Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant shoots next to Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol during the third quarter in Wednesday's OKC win against the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Even down late, the Oklahoma City Thunder are showing that they are never out.
Kevin Durant scored 22 points and rattled in the go-ahead basket on a baseline runner with 18 seconds left, and the Thunder scored the final nine points to rally for a 77-75 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals Wednesday night.
Oklahoma City trailed by seven with 2 minutes left before surging back with a series of defensive stops by its stars to claw back from that deficit in the closing stages of a game for the second time this postseason. The Thunder were also seven down with 2½ minutes left in Game 1 against defending NBA champion Dallas in the first round.
"They won't quit. That's not in their DNA," coach Scott Brooks said. "They're not wired that way and if they were, they wouldn't be here. We're not going to win every game but we're going to fight to the last second of the game and we did that tonight.
"If we would have gotten down on ourselves with 2 minutes to go, we would have lost by 12 and we would go to L.A. 1-1."
Instead, Oklahoma City takes a 2-0 lead into Game 3 on Friday night at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum scored 20 points apiece for the Lakers, who came up empty on their last six possessions after Bynum's hook shot made it 75-68 with 2:09 remaining.
After struggling throughout the second half and missing 20 of their first 27 shots, the Thunder suddenly came alive after Brooks called timeout following Bynum's basket that gave Los Angeles its largest lead of the game.
James Harden drove for a layup before Durant used his height advantage to reach up and tip away a pass from Bryant, who he was guarding. Durant ran out for a right-handed dunk at the other end before Russell Westbrook forced another turnover by aggressively challenging an outlet pass to Bryant along the sideline.
Harden made the next stop, blocking Bryant's jumper on the next Lakers possession and getting a layup in transition off it to cut the deficit to one in the final minute.
Bryant couldn't connect again, this time on a 3-pointer, to give the Thunder the ball back with the chance to take the lead and Durant was able to make it happen.
"I wish it was my magical words. All I told the guys was, 'We're down 7. You don't have to play perfect basketball but we better come pretty close,'" Brooks said.
Steve Blake missed an open 3-pointer from the right side with about 5 seconds left after Metta World Peace couldn't get the ball to Bryant on the inbounds play.
Brown said he thought Bryant was open on the back side of the play, but World Peace apparently didn't see him — agreeing that Bryant was supposed to be the first option.
"Blake was wide open. We didn't have any timeouts left and he got a clean look, a really good look," World Peace said. "He can knock that down."
Durant was then fouled with 0.3 seconds left and made his first try before missing the second on purpose — failing to hit the backboard or rim for a violation.
The Lakers got a desperation try but World Peace's long pass for Bynum was intercepted by Harden.
"What they did the last few minutes there, they just made gambles," Bryant said. "They just jumped in the passing lanes. It's something that we're not accustomed to seeing. It's just flat-out risks defensively."
Historically, the loss makes a huge difference. Los Angeles is 29-12 when splitting the first two games of a seven-game series and has lost 17 of 19 when falling into a 2-0 hole. The Lakers' last comeback was in the 2004 West semifinals against San Antonio.
The Thunder have won all nine of their series after leading 2-0, dating back to the franchise's days in Seattle.
"It's not good. I don't think anybody's happy in there (in the locker room)," coach Mike Brown said. "We felt like we let one slip away."
Bryant was right at the heart of the meltdown, missing two shots and having a hand in two turnovers in the final 2 minutes. The first turnover came when Durant used his nearly 7-foot frame and impressive wingspan to come up with an energizing steal and fast-break chance.
"He used his length on Kobe. Coming up with that steal was huge," Brown said. "That's what great players are supposed to do. They're supposed to take on the challenge at the end of the game and he did.
"He won the game for them, basically."
Westbrook added 15 points for Oklahoma City, which matched its lowest scoring total of the season but still gutted out the win. The Thunder had ripped apart the Lakers' defense with their pick-and-roll attack in Game 1, scoring 119 points in a 29-point blowout.
"We dominated defensively," Bynum said. "We stopped them, made them play through their bigs and turn the ball over. In the last 2 minutes, we gave the game away."
In a game that was nip-and-tuck throughout, the Lakers started inching away early in the fourth quarter while Westbrook was on the bench.
Bryant drilled a jumper from the left wing and Blake followed with a 3-pointer before World Peace hit one of two free throws for a 69-63 advantage with 7:27 remaining — the Lakers' largest lead to that point.
Westbrook returned then but only provided the briefest of sparks for the struggling Oklahoma City offense, and Bynum's second straight basket — on a left-handed hook shot at the left block — made it 75-68 with 2:09 to play.
Until that point, Oklahoma City had more turnovers (eight) than made baskets (seven) in the second half after committing an uncharacteristically low four turnovers in Game 1.
