Lakers forward Matt Barnes tries to block a driving layup by Thunder point… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Kobe Bryant’s clutch free throws helped the Lakers get off the floor with a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on Friday night, cutting the Thunder’s series lead to 2-1 in the Western Conference best-of-seven semifinals.
Game 4 is Saturday night, also at Staples Center.
It was the Thunder’s first loss of the postseason; they had swept the Dallas Mavericks in four games in the first round.
The Thunder’s Kevin Durant attempted a three-point shot with three seconds left that would have tied the score, but it rattled out.
Bryant led the Lakers’ scoring with 36 points and he was 18 for 18 at the free-throw line, including four in the final minute of play that helped secure the win.
Metta World Peace also made two key free throws in the closing minute after being fouled despite it being his first time at the free-throw line during the game. The Lakers made 41 of 42 free throws in the game.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol had 11 rebounds each for the Lakers, with Bynum also scoring 15 points and Gasol adding 12.
Durant led Oklahoma City with 31 points, several of which came as he drove the length of the court for layups through a crowd of Lakers.
Russell Westbrook added 21 points and James Harden finished with 21 points, four rebounds and three steals.
Thunder 70, Lakers 69 (end of third quarter)
Oklahoma City went on a 13-3 run to seize the lead but the Lakers stayed close Friday night as they tried to avoid a 3-0 series deficit in the Western Conference semifinals.
Forward Kevin Durant led the Thunder’s surge and had 23 points through three quarters, followed by teammate Russell Westbrook with 18 points.
Kobe Bryant sank a 10-foot jump shot with 2:50 left in the quarter to keep the Lakers close, and he led the team’s scoring with 22 points overall. Bryant also sank two free throws with 1:48 remaining after being fouled by former Laker Derek Fisher.
The game was a defensive struggle in the paint for much of the third quarter, such as with 7:44 left when both sides repeatedly fought for a rebound until Pau Gasol finally grabbed the ball and scored for the Lakers.
But those were the only points Gasol scored in the third quarter, while Andrew Bynum was held to four points in the quarter.
The Thunder’s scoring run midway through the quarter included a three-point basket by Thabo Sefolosha that was quickly followed by Westbrook grabbing a rebound and driving the length of the court for a layup.
Both teams were excellent shooting free throws; the Lakers were a perfect at 24 for 24 and the Thunder was 17 of 18 from the line.
Lakers 50, Thunder 47 (halftime)
Metta World Peace hit a three-point shot with time expiring to give the Lakers the lead, but Oklahoma City got back in the game in large part thanks to guard James Harden.
Harden and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant also had three personal fouls with another half still to play.
Harden, recently named the NBA’s sixth man of the year, came off the bench to score 12 points for Oklahoma City. He also had two steals and two rebounds.
Russell Westbrook led the Thunder’s scoring with 14 points, and Kevin Durant added 13 in the half, including a three-point shot with 6:14 left in the second quarter that gave the Thunder their first lead of the game.
Bryant led the Lakers’ scoring with 13 points and Ramon Sessions had 10.
Pau Gasol scored six points and had six rebounds in the half, while Andrew Bynum scored eight points and pulled down four rebounds.
Steve Blake, who missed the three-point shot that would have tied the score in the closing seconds of Game 2 for the Lakers, hit one Friday night with 9:21 left in the quarter, then immediately followed that with a layup after a nice pass from Gasol. Blake had five points overall in the half.
With 4:14 left in the quarter, World Peace and Westbrook aggressively battled for a loose ball on the floor and both drew technical fouls.
Lakers 23, Thunder 15 (end of first quarter)
An opening 8-0 run helped give the Lakers the early advantage in Game 3 at Staples Center as they tried to get off the mat in the Western Conference semifinals Friday night.
The Lakers lost the first two games in the best-of-seven series in Oklahoma City.
It took nearly three minutes for Kevin Durant to get the Thunder’s initial two points with a nine-foot jumper after Oklahoma City missed five shots from the field to open the game, and the Lakers held a 16-4 lead halfway through the quarter.
But then the Thunder gradually got back into the game as James Harden led them with five points, while Durant and Derek Fisher each had four.
The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant picked up two early fouls but he also scored six points and had three assists. Ramon Sessions also had six points for the Lakers.
Pau Gasol had four points and six rebounds as the Lakers overall had 11 rebounds to the Thunder’s nine.
Game 4 is Saturday, also at Staples Center.
If the Lakers lose this series, it will be the second consecutive year that they haven’t made it past the second round. A year ago, they were swept by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks in the conference semifinals.
And no NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
The Thunder hasn’t lost a playoff game yet this postseason, having dispatched the Mavericks in four games in the first round.
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