Thunder forward Kevin Durant forces Lakers guard Kobe Bryant into a difficult… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Kevin Durant might be listed at 6-feet-9, but an Oklahoma City teammate called the star forward 6-10. And Lakers Coach Mike Brown went so far as to call Durant a 7-footer.
No matter, Durant's contribution Saturday was immeasurable in the pivotal Game 4 of the Western Conference best-of-seven semifinal series.
Not only did he drain the go-ahead three-pointer with 13.7 seconds left in a 103-100 victory over the Lakers, but he applied stifling defense to Kobe Bryant down the stretch, using his long arms to alter every shot.
"The shots I took were tough shots," said Bryant, who made only two of 10 in the final quarter. "I was forced to take tough shots."
With about 3 1/2 minutes remaining, when the Lakers led by four, Thunder Coach Scott Brooks made the decision to put Durant on Bryant.
"I thought that was the right thing to do at that time," Brooks said. "Kobe was making shots like he always seems to do, but I thought Kevin did a good job of using his length and bothering him."
The decision to put Durant on Bryant wasn't a democratic discussion in the Thunder huddle. It was a directive.
"There was no conversation," Durant said. "He just told me, 'You get him.' And I had to go guard him. I couldn't tell coach no. I didn't want to back down from the challenge, and I just tried to play as hard as I could. He's an unbelievable scorer, an unbelievable player.
"By playing hard it makes up for a lot of my weaknesses or mess-ups or mistakes. I just try to play as hard as I can, and rely on my teammates a little bit as well."
A teammate who did a lot of the heavy lifting Saturday was guard Russell Westbrook, who scored 37 to Durant's 31.
In the Thunder locker room, there was some question at halftime whether Westbrook would be able to return to the game. He slipped on the court at the end of the first half, did the splits, and was slow to climb to his feet. When he finally did get up, he walked gingerly off the court, appearing to favor his hip.
Brooks said he was somewhat concerned at halftime when he noticed Westbrook had taken off his shoes. Upon hearing that, Durant joked: "He always takes off his shoes."
Westbrook, a former UCLA standout, said the fall "kind of messed up my hip a little bit. But like I said, it's the playoffs. Can't sit back and whine about what's going on."
For a stretch in the second half, it almost seemed as if the game had become a one-on-one battle between Westbrook and Bryant, each trading spectacular buckets.
"My job was to keep us in the game, regardless of what was going on," Westbrook said. "I was kind of upset because we weren't able to get a stop. Kind of felt like we were down 10, eight, 10, eight. We just kept going back and forth, so it was kind of frustrating. But everyone just kept fighting, and we came up with the win."
The Thunder eventually forged a tie at 96 with a spinning, one-handed shot on the baseline by Durant with 1:54 to play.
With just more than a minute remaining and the Thunder looking to break a 98-98 tie, Westbrook slipped on the floor again -- near where he lost his footing in the first half -- and turned over the ball.
But an ensuing turnover by the Lakers' Pau Gasol set the stage for Durant's three-pointer, a shot that gave Oklahoma City a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"When it left my hand I was thinking, 'If this doesn't go in, it will be a terrible shot. People will criticize me about it,' " Durant said. "I had confidence in the shot. The team had confidence in me, and we just kept fighting."