo Sefolosha fouling him with 5.9 seconds left, the Lakers would've fared better had they tried to run something earlier.
Don't overly dissect why Blake couldn't hit that open shot, though. Instead, blame the Lakers for setting themselves up in that predicament when it appeared they had all but secured the win two minutes earlier.
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