x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Kevin Durant and Thunder pierce 'unbelievable' defence of Lakers

Boston Celtics secure 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals over Philadelphia 76ers.

Oklahoma City Thunder lead Wester Conference semi-finals against Los Angeles Lakers 2-0.
Oklahoma City Thunder lead Wester Conference semi-finals against Los Angeles Lakers 2-0.

OKLAHOMA CITY // Kevin Durant, the NBA scoring champion, struck for 22 points, five coming in a game-ending 9-0 run, as Oklahoma City stunned the Los Angeles Lakers 77-75 in the NBA play-offs yesterday.

The Thunder, unbeaten in six play-off games, seized a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference second-round series, which shifts to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4 today and tomorrow.

"We kept our composure," Durant said. "Their defence was unbelievable tonight. We stuck with it and I was able to make some big shots. A win is a win in the play-offs. We've got to be prepared for Game 3."

On the verge of pulling even in the series, the Lakers return home in need of a victory on Friday to avoid being on the edge of elimination.

"We're pretty disappointed," said Steve Blake, the Lakers guard. "We worked hard to get that lead. They took it from us but we gave it away at the same time."

The Lakers' defence shut down the NBA's most potent play-off scoring attack most of the game and took a 75-68 lead on a hook shot by Andrew Bynum with 2:08 to play in the fourth quarter. But Los Angeles would not score again.

James Harden, voted the NBA's top reserve player, snapped a four-minute Oklahoma City scoring drought on a layup with 1:59 remaining to pull the Thunder within 75-70.

Durant followed with a steal and a fast-break slam dunk to trim the Lakers' lead to 75-72 and Harden produced a driving lay-up to pull the hosts within a single point with 56 seconds remaining.

After a Kobe Bryant miss for the Lakers, a double-covered Durant made a clutch baseline jump shot with 18.6 seconds remaining to give the Thunder a 76-75 advantage.

"Big shot, big steal," Lakers coach Mike Brown said of Durant's late-game heroics. "Give them credit - big plays down the stretch for OKC."

With the game on the line, the Lakers had an inbounds opportunity on the sideline in the offensive zone. They tried to set up a play for Bryant but the Thunder's Russell Westbrook left Blake unguarded in the corner and Metta World Peace tossed him the ball for an uncontested 3-point attempt.

"Kobe was wide open on the back side," Brown said. "Metta saw Steve and Steve was open so Metta passed it to him."

Blake's shot bounced off the rim and the Thunder recovered, setting the stage for a final free throw by Durant.

"I was there to be an outlet for [the inbounds pass]," Blake said. "My man ran away from me. I got a good look. I made a good shot. It just didn't go in."

Durant deliberately missed his second free throw but the ball barely touched the bottom of the netting, giving the Lakers a last-gasp possession with 0.3 of a second remaining, but they could not execute a play for a shot attempt.

As most of the crowd of 18,203 cheered and the Thunder celebrated, the Lakers could only wonder how they let a seemingly secure victory slip away.

"We will be all right," World Peace said. "We had a lot of good things that happened tonight. We will be better when we get in that position again."

World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, was not ready to lay the blame at the feet of Bryant for missed shots and a late turnover.

"If one person turned it over, we all turned it over," World Peace said. "At the end of the game we all lost."

Bryant and Bynum each finished with 20 points while Spaniard Pau Gasol added 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for the Lakers.

Westbrook scored 15 points and Harden added 13 points for the Thunder.

In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, Kevin Garnett scored 27 points while Paul Pierce added 24 and Rajon Rondo had 23 as Boston cruised past Philadelphia 107-91 yesterday to grab the lead in their NBA play-off series.

The Celtics traded one-point victories with Philadelphia in the first two games in Boston, but their stars dominated early on the way to the team taking a 2-1 edge in the second-round Eastern Conference best-of-seven series.

Garnett, who made 12-of-17 shots, also grabbed 13 rebounds while Rondo, who hit 9-of-16 from the field, passed off 14 assists and Pierce, who was only 6-of-17 from the field but went 11-of-14 in free throws, added 12 rebounds.

Pierce was struggling with a sore left knee but did plenty of damage.

"A great all-around game by Paul," Garnett said. "He was aggressive. Anytime Paul is playing at a high level, we follow that lead. We figured out ways to get him the ball. He was doing a lot for us."

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