Los Angeles coach Mike Brown may not be quite the Zen master that Phil Jackson was, but he seems to have some of the same instincts: after apparently persuading the Thunder brain trust that the Lakers were a fairly mediocre team that got this far by dint of favorable officiating, those same Lakers came out tonight playing like a team that belonged in the playoffs. They caught the Thunder napping, holding them at bay for almost the entire game. Then OKC remembered how to fight back, putting Kevin Durant (!) on Kobe Bryant, and forging a 96-all tie just inside the two-minute mark. With 13.7 left, Durant fired a trey from the top of the arc to put the Thunder up 101-98; Bryant went for a retaliatory three, which clanked, and James Harden, fouled on the rebound (by Metta World Schnook, no less), tacked on two more. Kobe did get a shot off at the horn, but it didn’t matter: Oklahoma City 103, Los Angeles 100, and now it’s 3-1.
We haven’t had a Telltale Statistic in a while, so here’s one: Kobe, with a game-high 38 points, went 2-10 in the fourth quarter and finished -9. The Lakers once again had all five starters in double figures, and they doubled up the Thunder on offensive rebounds (18-9). But they were essentially helpless in the face of one of those patented Thunder late-game rallies. And the only double-double for the night belonged to Durant, who had 31 points and 13 rebounds.
Still, Durant almost always gets numbers in that general neighborhood. What matters over any particular 48-minute stretch is how Russell Westbrook is doing. And Westbrook was doing fine, thank you very much, rolling up 37 points and turning the ball over exactly once. Except for Harden, who was bottled up much of the night but still bagged 12 points, the Thunder shot pretty well: 49 percent overall, and this time they outdid the Lakers at the foul line, nailing 21 of 25. (L. A. went 21-29.)
As noted last night, there will be a Game 5, Monday at Loud City. The objective for the Thunder, of course, will be to make sure there is no Game 6.