With the game suddenly close, both teams turned to their closers to bring home a pivotal Game 4 victory. Kevin Durant rose to the occasion. Kobe Bryant's effort wasn't enough.
The Oklahoma City Thunder stormed back from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The 103-100 win gives the Thunder a commanding 3-1 series lead with the teams now headed to Oklahoma City for Monday's Game 5.
Where did it all go wrong for the Lakers? With a 91-78 lead and just eight minutes left in the game, Los Angeles seemed destined to even the series at 2-2.
But from that point on, the Thunder methodically picked apart the Lakers defense. Russell Westbrook, who led the team with 37 points, was his typical aggressive self. Over a 2:16 stretch starting with just under seven minutes left, Westbrook went on a nine-point tear, ferociously attacking the Los Angeles interior and draining three pull-up jumpers.
His 17-footer with 4:15 remaining trimmed the Lakers lead to just four. Then the point guard passed the torch to the team's go-to guy. And while Durant made a strong case for why he should be MVP, the Lakers star on the other end of the floor was locked down.
In the final 7:18, Durant posted nine points. But it was when the points came that made the difference. After tying the game at the 1:54 mark with a tough baseline shot against Bryant, Durant saved his best shot for the most important time. The Thunder star took Metta World Peace one-on-one and buried a 25-foot three-pointer, giving Oklahoma City the 101-98 advantage with just 13 seconds left.
It was the type of shot made only by the game's best. And it is the type of clutch shot that has become Bryant's calling card over his illustrious career. Unsurprisingly, Bryant was a key reason the Lakers built up such a solid lead. He finished with a game-high 38 points in 40 minutes.
But Bryant faded in the fourth frame Saturday. The guard re-entered the game with 8:18 left and a 10-point lead, a seemingly easy save opportunity for one of the NBA's all-time greatest closers.
With his team's playoff life hanging in the balance, Bryant proceeded to make just 2-of-10 shots from that point on. When Durant beat him on the baseline at the 1:54 mark, Bryant responded by clanking a long three-point shot. After Durant's clutch long-ball with 13 seconds left, Bryant again missed from deep on the ensuing possession, the Lakers last chance to tie.
Durant emerged victorious. And the victory may stretch further than just one game. It may now be safe to call Durant the best fourth-quarter player in the game, a title Bryant has enjoyed for nearly a decade.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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