Even down late, the Oklahoma City Thunder are showing that they are never out.
Kevin Durant scored 22 points and rattled in the go-ahead basket on a baseline runner with 18 seconds left, and the Thunder scored the final nine points to rally for a 77-75 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals Wednesday night.
Oklahoma City trailed by seven with 2 minutes left before surging back with a series of defensive stops by its stars to claw back from that deficit in the closing stages of a game for the second time this postseason. The Thunder also were down seven with 2 1/2 minutes left in Game 1 against defending NBA champion Dallas in the first round.
”They won’t quit. That’s not in their DNA,” coach Scott Brooks said. ”They’re not wired that way and if they were, they wouldn’t be here. We’re not going to win every game but we’re going to fight to the last second of the game and we did that tonight.
”If we would have gotten down on ourselves with 2 minutes to go, we would have lost by 12 and we would go to L.A. 1-1.”
Instead, Oklahoma City takes a 2-0 lead into Game 3 on Friday night at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum scored 20 points apiece for the Lakers, who came up empty on their last six possessions after Bynum’s hook shot made it 75-68 with 2:09 remaining.
After struggling throughout the second half and missing 20 of their first 27 shots, the Thunder suddenly came alive after Brooks called timeout following Bynum’s basket that gave Los Angeles its largest lead of the game.
James Harden drove for a layup before Durant used his height advantage to reach up and tip away a pass from Bryant, who he was guarding. Durant ran out for a right-handed dunk at the other end before Russell Westbrook forced another turnover by aggressively challenging an outlet pass to Bryant along the sideline.
Harden made the next stop, blocking Bryant’s jumper on the next Lakers possession and getting a layup in transition off it to cut the deficit to one in the final minute.
Bryant couldn’t connect again, this time on a 3-pointer, to give the Thunder the ball back with the chance to take the lead and Durant was able to make it happen.
”I wish it was my magical words. All I told the guys was, `We’re down seven. You don’t have to play perfect basketball but we better come pretty close,”’ Brooks said.
Steve Blake missed an open 3-pointer from the right side with about 5 seconds left after Metta World Peace couldn’t get the ball to Bryant on the inbounds play.
Brown said he thought Bryant was open on the back side of the play, but World Peace apparently didn’t see him, agreeing that Bryant was supposed to be the first option.
”Blake was wide open. We didn’t have any timeouts left and he got a clean look, a really good look,” World Peace said. ”He can knock that down.”
Durant was then fouled with 0.3 seconds left and made his first try before missing the second on purpose, failing to hit the backboard or rim for a violation.
The Lakers got a desperation try but World Peace’s long pass for Bynum was intercepted by Harden.
”What they did the last few minutes there, they just made gambles,” Bryant said. ”They just jumped in the passing lanes. It’s something that we’re not accustomed to seeing. It’s just flat-out risks defensively.”
Historically, the loss makes a huge difference. Los Angeles is 29-12 when splitting the first two games of a seven-game series and has lost 17 of 19 when falling into a 2-0 hole. The Lakers’ last comeback was in the 2004 West semifinals against San Antonio.
The Thunder have won all nine of their series after leading 2-0, dating to the franchise’s days in Seattle.
”It’s not good. I don’t think anybody’s happy in there (in the locker room),” coach Mike Brown said. ”We felt like we let one slip away.”
Bryant was right at the heart of the meltdown, missing two shots and having a hand in two turnovers in the final 2 minutes. The first turnover came when Durant used his nearly 7-foot frame and impressive wingspan to come up with an energizing steal and fast-break chance.
”He used his length on Kobe. Coming up with that steal was huge,” Brown said. ”That’s what great players are supposed to do. They’re supposed to take on the challenge at the end of the game and he did.
”He won the game for them, basically.”
Westbrook added 15 points for Oklahoma City, which matched its lowest scoring total of the season. The Thunder had ripped apart the Lakers’ defense with their pick-and-roll attack in Game 1, scoring 119 in a 29-point blowout.
”We dominated defensively,” Bynum said. ”We stopped them, made them play through their bigs and turn the ball over. In the last 2 minutes, we gave the game away.”
In a game that was nip-and-tuck throughout, the Lakers started inching away early in the fourth quarter while Westbrook was on the bench.
Bryant drilled a jumper from the left wing and Blake followed with a 3-pointer before World Peace hit one of two free throws for a 69-63 advantage with 7:27 remaining — the Lakers’ largest lead to that point.
Westbrook returned then but provided only the briefest of sparks for the struggling Oklahoma City offense, and Bynum’s second straight basket, on a left-handed hook shot at the left block, made it 75-68 with 2:09 to play.
Until that point, Oklahoma City had more turnovers (eight) than made baskets (seven) in the second half after committing an uncharacteristically low four turnovers in Game 1.
Notes: The NBA on Wednesday fined Devin Ebanks $25,000 for actions related to his Game 1 ejection and Bynum $15,000 for failing to speak to reporters Tuesday. Bynum, who has had recent disciplinary issues within the team, talked at the Lakers’ morning shootaround Wednesday and called it a make up for skipping the previous day. ”I think he’s learning. Is he going to be a perfect citizen the rest of his career? I don’t know,” Brown said. ”He’s bound to make mistakes. I think everybody makes mistakes.” … World Peace has said he supported Brooks to become Sacramento’s coach back in 2007, when Brooks had been an assistant under Eric Musselman. ”Little does he know, if I would have got the job, I was going to ask for him to be traded,” Brooks joked. He then called World Peace, or Ron Artest at the time, the third-best two-way player at the time behind Bryant and Kevin Garnett. … Harden caught World Peace with an inadvertent elbow to the face in the first quarter.