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Durant shifts focus to give Thunder first-ever playoff win

By Randy Renner, for
Posted Friday April 23, 2010 2:09AM

OKLAHOMA CITY ( exclusive) -- Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant was struggling through another tough shooting night against the Los Angeles Lakers, hitting just one of his first seven shots and just four of his first 16 when he stood in the team huddle and knew what he had to do.

"My shot wasn't falling so I just tried to do other things to help my team," he told reporters.

So Durant went out and set a career high in rebounds with 19, played stout defense against Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter and still managed to score 29 points in leading his Thunder to a thrilling come-from-behind 101-96 win over the Lakers.

"It feels good to finally get a win in this series against the reining champs," Durant said. "I probably only guarded Kobe 10 or 11 possessions in the regular season but [Thunder assistant] coach Ron Adams told me it was my turn so I just wanted to play my hardest. It's a chance to make me better, guarding the best player in the world."

Bryant was held to just four points in the fourth quarter on 2-for-10 shooting. He had helped torch the Thunder on Tuesday night in L.A. with 15 points down the stretch of Game 2.

Bryant had been guarded by defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha most of the game with Jeff Green and James Harden also taking turns. But seeing Durant come out on him for the final 12 minutes was not something the Lakers' superstar was expecting.

"It was a matchup that caught me by surprise," Bryant said. "He did a good job."

Bryant still managed to lead the Lakers in scoring with 24 points on 10-for-29 shooting. But Bryant, for one of the few times in his career, did not have a single free-throw attempt.

"Yeah those days are few and far between," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, "The key factor in the game was free throws. They shot 34 and we shot 12. And that goes with their aggressiveness, not the referees."

Another factor was the largest crowd to pack into the Ford Center all season, a standing-room only gathering of 18,342 that was roaring long before the opening tip.

"It was so loud, it was an emotional start to the game," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks received the Coach of the Year Award before the game in a ceremony with Commissioner David Stern.

But the excitement of Oklahoma City's first-ever NBA playoff game may have been too much for the home team at the start of the contest. The Thunder turned the ball over on three of their first four possessions and missed a shot on the other.

The Lakers meanwhile quieted the crowd by hitting their first six shots to jump out to 10-0 and 12-3 leads and tried to take the fans out of the game early.

The Thunder calmed down after the shaky start and got as close as four points, 39-35, after a pair of James Harden free throws. Bryant hit a trio of 3-pointers and another basket to push L.A. to a 50-41 lead. After Russell Westbrook scored the last points of the half, the Thunder trailed 50-43.

The Lakers surged again in the third quarter and built a 62-52 lead, but the youngest team in the NBA refused to buckle, battling back to tie the game on consecutive 3-pointers from Harden and Durant.

"The crowd was phenomenal, I couldn't hear myself there at the end of the third quarter," Durant said. "They kept us in the game. It was a great atmosphere out there."

Durant's 29 points led all scorers, while his sidekick Westbrook added 27, grabbed eight rebounds and dished four assists. Harden dropped in 18 after being shutout in the first two games of the series.

OKC limited Los Angeles to just 46 second-half points, 21 in the fourth quarter when the Lakers were just 8-for-20.

"We kept our composure," said Thunder forward Jeff Green. "We just kept doing what got us to this point and that was defense."

Oklahoma City outrebounded the Lakers 53-39 and doubled them on the offensive glass, 14-7. The Thunder also ran on the Lakers, outscoring them 23-7 on the break.

In addition to Bryant's 24, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol each added 17 with Gasol pulling down 15 rebounds.

The Thunder will now host Game 4 on Saturday to try to pull even in the series.

"I thought this was a must-win tonight," said Durant, "and now we need to get another one to even it up."

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