Notes: The NBA on Wednesday fined Devin Ebanks $25,000 for actions related to his Game 1 ejection and Bynum $15,000 for failing to speak to reporters Tuesday. Bynum, who has had recent disciplinary issues within the team, talked at the Lakers' morning shootaround Wednesday and called it a make up for skipping the previous day. "I think he's learning. Is he going to be a perfect citizen the rest of his career? I don't know," Brown said. "He's bound to make mistakes. I think everybody makes mistakes." ... World Peace has said he supported Brooks to become Sacramento's coach back in 2007, when Brooks had been an assistant under Eric Musselman. "Little does he know, if I would have got the job, I was going to ask for him to be traded," Brooks joked. He then called World Peace, or Ron Artest at the time, the third-best two-way player at the time behind Bryant and Kevin Garnett. ... Harden caught World Peace with an inadvertent elbow to the face in the first quarter.
Celtics top 76ers, 107-91, in Game 3
PHILADELPHIA — Kevin Garnett yapped his way down the court after big baskets and clearly enjoyed taking it to the 76ers.
Rajon Rondo pushed the ball and relentlessly attacked the lane.
Paul Pierce gutted out a knee injury and grinded his way to the free throw line.
Boston hears the whispers that it’s too weary and too old to win another championship. By the time they forced Sixers fans to flee their seats, the Celtics proved it’s still too early to count them out.
Garnett scored 27 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and used a dominant second quarter to help the Celtics beat the 76ers 107-91 on Wednesday night and take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Whistled for a costly illegal pick late in a Game 2 loss, Garnett crushed the Sixers early and never let them think about a fourth-quarter rally.
Garnett scored 13 of Boston’s 32 points in the second quarter and the Celtics became the first team to win by double digits. Game 1 and Game 2 were each decided by one point.
Rondo had 23 points and 14 assists. Pierce, playing with a banged-up knee, had 24 points and 12 rebounds.
Game 4 is Friday in Philadelphia.
“We just wanted to come out and establish who we are as a team,” Pierce said.
That started with making Garnett a focal point.
Garnett had somehow become forgotten in Boston’s offense in Game 2 until the fourth quarter. Coach Doc Rivers said the Celtics simply weren’t going to the 16-year veteran because they had established an offensive presence in the low post.
The Celtics wouldn’t let that happen again.
They needed Garnett at his best in Philadelphia, where the Sixers had won their last four postseason games.
So much for that minor streak. Garnett made 12 of 17 shots and helped the Celtics outrebound the Sixers by 11 on the defensive boards. He buried those 10 to 16 footers with ease in the second quarter to turn a seven-point deficit into a 13-point lead.
“He got the ball in his spots,” Rondo said. “He hit a couple of fadeaways. A lot of those guys are smaller than him, so he was just able to turn around and shoot over them.”
Pierce had an MCL injury in his left knee rob him of his jumper and slow him down on both sides of the ball. He scored only 21 points combined in the first two games and failed to be the impact player the Celtics needed if they want to play deeper in the postseason.
All that changed in Game 3. He charged the lane in the first quarter for a couple of angry-looking dunks. He even pounded the backboard for emphasis after one as if to show the Sixers he still had some lift in those legs.
“That’s who he is,” Rivers said. “That’s how he’s been even when he’s healthy. Paul’s just a grinder.”
He’ll need to do it again to hold off the Sixers.
Thaddeus Young scored 22 points and Jrue Holiday had 15 for the Sixers. Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks each scored 13. Starters Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner combined for only 11 points.
“Sometimes you’ve got to take it and go with it and come back the next game,” Young said. “That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Wearing their matching red 76ers logo T-shirts, fans fled for the exits at the 6-minute mark and the Sixers down 101-76.
The Sixers hadn’t hosted a second-round game since 2003, when coach Larry Brown and All-Star Allen Iverson ruled the town. Julius Erving walked out to a roaring ovation when he presented the game ball and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick watched from a suite.
The Sixers hoped all the stars and hoopla that helped them knock off top-seeded Chicago would work again.
Back to the drawing board. Young scored three baskets and the rest of the Sixers had only two in the decisive second quarter.
“We ran into a Celtics team that had a real sense of purpose about them,” coach Doug Collins said. “You could see in moment one, they were looking to push that ball in every situation.”
Garnett tortured them from long range, toyed with them from inside, and got some deserved rest on the bench in the final minutes wearing a long-sleeve shirt.
Garnett was whistled for a critical offensive foul late in Game 2 on a potential game-tying possession for the Celtics. All seemed forgiven by the time the Celtics raced to a 25-point lead.
“Our offense finally came alive,” Pierce said. “We moved the ball. We knew that’s what we were going to have to do to score 100 points.”
Rivers kept Rondo, Pierce and Ray Allen in the game until the final minutes even though the game was well out of reach. The Bulls were burned by that in the opening round in Game 1 when they left Derrick Rose in with a 20-point lead. He tore his ACL and was lost for the season — and the Sixers rolled to a series win.
The Celtics intend to keep up the pressure in Game 4 — and beyond.
“When you beat a team like this at home, you have to expect them coming out with a lot of energy,” Garnett said. “But we’ll be ready and we’ll have a lot of energy ourselves.”
Notes: Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and several other Eagles were at the game. … Former Sixers owner Ed Snider watched the game from a courtside seat. … Rivers was named to the NBA’s Competition Committee. He said he had no idea until he received a letter saying he had been selected. … The Celtics missed their first seven shots of the game, then made their next five.