Thunder rally to stun Kobe, Lakers

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Thunder rally to stun Kobe, Lakers

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- 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 were also seven down with 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 7. 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 back 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 but still gutted out the win. The Thunder had ripped apart the Lakers' defense with their pick-and-roll attack in Game 1, scoring 119 points 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 only provided 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.

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

CLEVELAND --  Down the stretch in Game 4, the Celtics were desperate for someone, anyone, who could slow down Kyrie Irving.
 
But short of that, Boston could have used an offensive closer, too. You know, someone like Isaiah Thomas.

GAME 4: CAVS 112, CELTICS 99

 

The Celtics have relied on the two-time All-Star to carry much of the offensive burden this season, but he was almost always at his best in the fourth quarter.
 
A right hip injury knocked him out of this series after 1 1/2 games. Still, Boston managed to win Game 3 without him and, for large chunks of Tuesday night, seemed poised to beat the Cavs again on their home floor.
 
But as much as Game 4 was a reminder of just how special a talent Irving is (42 points, 21 in the third quarter when the game’s momentum swung in Cleveland's favor), it also provided a clue to the clueless who thought the Celtics were actually better without Isaiah Thomas.
 
Defensively?
 
Absolutely.
 
It’s no secret that teams go to great lengths to try and use his 5-foot-9 stature against him. And as we have seen, the deeper we get into the postseason the more trouble he and the Celtics seem to encounter from a defensive standpoint.
 
But just as we praise Irving for being such a special talent, Thomas has shown that he, too, has offensive gifts that, throughout this season, have left many fans, media and defenders befuddled as to how “the little fella” keeps coming up with one big play, one big shot after another.
 
But as we have learned, he has been dealing with a sore right hip injury for several weeks. The pain and discomfort eventually became too much to bear and so the Celtics did the right thing and shut him down.
 
Without him, the C's are still a good team that on any given night can knock off anyone, even the defending champs.
 
But as Game 4 reminded us, they need Thomas in order to be their best.
 
When Irving torched Boston’s entire defense with jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers, Euro-step lay-ups and free throws, the Celtics had no one to turn to who could maybe, just maybe, go back at Irving at the other end of the floor.
 
That's what Thomas does that makes him such a special, unique talent in this league.
 
He can score in a variety of ways, with the best in the NBA.
 
We saw that this past season, when he led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring with a 28.9 points-per-game average.
 
Boston’s excellent ball movement and high assist numbers are certainly important to the team’s success. But to make a deep and meaningful playoff run, you need one or two guys who can just go get buckets regardless of what the opponent does defensively.
 
That’s not Avery Bradley.
 
That’s not Al Horford.
 
That’s not Kelly Olynyk.
 
You can search, poke and prod this roster all you want, and you'll come up empty when it comes to finding a player like that . . . other than Isaiah Thomas.
 
The fact the Celtics were able to avoid getting swept is a victory of sorts in itself. Boston’s coaching staff, as well as the front office, has repeatedly said that as talented as their team is, they aren’t on the same level of the defending champion Cavaliers.
 
And yet here we are four games into this series and the Celtics are basically a bad half of basketball away from being tied, 2-2.
 
It says a lot about their mental toughness, their ability to handle and navigate past adversity to give themselves a chance to be competitive against any team -- including the Cavs.
 
But their success this season has always been about the collective group, regardless of how many late-game shots Isaiah Thomas knocks down.
 
And while he has his shortcomings defensively, not having him available is going to hurt them in those late-game moments when they need a closer. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics were just 2-4 when he didn’t play during the regular season.
 
So as cool as it was for them to win Game 3 without Thomas, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics emotionally, bringing them to levels few think they're capable of reaching.
 
They were able to get by for one night without him, but remember this: It took Marcus Smart having an Isaiah Thomas-like game of 27 points and seven made 3’s, for them to win.
 
No one did anything remotely close to that Tuesday night.
 
They looked like the Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics, which is a look they don’t need this time of year.
 
Because that look is so not about winning.