Kobe Bryant is still universally recognized as the best clutch player in basketball, but Kevin Durant is closing fast.
Oklahoma City pulled out an improbable 77-75 victory over Kobe’s L.A. Lakers in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals series all because the Thunder’s All-Star forward and franchise player refused to let his team go down.
Down 75-68 with 2:08 left in the game Durant put on his Superman cape and rescued the Thunder from defeat by scoring eight of his team’s final 12 points, including what turned out to be the game-winning shot from the baseline over L.A.’s two 7-footers with 18 seconds left that put the Thunder ahead 76-75.
“I’ve had so many bad times in the fourth when I missed shots or turned the ball over. Through tough times I learned,” said Durant, who led all players with 22 points in a game that saw the Thunder struggle offensively and needed every bit of Durant’s heroics.
“As a kid you always count down in your backyard and you wanna make that last shot or take it,” the three-time NBA scoring champ said. “That’s what I do. If I make it or miss it I’m gonna walk off the court and get ready for the next opportunity. There will be a time when I’m gonna miss those shots, but I know if it comes around again I’m gonna take it.”
Wednesday’s playoff game basically came down to the two biggest stars in the series: Bryant and Durant. It was the classic showdown of the old master against the young apprentice ready to rule. KD scored the last three points for his team while Kobe missed his last five shots and committed two crucial turnovers. It was a meltdown of epic proportions by Bryant’s standards, while Durant was absolutely clutch when his team needed it most.
Durant got the rally going by stealing Bryant’s pass near halfcourt and turning it into a dunk. On the Lakers’ next possession Russell Westbrook jumped the passing lane and distracted Kobe enough to have the ball deflect off his hand. Kobe also missed an open 3-pointer that would have finished off the Thunder for good.
After James Harden’s layup cut the deficit to one at 75-74 Durant and Co. forced Bryant into a tough shot, setting up Durant’s go-ahead basket to complete an 8-0 run. About the only bad thing Durant did wrong in the final minutes was he airballed a free throwing while attempting to run out the final 0.3 seconds off the clock.
“That last few minutes they just gambled and jumped the passing lanes, which was a little unconventional. We’ll make our adjustments in Game 3,” said Bryant, who scored 20 points but was just 9-for-25 from the field.
Kobe had once last chance to redeem himself when the Lakers in bounded the ball with five seconds remaining in the game. But Metta World Peace couldn’t get the ball to Kobe and opted for Steve Blake in the corner, who missed the 3-pointer.
“We set a good screen where I flare off to the weakside for a good look. I don’t know what Metta saw. Once I turned around I just saw the ball in the air,” Bryant explained.
Bryant and Lakers now head home to L.A. down 0-2 in the series and have just 48 hours to get ready for a crucial Game 3. But more importantly, can the Lakers win this series with a Black Mamba that seems to be turning into the Gray Mamba? “It’s a tough loss for us but we found some things that we could do that’s effective,” Bryant said. “They did a great job, great comeback by them in the last two minutes. They got themselves a gritty win now it’s on us to defend our home court.”
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.