It’s a sight not often seen: Kobe Bryant coming up small in the fourth quarter of a big game.
But, in Game 2 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Western Conference semifinal series against the Thunder in Oklahoma City, it was Kevin Durant, James Harden and the Oklahoma City defense delivering in the fourth quarter. And, with the game on the line, Bryant wasn’t the go-to guy for the Lakers’ final shot. With the Thunder leading with about five seconds left, Metta World Peace inbounded to Steve Blake, who tried for the game winner at the buzzer with Bryant covered, and missed. Now down 0-2, the Lakers take the series to L.A. knowing they couldn’t keep the Thunder from scoring the last nine points of Game 2.
How significant was the ending for Bryant and the Lakers? Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times writes,
Leading the Oklahoma City Thunder by seven points with two minutes remaining in Game 2 of their second-round series Wednesday, the Lakers put the ball in the hands of the great and trusted Kobe Bryant.
He muffed it. He dropped it. He bricked it. And in the final seconds, when the Lakers needed him most, he never even touched it, watching Steve Blake clank a three-point attempt that put the finishing fumble on a monumental collapse to give the Thunder a 77-75 victory.
Plaschke notes that he has “covered Kobe Bryant since he arrived in Los Angeles 16 years ago, and I've never seen him fall so completely apart in a moment so incredibly big. ‘You know, it happens,’ said World Peace. ‘You know, nobody's perfect.’ No, it doesn't happen, not to Kobe Bryant, and not in the manner it happened Wednesday.”
The Lakers came up with zero points on their last six possessions as the Thunder clamped down defensively. Bryant said the Thunder “just made some gambles, jumping in the passing lane, that’s not something we're accustomed to seeing. It was just a flat-out risk defensively.” It worked because the team delivered on Coach Scott Brooks’s command: “You don’t have to play perfect basketball, but you’d better be close.” And because Durant is growing into a clutch player, like Bryant in his best days.
Now the Lakers, 2-17 historically when trailing 0-2 in a seven-game series, must prepare for back-to-back games in the Staples Center .
“It’s very tough to recover from a game like this,” Magic Johnson said in an interview on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” show this morning. “ ... This is going to stick with the Lakers until Friday night when they play again. ... I think the Thunder’s youth will take advantage of the back-to-back games.”
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