Durant propels Thunder, 101-96
OKLAHOMA CITY — Scuffling through a rough shooting night, Kevin Durant wanted to do anything he could to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder from falling hopelessly behind the Los Angeles Lakers.
So, why not take on the task of defending Kobe Bryant?
Durant had 29 points and 19 rebounds, and snapped out of a shooting funk while guarding Bryant to lead the decisive run, lifting the Thunder to a 101-96 victory in Game 3 last night in the first playoff game in Oklahoma City.
"Scoring's a big part of my game. It kind of overshadows the other parts of my game," said Durant, who at 21 became the youngest player to lead the NBA in scoring. "But if I continue to play hard on both ends, it's going to come around for me. I was able to get free and make a couple shots, and that's what got us going."
Durant and Russell Westbrook scored 22 of the final 23 for the Thunder, including every point during a 10-2 surge that put Oklahoma City ahead to stay.
The top-seeded Lakers got back within 98-96 on Bryant's driving layup with 13.5 seconds left, but the Thunder closed it out from the foul line to pull within 2-1 in the seven-game series.
Game 4 is tomorrow night in Oklahoma City.
Durant celebrated by thumping his chest and popping his jersey to show off the "Thunder" printed on the front while Westbrook, who scored 27 points, flapped his arms to egg on the screaming crowd.
"It feels good. Playing against the reigning champs makes it even better. But we have a long ways to go," said Durant, who missed his first seven shots and 15 of his first 19. "It does feel good to get our first win. It feels even better to bring the first win in the playoffs here to Oklahoma City. That's what I'm most excited about."
Bryant scored 24 points to surpass Jerry West's franchise record for playoff scoring, and Pau Gasol had 17 points and 15 rebounds for Los Angeles.
But when it came down to crunch time, Bryant couldn't deliver as he did in scoring 15 fourth-quarter points to seal the Lakers' 95-92 victory in Game 2. He went 2 for 10 in the final 12 minutes, with Durant stopping between free throws at one point to motion to the bench that he wanted to guard the former MVP.
"It was a matchup that caught me by surprise," said Bryant, who's nearly half a foot shorter than Durant. "I think he did a great job."
BULLS 108, CAVS 106
CHICAGO — LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers can forget about sweeping the Chicago Bulls out of the playoffs.
Derrick Rose scored 31 points, Kirk Hinrich added 27 and Chicago hung to beat the top-seeded Cavaliers in Game 3 of their first-round Eastern Conference series after watching a 21-point lead dwindle to one.
"We stayed strong," said Chicago's Joakim Noah, who fought through foul trouble to finish with 15 rebounds. "D-Rose played huge for us. It just feels really good to come out with a win right now."
James scored 13 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter but also committed some turnovers down the stretch.
SUNS 108, TRAIL BLAZERS 89
PORTLAND, Ore. — Jason Richardson scored a playoff career-high 42 points and Phoenix dominated from the start in cruising past Portland to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round Western Conference series.
The Suns led by as many as 31 points. Portland closed to 91-80, but got no closer.
"I think that is my best game as a pro," Richardson said. "Nine years in the league, only been to the playoffs twice, so it's been seven summers at home."
The Blazers suffered a setback when starting forward Nicolas Batum aggravated a shoulder injury in the first half and did not return.
Fine day for some: NBA commissioner David Stern has warned coaches and players to stop complaining about the officiating. The league handed out fines of $35,000 each yesterday to Boston Celtics forward Rasheed Wallace, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and Orlando forward Matt Barnes for publicly criticizing officials.
Brooks most improved: Houston Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks has been named the league's most improved player. The 6-foot Brooks set career highs in points (19.6 per game), assists (5.3) and rebounds (2.6). His scoring average went up 8.4 points from 2008-09, the highest increase of any qualifying player.