On Wednesday night, his late-game antics were the furthest thing possible from clutch.
Kevin Durant took the honors instead.
The Los Angeles Lakers had the chance to show the basketball world that their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder was about to be renewed.
After getting blown out in Game 1 by 29 points, the former champions came out with a sense of purpose in Game 2 and were on the verge of stealing homecourt advantage. They established low-post presence with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, cracked down defensively – the Thunder matched a season-low with only 77 points – and controlled the tempo of the game.
Then, after being up by seven points with 2 minutes remaining in the game, they blew it.
More specifically, Bryant blew it.
Here is a sequence of how all hell broke loose for him in the final two minutes of the game:
- Bryant let James Harden drive by for an uncontested layup.
- He let Kevin Durant steal the ball on a lazy entry pass for an uncontested dunk.
- He failed to catch a pass – albeit a bad one – from Steve Blake for another turnover.
- Next possession down, he forced up a fadeaway jumper which was blocked by Harden, who then sprinted down for another layup, with Bryant failing to recover defensively.
- With six seconds remaining on the shot clock, he took a 3-pointer that missed.
- With 18.6 seconds remaining in the game, he dribbled down the clock to 5.7 seconds until Thabo Sefolosha committed a foul to give.
- Unable to find Bryant, Metta World Peace threw a pass from inbounds to a wide-open Steve Blake, who missed the 3-pointer. With 2.7 seconds left, Sefolosha grabbed the rebound, but Bryant turned away in disgust instead of fouling him immediately.
It all made for a 9-0 run to close the game and a 77-75 victory for the Thunder, and it may have been the most none-clutch two-minute sequence we have ever seen from Bryant in a close playoff game. (Boxscore here).
Blake wrongfully played scapegoat, but given the situation, he had little choice but to take the last shot – a good shot at that.
Overcoming such a devastating loss could be difficult for the Lakers, especially with an unusual set of back-t0-back games coming up against a much younger, much more rested opponent.
From Bill Plasche of the Los Angeles Times: “Put it this way: I’ve covered Kobe Bryant since he arrived in Los Angeles 16 years ago, and I’ve never seen him fall so completely apart in a moment so incredibly big.”
From Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles: “The Los Angeles Lakers proved two things in their 77-75 Game 2 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday: One, they can definitely hang with the Thunder, no matter how much younger and more athletic Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant & Co. might be. Two, if you think being embarrassed by 29 points in the series opener hurt, it carries nowhere near the sting that a two-point loss after leading by seven with two minutes remaining does. The question now is, did the Lakers prove enough to themselves to truly believe they can get back into this thing when the series shifts to Staples Center for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Saturday? Kobe Bryant, who has likened himself to the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera in the past and embraces his reputation as basketball’s greatest closer, registered the equivalent of a blown save in Game 2… ”It was a tough loss, yes, but the biggest thing for us was that we found some things out defensively that we feel like we can do that’s effective,” Bryant said, choosing to focus on the positive rather than dwell on the negative.”
From Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: “With two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Thunder had mustered just 20 second-half points. It was 22 minutes of basketball that threatened to ruin every ounce of good a rout just 48 hours earlier had created. But what Oklahoma City did in those final 120 seconds was nothing short of sensational — especially given the style of play this ballgame had been in the first 46 minutes… Maybe by the time the team lands in L.A., the Thunder will have regained a morsel of its offensive rhythm from Game 1. Wednesday was nothing more than a slugfest, and it was Kevin Durant who delivered the final haymaker, getting a friendly roll on a baseline runner for the go-ahead bucket with 18.6 seconds remaining. Durant’s favorable bounce was reminiscent of the shot he willed in against Dallas in the opening game of this playoff run. It was a fitting end to a fabulous final stretch for Durant and the Thunder.”
Durant was by far the most efficient player on his team, scoring 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He was brilliant down the stretch, scoring five of the team’s final nine points, while Harden provided the other four points.
Hopefully for Durant, not too many missed his fine performance because they were too busy downloading doodle jump. In his words, that would be messed up.
So they stopped playing down to the competition, got serious, and stuck with the game plan. The plan, after failing to do so in the previous game, was to utilize Kevin Garnett early and often.
They did just that, and Philadelphia had no answers in a 107-91 defeat. (Boxscore here).
From Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: ”Paul Pierce, on his way to a 22-point, 11-rebound game, slashed to the basket midway through the fourth quarter last night and spun in a reverse finger roll off the glass. The Celtics captain ran back up the floor, fists clenched by his legs, mouth wide open in a prolonged howl as he looked up into the stands, where lines of 76ers fans headed for the exits. As Pierce already knew, this was the result of trusting what has worked since the All-Star break… They not only took back homecourt advantage, after two games decided by a point each, the Celtics delivered the first major blow of the series with a 16-point win… Garnett got his share this time, with 27 points and 13 rebounds on 12-for-17 shooting after hitting seven of his first eight shots. Rondo never stopped attacking, as evidenced by a 23-point, 13-assist, 9-for-15 performance. Indeed, all sorts of deficiencies appeared to be addressed.”
The most discouraging part of getting blown out for the 76ers may have been that it happened on their own home floor. The players failed to show up on offense and could not contain the big guns of Boston.
From Bob Cooney of The Philadephia Inquirer: “Few had big games for the Sixers, save the 22 points from always-hustling forward Thaddeus Young. Jrue Holiday scored 15 and dealt nine assists, but 10 of his points came in the first quarter. He was held scoreless in the decisive second, missing his only shot. Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks each scored 13, all but two of Meeks’ coming in the second half and Andre Iguodala had a quiet 10. Now Friday turns into a must win for the Sixers, if they are to have any hope of winning this series. And they’ll have to do it while trying to slay all the awakened Celtic giants. ”This is a team that didn’t want to be down 2-1 playing Game 4,” said Collins of the Celtics. “They’ve been in a lot of these games, they know how important swing games are, to get homecourt advantage back.” Garnett, Pierce and Rondo proved just that on Wednesday.”
From Jon Marks of SheridanHoops.com: “There is still plenty of fight left in the men in green, especially old war horses Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who simply willed the NBA’s winningest franchise to a critical victory. After looking a step or two slower, at times simply incapable of staying with the quicker, more athletic Sixers, suddenly all was right in the Celtics’ world. And it didn’t require Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish to walk through that door, to steal a line from Danny Ainge. Garnett (27 points—15 coming in a dominant second quarter—and 13 rebounds), Pierce (24 and 12 boards) and Rondo (23 and 14 assists) did quite nicely on their own. “Those guys stepped up tonight,’’ said reserve Mickael Pietrus of the trio. “That’s what we need from them.” And there was little the Sixers, who had just set an NBA record by playing three straight one-point games–winning two of them–could do about it. “We ran into a Celtic team that had a real sense of purpose about them tonight,’’ said Philadelphia’s Doug Collins, who’ll now try to get his team to bounce back from this disappointment tomorrow and square the series. ”My hat’s off to them, they played great. ”You can see from their game tonight this is a much different team than we saw in Boston.’’ … Tomorrow night it’s up to the Sixers to get the crowd’s juices flowing again, defend the way they’ve done throughout the postseason and let the Celtics know in no uncertain terms this series ain’t over yet. Can they do it? Following Game 3, you have to have your doubts.”
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.