Lakers hold off Thunder to win first game on road – LA Times

By Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times

OKLAHOMA CITY–Pau Gasol still wasn’t playing, and Kobe Bryant was almost a no-show as well, but Ron Artest was definitely there and so were the Lakers at the end of a long, grueling night.

Bryant shook off a fever and sore throat to score 31 points, Artest finally shrugged off his own personal scoring shortage, and the Lakers were able to shake free of the Oklahoma City Thunder, in overtime, 101-98, Tuesday in front of a loud, but ultimately deflated, Ford Center crowd.

It wasn’t easy, but their first tight game (and first road game) of the season ended the way so many did last season, the Lakers riding Bryant, sick or healthy, when it mattered most.

He had help from Artest, who had 20 points on six-for-eight shooting and added six assists after entering the game with a scoring average of 8.3 and a shooting percentage of 32.1.

Andrew Bynum put up his usual sturdy numbers, 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting.

But the story, as usual, became Bryant, who skipped the team shoot-around earlier Tuesday but suited up for the game after the fever tapered off and a nap in the trainer’s room proved to be enough of a tonic to play almost 46 minutes.

“I’ve played through worse,” he said, irrefutably, saying he felt better when the fever went down sharply in light of “everything that’s going on with H1N1 [flu].”

He made nine of 22 shots, 12 of 14 attempts from the free-throw line, and also had six rebounds and four assists. Easily forgotten were his seven turnovers, the main sign he wasn’t entirely hale.

After the Lakers had a 13-point lead in the first quarter, the Thunder led by five early in the fourth, but Bryant checked into the game, quickly erasing the Lakers’ deficit.

He scored on a seven-foot floater in the post, made a couple of free throws and a 10-foot turnaround from the baseline. He wasn’t perfect, turning the ball over at a costly point with 25.3 seconds left in regulation, but, as Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, “He was capable of kind of controlling the game at the end.”

With minimal help from the bench (six total points), this one would be up to the starters, who were still without Gasol, sidelined a fourth consecutive game because of a strained right hamstring.

Tuesday also marked the first time Artest looked like he was grasping the triangle offense. In the third and fourth quarters, he actually looked for his shot, pushing the ball to the basket and showing a determination on offense that hadn’t been seen since joining the Lakers.

“Third quarter, Ron kind of kept us going,” Jackson said. “He kept us even. He played real well.”

Artest also showed more emotion than his first few games, pounding a courtside table and wearing a scowl after Thunder forward Jeff Green fouled him on a dunk attempt. Bryant ran over, slung an arm around Artest and calmed him down.

Before the game, there were questions about Artest.

“He’s finding his way,” Jackson said. “The rhythm of the offense and finding his shots are still a mystery to him.”

When will he fully grasp it? After all, Tex Winter wrote an entire book on the complexities of the triangle offense.

“A guy like Dennis Rodman used to be able to do it quite simply, but he was just a passer,” Jackson said.

Prolific scorer Mitch Richmond, on the other hand, struggled when the Lakers acquired him at toward the end of his career and needed “part of a season” to get comfortable in the triangle, Jackson said.

“There are some old dogs it’s tough to teach,” Jackson said. “But it’s really just basketball.”

Said Artest: “I felt comfortable all season, but when your team hasn’t been together yet this year, it doesn’t work as easy. It’s bigger than just me.”

The Lakers got a spot of good news when Gasol went through a decent workout after their shoot-around, but they remain without their All-Star forward.

Still, they’re 3-1. On to Houston for a reunion game tonight against Trevor Ariza.