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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 24, 2010

NBA: Thunder even series with 110-89 blowout of Lakers


JEFF LATZKE
AP Sports Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, right, gives a high-five to teammate guard James Harden, left, in the first quarter of Game 4. The Thunder beat the Lakers, 110-89, to even the series at two games apiece.

SUE OGROCKI | Associated Press

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OKLAHOMA CITY Kevin Durant scored 22 points, Russell Westbrook added 18 points and eight assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder evened their first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers with a 110-89 victory in Game 4 tonight.

For the second straight game, the Thunder capitalized on a significant edge at the foul line and on the boards despite the presence of the Lakers' 7-foot tandem of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

Oklahoma City never trailed after the opening 5 minutes and led by double digits for the final three quarters in a thorough dismantling of the defending NBA champions.

Bynum had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Gasol also scored 13 to lead Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant finished with only 12 points.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

After Durant clamped down on Bryant in the fourth quarter of the Thunder's 101-96 win in Game 3, the matchup between the NBA's youngest scoring champion and the 2008 MVP never materialized this time around.

Instead, both superstars were on the bench for the entire fourth quarter while lineups of mostly reserves toiled away with little more than the final margin at stake.

It was the Lakers' largest playoff loss since Boston's clinching 131-92 victory in Game 6 of the 2008 finals. Oklahoma City held a 50-43 rebounding edge and shot 20 more free throws finishing 42 of 48.

There was plenty for another raucous Ford Center crowd to cheer about, with Oklahoma City adding to its lead throughout. A huge ovation followed when Eric Maynor converted a double-pumping three-point play and when fellow rookie James Harden hit a 3-pointer moments later to push the advantage to 99-72, then hoisted three fingers over his head as he trotted back downcourt.

The Thunder bucked a trend of slow starts in the series, grabbing the lead early and increasing their advantage with a 12-0 run late in the first quarter. Westbrook had the first six points in the rush and Bryant headed to the bench for his first rest of the game while Oklahoma City surged to a 27-14 lead.

Bryant had spent all of his time to that point deferring to his teammates and didn't attempt his first shot until he drilled a 3-pointer with 9:07 left in the second quarter after L.A. had fallen behind by 15. The Thunder led by as many as 16, including after Bryant's foul led to a four-point play by James Harden that made it 44-28, and it only got worse in the second half.

Lamar Odom made a brief bid to get the Lakers back into the game with three straight baskets to cut the deficit to 76-61 late in the third, but Oklahoma City came right back with its own run of seven straight points.

The lead reached 86-63 after Durant hit three straight free throws, including one after Luke Walton drew a technical foul for arguing the initial whistle.

Coach Phil Jackson had seen enough by then and kept Bryant, Gasol and fellow starters Ron Artest and Derek Fisher on the sidelines for the final period.

The Thunder are still fighting against history. Only three of 52 eighth-seeded teams have ever pulled an upset against a No. 1 seed, and Jackson is 44-0 when his team wins Game 1 of any playoff series.

But who expected Oklahoma City, the youngest team in the league, to make it this far in the first place? The team won only 23 games last season and made no significant free-agent acquisitions before its 27-win improvement that was the best in the league this season.

Now, they're guaranteed at least the chance to extend their season until Game 6 on Friday night back on their home court and maybe beyond.