- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was feeling suffocated as he stood in front of his locker room and it had nothing to do with the gray sweater vest he was wearing over his blue collared shirt.
"I have to get out of here," Westbrook said to a Thunder staff member. "I can't do this."
Westbrook didn't really have a choice after he was surrounded by a throng of media members after the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Thunder 95-92 to take 2-0 lead in their Western Conference first-round series.
"You guys are going to ask the same questions," he said as he looked at the horde around him.
Well, that's what happens when you lose the first two games of a series, but humor us, Russell.
"It's tough," said Westbrook, who scored 19 points. "We were close throughout the whole game and we fought strong but we just weren't able to come up with the big shots at the end."
Westbrook gave the Thunder an 88-86 lead with 2:30 left in the game after hitting a pair of free-throws but Oklahoma City wasn't able to hold on in the end as Kobe Bryant scored eight points down the stretch to give the Lakers a 2-0 series lead heading back to Oklahoma City.
Yet despite being unable to secure the first playoff win for most of the players on a young squad playing in the postseason for the first time, the Thunder should go home feeling slightly better about themselves than they felt after Sunday. They were the far superior team on the defensive end, blocking 17 shots to three for the Lakers, forcing 16 turnovers and stealing the ball nine times. They held the Lakers to 37.5 percent shooting from the field and 27.3 percent from beyond the arc.
"Definitely," Westbrook said when asked if the Thunder's defense could wear the Lakers down as the series progressed. "That's a tough team. They live for moments like this but at the same time our coaches prepared us well. If we continue to wear them down, I think we can squeeze a win out of them."
Westbrook and the Thunder are probably hoping to squeeze more than one win out of the Lakers, but they'll settle for one at this point. For that to happen, however, they're going to have to play as well on the offensive end as they did defensively. Despite suffocating the Lakers, the Thunder were equally hamstrung by the Lakers, shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from beyond the arc, while turning the ball over 17 times. They also were dominated by the Lakers in second-chance points (23-12) and points in the paint (36-20).
Kevin Durant, who bounced back from his struggles in Game 1 and finished with 32 points on 12-of-26 shooting, doesn't know if the Thunder can play much better than they did Tuesday.
"I think that our offense was phenomenal," said Durant. "Our energy on the defensive end was phenomenal. Of course you can't play perfect defense an entire game. We got a lot of offensive rebounds and we played hard. One of the hardest games we have played all season."
Before the game Durant was becoming visibly frustrated by the continuing talk of Ron Artest's defense on him and his, perceived by one media member, "overreaction" to the comments Lakers coach Phil Jackson made about his trips to the free throw line.
"You think I overreacted?" asked Durant. "What, because I'm a third-year player I can't say nothing back to Phil Jackson? I'm standing up for myself and what I believe in. I really don't say nothing to too many people in this league who stay stuff about me and our team and how I play and how we play but I felt I had to say something back. It is what it is. I had to stand up for myself."
Durant more than stood up for himself and the team on Tuesday, nearly leading them to a win before his potential game-winning 3-pointer at the end of the game missed the mark. While Artest still had his moments, Durant was far from the flailing, frustrated player he was Sunday when he hit only 7 of 24 shots.
"I've been shooting those shots all season, man," Durant said. "I guess because I shot it bad everything went wrong. Everything I did was wrong. I'm still going to go out there and be aggressive and take what the defense gives me. I want to continue to have confidence in myself that I'm going to hit those shots."
Despite being the youngest team in the playoffs and creating most of their highlights off fast breaks and transition baskets, the Thunder take more pride in their defense than anything else after Thunder head coach Scott Brooks talked to each individual player after the season about the importance to committing to defense if they ever wanted to make the playoffs.
As he stood in the hallway of Staples Center outside of the visiting locker room, Brooks was actually reminded he was in the very same building when he decided his team would never again be outworked on defense.
"We talked about it on April 14 of 2009 right after we played the Clippers here," he said. "We had our exit meeting and I said we have to be a better defensive team. We can't go into games and looking to score 110 and hoping the other team will only score a 109. All summer long guys were focused and talked about it whether it was talking personally or texting. We said defense needs to be a priority and it has to start the first day of training camp and take place every day and in shootaround."
As well as the Thunder played defensively Tuesday and as much as Brooks wanted to see the silver lining in his team's effort, he admitted it was hard to take solace in watching his team play one of its best games of the season and still lose in the end.
"That was about as well as we can play and we just came up a little short," Brooks said. "A couple of times the last three or four weeks, we've had games like this where both teams laid it on the line and somebody has to end up losing the game. Unfortunately, we lost the game tonight."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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