10:30 PM ET, December 22, 2009
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers' misguided passes, ill-advised shots and indifferent defense were all symptoms of the malaise that often hits a team returning home from a long road trip.
As usual with any malady befalling the Lakers, Kobe Bryant had the cure -- even with a sore knee.
Bryant scored 40 points for the sixth time this season, and the NBA-leading Lakers shook off a rough first half before hanging on for their 16th victory in 17 games, 111-108 over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.
Bryant persevered through a scary stumble, an elbow to the jaw and a night of tough defense from Kevin Durant and the Thunder, who came agonizingly close to a breakthrough win against the defending champions.
"The first home game back is always tough when you're trying to find that groove," Bryant said. "We trust our defense, and we understand what we're capable of doing. It was really just a matter of finding that rhythm."
The Lakers really only found it in a 34-21 third quarter -- the sole period in which they outscored the Thunder, who dropped back below .500 with their fifth loss in six games. After trailing by 12 in the first half, Los Angeles blew most of an 11-point lead in the fourth.
"They were sharper than we were, and we just had to work really hard," Gasol said. "You come in tired from the road, and the time difference has a little impact. I'm not sure why, but it does happen. Luckily, we were able to get past it."
Playing at home for the first time since breaking his right index finger in a game against Minnesota, Bryant had another injury scare when he landed awkwardly on his left knee while putting up a backward layup with 5:08 to play. He stayed down on the court for several moments, but shot his own free throws after a timeout -- only to take an elbow to the jaw from Westbrook with 3:55 left.
Bryant persevered, drawing Durant's sixth foul before hitting two free throws with 19.5 seconds left in the 102nd 40-point game of his career.
Durant scored 30 points before fouling out for the first time in his three-year NBA career with 1:31 to play, and former UCLA star Westbrook had 21 points and 13 assists for the Thunder.
"I wish I could have taken back some of the plays that I made, but that's part of the game," Durant said. "I thought I was playing hard. I like to play so much that when I get five fouls, I back off and I'm not so aggressive. ... I know we don't like to take moral victories, but tonight we showed a lot of toughness and a lot of maturity. Even though it was a tough loss, we were right there at the end and could have won it."
Thabo Sefolosha scored 16 points for the Thunder, but just three after halftime -- and the guard missed an open 3-point attempt to tie it in the final two minutes. Fisher's season high-tying 15 points included two free throws with 14.9 seconds left, followed by a missed 3-point attempt by Westbrook.
Although the Thunder haven't beaten the Lakers since they were the Seattle SuperSonics, they felt almost as good about themselves as the Lakers.
"It felt real good," Westbrook said of his attempt to tie it. "I did everything I could. You live for moments like that. I thought it was good, but it went in and out, so you can't be mad. The Lakers are a championship team that we were playing, so you've got to play perfect against them. ... I think we've made the next step. We've been doing a real good job of closing games out, but tonight we just had a couple of missed shots at the end."
The Lakers fell behind by double digits early in the second quarter with poor shooting and indifferent play by Ron Artest, who missed a rebound layup attempt when he inexplicably shot it flat-footed. Bryant scored 18 points in the first half, but his fellow starters managed just eight field goals -- including none for Andrew Bynum, who went 0 for 5.
The Lakers have won seven straight home games against Oklahoma City, and 11 straight home games overall. ... Westbrook got a technical foul in the third quarter for throwing the ball at the basket standard in frustration. ... Courtside fans included actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, designer Diane Von Furstenburg and husband Barry Diller, and figure skater Michelle Kwan.
LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 22: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers greets Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City...(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||41-91 (.451)||36-81 (.444)|
|3PM-3PA||6-14 (.429)||7-18 (.389)|
|FTM-FTA||20-24 (.833)||32-39 (.821)|
|Fast Break Points||14||13|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||30 (1/0)||20 (2/0)|
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