CNHI News Services
OKLAHOMA CITY —
The Los Angeles Lakers were looking to make a statement. After climbing to within two games of the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, they needed a victory over one of the elite teams to prove they were for real.
The Lakers found that test in Oklahoma City against the defending conference champions. Even though a battered and beat up L.A. squad fought down to the final minutes, they still fell 122-105 Tuesday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"I told these guys they are good," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They are probably the best team in the West. We need to measure up against it. We knew that two things were going to happen. We need to make the playoffs and then get Pau (Gasol) back and then we will see. "
The Lakers (30-31) had their chances to steal the win. Steve Nash drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead to five, Oklahoma City scored four straight, including a Serge Ibaka 3-pointer to push advantage to nine with 3:39 left.
The Thunder (44-16) forced Kobe Bryant to give the ball up and the Lakers were unable to make the open shots. In the final three minutes Dwight Howard fouled out and World Peace injured his ankle and had to leave the game.
Oklahoma City put the game away with back to back dunks from Ibaka and Russell Westbrook that got the Thunder faithful on their feet.
“This time of the year, our crowd is always like that,” Westbrook said. “The Lakers came in and basically everybody said it was a must win. We needed the win to. We came out with a sense of urgency as well.”
Westbrook had a game-high 37 points on 15-for-29 shooting. He also racked up 10 rebounds and five assists. Kevin Durant added 26 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
The Thunder tied a NBA record with only two turnovers for the entire game.
Bryant paced L.A. with 30 points and was 11-for-12 from the charity stripe. Nash kicked in 20 points and World Peace added 16 in the defeat.
"You can always try to find positive things," Bryant said. "But for us right now, we have to get some wins. They played really well. "
The Lakers' fortunes took a down turn early in the first quarter when Bryant had to be taken to the locker room after banging elbows with the Thunder's Thabo Sefolosha. He was diagnosed with an ulnar nerve contusion. In the process, L.A. started the game 0-9 from the field.
Bryant returned to the game five minutes later and helped restore calmness to the Lakers. But the Thunder kept rolling as they led 37-28 to start the second quarter.
Oklahoma City pushed the advantage to 16 points before their emotions got the better of them. After being called for a foul on Howard, Derek Fisher was handed a technical foul. Durant then earned his 13th technical foul of the season talking to ref Joey Crawford as the teams headed toward their benches for a timeout. He will have to sit a game if he gets three more.
“Joey is a good ref and I respect him a lot,” Durant said. “But hopefully that gets rescinded. All I asked him was, verbatim, is ‘Can I talk to you? And he got me with one.”
The Lakers took advantage and cut the Oklahoma City's advantage down to eight. Bryant knocked down consecutive long range, contested 3-pointer and scored eight straight points to get L.A. back into the contest.
But that just seemed to wake up the Thunder's defense and they forced the Lakers into difficult shots. Oklahoma City scored a season high for a first half as they pulled ahead 71-55 at halftime.
The Lakers stormed back in the third behind Bryant, Nash and the 3-point shot. They got the lead down to eight points heading into the fourth quarter.
"I don't think we played a great game," Nash said. "We had some turnovers and I feel like we didn’t make the second effort. Especially going against a great team like this."