Kevin Durant has screwed the Los Angeles Lakers. Again.
Kobe Bryant, long the most beloved figure in modern Lakers history, rocketed the Thunder towards victory. Again.
All this, while L.A. led by seven really, really, really late in the fourth quarter. Again.
This series? It’s done. Don’t give me any of that “one game at a time” or “they have the pressure of winning just one” bullsh*t. Don’t tell me that we have the format or the road map in place. And don’t you dare tell me that, in any and all games, you can’t out a Kobe Bryant-led team.
Give credit, first, to the Oklahoma City Thunder. While L.A. had momentum 99 percent of the time, and with the pressure of dealing with a Lakers team ready to deliver a huge blow to the Thunder’s confidence by tying the series 2-2, Oklahoma City friggin’ responded.
That game-long 10- to 11-point lead the Lakers held? The punishing of the Thunder down low with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol? The entire team taking smart shots and the gorgeous ball movement? The smothering defense? It didn’t mean shit once the clock got down to just under three minutes left in the game.
And, don’t let the score fool you: This wasn’t a back-and-forth slugfest; the only time OKC looked to have anything resembling momentum before the closing minutes of the game was a trading of blows sometime in the third quarter, and all those mini-runs (really, only four-point runs, at most) were halted immediately as Mike Brown ingeniously drew up plays for Andrew Bynum in the paint.
The entire defensive scheme was built on smart offense — since OKC, as we all know, runs when they win. Inside shots can’t lead to fast-breaks, nor can made baskets from the perimeter. Getting the ball into the paint for L.A. was key to their almost-win today, and it led to an OKC slopfest, with the Lakers forcing the Thunder to execute the hell out of their offense. The bigs gorgeously contested anything that got in, and the bench did a wonderful job of holding down the fort with incredible hustle and drive.
The Thunder’s offense was inconsistent at best all game long. The Lakers were physical and drove the Thunder to an incredible amount of frustration unlike anything we had seen from this team all season long. L.A.’s offense was smart, efficient and very inside-oriented.
And then three minutes were left, and Kobe Bryant needlessly strayed from the offense and the Thunder exploded.
Of course, Kobe Bryant’s screw-ups weren’t as salient as they were in Game 2. Kobe took wild, contested shot after wild, contested shot. The ball no longer moved and Kobe’s jumpshots led to long rebounds which led to freaking fast-breaks and sloppy defense on the Lakers part.
The dagger, of course, was a three-point, Kevin Durant walk-up shot with Metta World Peace half-ass defending the perimeter with 13.8 seconds remaining. Sure, the play that led to that shot was a Pau Gasol turnover (and, somewhat-undeservedly, he’ll be the goat for Lakers fans who can’t come off of Kobe Bryant’s jockstrap), a damning blow, considering Metta World Peace hustled his way towards forcing a turnover for L.A. to have a shot with the game tied at 98.
This series is over. I said this when the team lost a heart-breaking Game 2 in the exact friggin’ manner, and though Game 3 gave us all a sliver of hope, this game effectively murdered whatever hope we had of beating this Thunder team.
The Thunder defense, though, should get all the credit for fronting Andrew Bynum and not letting him get position down on the block. While, sure, Andrew Bynum didn’t exactly fight for position, both Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka did an incredible job with ball denial, and L.A. was forced to take jumpshots late. The OKC offense, led by Russell Westbrook, who went off in the second half, became dangerous, and Kevin Durant — who I’m convinced may just be the most clutch player in the NBA, and one of the most clutch in the past decade — coolly knocked in a three-pointer right over one of the league’s most elite defenders.
We’ll have more to come on this game and, soon, we’ll have an obituary as this team is one loss away from an offseason full of questions.
In the meantime, hit us up on Twitter while we grown men, here at LSL, cry our hearts out.