With 2:08 left on the clock, Game 2 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers was all but over.
That is until Kobe Bryant giftwrapped the game and handed it to the Thunder.
The Lakers owned a 75-68 lead and the Thunder were in the midst of one of the most miserable halves of their season. Kevin Durant wasn’t shooting enough, Serge Ibaka shot too much and Kobe started to turn on the Kobe.
It was over and the Thunder had all but handed the Lakers their first win of the series. Then, Bryant turned around and gave Oklahoma City the best thing they could have ever asked for: a chance.
With 1:48 remaining and the game all but sewed up, Bryant looked to pass the ball into the post. Durant, Thunder coach Scott Brook’s defensive secret weapon at the end of games, reached up with every inch of his nine-foot wingspan and plucked his pass straight out of the air, drove to the basket and cut the Lakers’ lead to three.
“He’s (Durant) guarding the best player in basketball,” Brooks said after the game. “It takes a team to stop him (Bryant). There was a moment when I thought Kobe was really starting to feel it and I thought Kevin’s length could bother him.”
“It was a great play,” Bryant said. “He just jumped the passing lane and got a good steal. Other than that, I was just too far away from the basket.”
The Lakers kept the Thunder from scoring after another turnover, but with 1:01 left on the clock, Bryant, so used to the late game drama, missed a fade-away that would have ultimately sealed the deal and sent the Lakers home with a huge win. Instead, Kendrick Perkins grabbed the rebound, Harden drove to the basket and with 56 seconds left, the Thunder was down by one.
Los Angeles still had the lead. With under a minute, they were still in the driver’s seat. All they had to do was milk the clock and get to the basket for a layup or a foul.
Easier said than done, even with Bryant.
Bryant had already helped get Oklahoma City back in the game with his turnover two possessions prior and wasn’t exactly feeling it after missing a fade-away. So, after draining the clock with the lead in hand, what did he do? He launched a three that clanked and landed in the hands of Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook got the ball to Durant and with 18.6 seconds left, the NBA’s leading scorer put the Thunder up by one with a seven-foot floater reminiscent of his game winner against Dallas in Game 1 of the first round.
Los Angeles tried to respond with a flare out to Bryant, but Metta World Peace instead passed to Steve Blake who launched a desperation-three, missed and gave Oklahoma City a 2-0 series advantage.
“I got open,” Bryant said. “I don’t know what Metta (World Peace) saw, but he kicked it to Steve (Blake) and I got in position for the rebound. I couldn’t pull it down.”
The Lakers will now head home disappointed. They can’t be disappointed that they lost two games in one of the loudest arenas in the league, but in the fact that their star player couldn’t lockup the game like he’s so used to doing.
Bryant is one of the game’s greatest players of all time, as professed by Brooks after Game 1 Monday night. However, in the clutch Wednesday, he looked more like an aging veteran than the assassin he has been over 16 years.
Kobe just wasn’t Kobe.
Give all the credit in the world to Oklahoma City. They got the job done. Their superstar (Durant) came up big in the clutch and L.A.’s star didn’t. For 46 minutes it was the Lakers’ game to win, but in the final minutes the Thunder capitalized on costly Laker mistakes and ultimately stole the victory.
“This is what the series is going to be about,” Brooks said after the game. “Each game is going to be a one or two possession game going forward. Each game is going to be physical, but we feel we can win that way.”
Instead of taking the game from the Thunder, Kobe gave it to them. It’s a mistake he has so rarely surrendered over the course of his career, but it could end up being the demise of this year’s Lakers.
It could also be a boost for Oklahoma City, a boost that could lead them to the Western Conference Finals and ultimately an NBA championship.