Lakers guard Kobe Bryant shoots a fadeaway jumper over Thunder guard James… (Paul Buck / EPA )
Some things to take from the Lakers' 99-96 Game 3 victory Friday over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
1. The Lakers salvaged their season. I'll break down the particulars, but a Game 3 victory ensured the Lakers 2011-12 season remains intact. Yeah, there's still a Game 4, but there's no way the Lakers would overcome a 3-0 deficit. It's even debatable the Lakers would duplicate their Game 4 embarrassment last season against the Dallas Mavericks. The victory Friday night over Oklahoma City didn't always look pretty but the Lakers let their intentions be known they were ready to scrap from start to finish.
Yes, this hardly masks their problems heading into Game 4. The Lakers are playing on back-to-back nights with less-than-lively legs. The Thunder still control the series. And the Lakers nearly went through another fourth-quarter collapse. But it was invigorating to see a team grind things out and will itself to a win simply because it had no other choice.
2. Kobe Bryant's performance wasn't pretty, but he came up huge. His 36 points on nine-of-25 shooting shows the Thunder mostly won't give him any open looks. It also appeared that he was going to duplicate another failed closing out of a game. Bryant dribbled into traffic and lost the ball, setting up Russell Westbrook's dunk that gave the Thunder a 92-87 lead with 2:54 left in regulation. He missed two consecutive jumpers as the Lakers trailed 94-93 in the final minute.
But Bryant was hardly going to let those sequences derail his overall effectiveness. His aggressiveness earned himself 18 free throws in the game; he made them all, including four in the final minute. He shot a critical layup as he drove past James Harden. Bryant made two consecutive fall-back jumpers against Derek Fisher. For good measure, Bryant also gobbled seven rebounds and six assists.
His performance overall reflected the Lakers' execution. It didn't always look pretty, but Bryant remained effective both through his effort and will.
3. Andrew Bynum struggled offensively but still worked hard. Every time Bynum touched the ball, a swarming Kendrick Perkins stopped his every move. His two-of-13 shooting clip featured Bynum missing some otherwise makeable shots including jumpers, hooks and put-backs. Instead of allowing this to thwart his engagement in the game, Bynum simply compensated in other areas.
The Lakers still showed patience in setting Bynum up inside. He still attacked the basket and drew enough fouls to make 11 of 12 free throws, finishing with 15 points. And more importantly, Bynum looked alert defensively by contesting perimeter jumpers off pick-and-roll plays, rotating on help defense and grabbing 11 rebounds. In most games, the Lakers' success often hinges on Bynum's offensive output. But the Lakers escaped with a win partly because Bynum still showed involvement in all aspects of the game.
4. Ramon Sessions showed more aggressiveness. A day after Coach Mike Brown told Sessions he has the "ultra-green light" to shoot, Sessions finally heeded the call by posting 12 points on five-of-nine shooting. He matched his four-point total in Games 1 and 2 five minutes after Game 3 tipoff by attacking the basket and getting an open look off a backdoor cut. Sessions still maintained his floor-general presence when he fed Gasol on a jump pass. Sessions didn't allow his aggressiveness to overshadow his effort in ensuring looks for Bryant, Bynum and Gasol (12 points)
5. World Peace wasn't exactly at fault for his scuffle with Russell Westbrook. A fight nearly broke out. So, of course, it involved World Peace. But it wasn't exactly his fault. With 4:15 left in the second quarter, Westbrook dived for a loose ball on the court, while World Peace stood over him in hopes of forcing a jump ball. Westbrook then flailed his arms, eventually grabbing World Peace's right leg. That then prompted World Peace to drop his knee on Westbrook's leg as Jordan Hill pushed away Westbrook. Fortunately, referere Joey Crawford broke up the commotion before anything got out of hand. I don't know why World Peace deserved a technical, but Westbrook surely did.
Photos: Lakers vs. Thunder, Game 3
Lakers don't foul up this time against Thunder