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Thunder's search for playoff win on road against Lakers continues

Oklahoma City, which leads the Western Conference semifinal series against the Lakers, 2-1, has never won a playoff game against the Lakers at Staples Center.

May 18, 2012|By Sam Farmer
  • Russell Westbrook gets a breakaway dunk after a Kobe Bryant turnover.
Russell Westbrook gets a breakaway dunk after a Kobe Bryant turnover. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

As a young Lakers fan growing up in Los Angeles, Russell Westbrook had a prime spot for those slow-rolling celebrations down Figueroa.

As point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Westbrook has presided over a parade of Figueroa playoff defeats to his onetime favorite team.

"Ever since coming back to play in my rookie year, it's been weird playing here," said Westbrook, a former UCLA standout, whose team entered Friday's game against the Lakers with a 0-3 playoff record against them at Staples Center.

"But now it's business, and we've got to find a way to win."

In that sense, the search continues.

Once again, the Lakers prevailed on their home court, beating Oklahoma City, 99-96, to claw their way back into a series they now trail, 2-1.

Westbrook, who finished with 21 points, wasn't just fighting for respect in his hometown Friday.

He was fighting.

With 4 minutes 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter, he dived for a loose ball and lay face up on the floor, swinging his elbows to ward off Metta World Peace as the Lakers forward hovered over him slapping at the ball.

The slapping quickly sparked a mini-scuffle that also appeared to involve L.A.'s Jordan Hill. The crowd of bodies made it difficult to see precisely what happened, or who was at fault, even with slow-motion replays. But Westbrook clearly lost his cool, players and coaches came off the Thunder bench, and both Westbrook and World Peace were assessed technical fouls.

It was the first technical World Peace has gotten since his seven-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Oklahoma City's James Harden last month.

Harden, another onetime Lakers fan who grew up in L.A. and attended those championship parades, scored 21 in Friday's loss. Two years ago, in his first three playoff games against the Lakers at Staples Center — albeit in a much lesser role — he scored a total of two points.

The dustup between Westbrook and World Peace was a signature moment in an emotional series in which the Lakers returned home in a 0-2 hole, having lost a laugher and a heartbreaker. This was a franchise they dispatched in six games two years ago, with three of those four Thunder losses coming at Staples Center.

Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant said his team only grew from that experience.

Asked to what he attributes his team's maturation, Durant said: "Just going through failures. So many times we gave up leads in the fourth. We were down five or six and couldn't get over the hump.

"So messing up is the best teacher, and we gained a lot of experience."

When it comes to road playoff games against the Lakers, the Thunder is still accumulating that experience.

With 33.8 seconds remaining Friday and the Lakers trailing, 94-93, Westbrook sent Kobe Bryant to the foul line. The Lakers star drained both free throws and the home team never relinquished the lead.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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