Kevin Durant Lifts Thunder Past Lakers in Home Playoff Debut

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant had
29 points and 19 rebounds, and snapped out of a shooting funk just in
time to lead the decisive run in the first playoff game played in
Oklahoma City, lifting the Thunder to a 101-96 victory over the Los
Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Durant and Russell Westbrook scored 22
of the final 23 for the Thunder, including every point during a 10-2
surge that put Oklahoma City ahead to stay.

The top-seeded Lakers got back within
98-96 on Kobe Bryant's driving layup with 13.5 seconds left, but the
Thunder closed it out from the foul line to pull within 2-1 in the
seven-game series.

Game 4 is Saturday night in Oklahoma
City.

Bryant scored 24 points to surpass
Jerry West's franchise record for playoff scoring, and Pau Gasol had 17
points and 15 rebounds for Los Angeles.

Undaunted by a raucous sellout crowd,
the top-seeded Lakers scored the first 10 points of the game and were in
control until the Thunder roared back with an electrifying run of eight
straight points late in the third quarter.

The fans reached a deafening pitch as
the Thunder completed their charge back from an 11-point deficit set off
by Westbrook's right-handed tomahawk dunk. James Harden and Durant
followed with back-to-back 3-pointers to tie it at 74, and Oklahoma City
finally took its first lead of the game on its opening possession of
the fourth quarter.

Andrew Bynum pulled Los Angeles even
for the final time by powering through Nick Collison's hard foul for a
right-handed dunk, then hitting the ensuing free throw to tie it at 80.

Durant answered at the other end with a
jumper from the right side with 8:41 left to give Oklahoma City the
lead for good, then converted Bryant's turnover into a two-handed jam on
a fast break.

His 19-foot jumper from the right
wing put Oklahoma City up 90-82 with 4:28 remaining, and that lead was
just big enough for the Thunder to hang on down the stretch.

Westbrook finished with 27 points and
Harden, a rookie, scored 18 after going scoreless in Games 1 and 2.

Fans wearing free blue "Rise
Together" T-shirts were standing even 15 minutes before the game to
chant "Beat L.A.!" and rose to their feet again when the Thunder brought
out a new pregame video that showed key moments from Oklahoma City's
time in the NBA.

It was billed as the biggest sports
day in the city's history, with three Oklahoma players taken among the
top four picks in the NFL draft on the same night as the first home
playoff game for the Thunder or the New Orleans Hornets — who were
displaced to the Ford Center for two seasons following Hurricane
Katrina.

And it came on the 121st anniversary
of the date the state, which was formerly American Indian territory, was
first settled in a land run.

All that didn't seem to bother the
defending NBA champions.

They kept the fans standing — and
waiting for the Thunder's first basket — until coach Scott Brooks burned
a timeout 2:34 into the game with his team already down 10-0. Los
Angeles made its first seven shots, taking advantage of three early
Thunder turnovers and the 7-foot Bynum's size advantage inside with a
series lobs.

Even as Durant missed his first seven
shots, Oklahoma City clawed back within 36-33 on Westbrook's
right-handed fast-break dunk with 5:15 left before halftime. Bryant then
hit a series of three 3-pointers to help the Lakers stay in front on
their way to a 50-43 halftime lead.

Los Angeles then pounded it inside to
Bynum and Gasol to extend its lead back to 11 in the third quarter
before Oklahoma City started charging back.

After starting out 4-for-19 from the
field, Durant made four of his five shots during the key stretch for
Oklahoma City. By game's end, he was pounding his chest and popping his
jersey to show off the "Thunder" printed on the front.

Notes
Durant tied for second in
voting for the NBA's most improved player, behind Houston's Aaron
Brooks
, after finishing third in the voting last season. "I think I made
a bigger leap last year, being more comfortable. As far as me going out
on the floor and producing and being more consistent, I did that last
year. This year, I just gained more and more confidence, got a little
bigger and a little stronger and was able to help my team out." …
Harden, the Thunder's top-scoring reserve with 9.9 points per game, hit
his first three shots and scored a team-high 15 points in the first half
after going 0-for-5 shooting in the first two games of the series. … A
reporter mentioned to Brooks, who was presented his coach of the year
award before the game, that he used to give free basketball clinics. "I
guess now I can charge, huh?" he quipped.

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