LOS ANGELES – No, this was not sound offensive efficiency either, not while shooting 35.3 percent in the fourth quarter Friday. But two nights after the late collapse in Oklahoma City grounded them in self-inflicted wounds, the Lakers came home to Staples Center and won a game because they won the final period.
The Lakers did not commit a turnover the final 2:56, a key in the 12-6 closing run that produced the 99-96 victory and cut the Thunder lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1. Game 4 is here Saturday night in a rare playoff back-to-back, before the series shifts back to Oklahoma City for Game 5 on Monday.
Just as importantly, the Lakers were 17 of 18 from the line in the fourth. Of course they were. They were nearly perfect the entire night, converting 41 of 42 free throws, and finished the game in appropriate fashion.
“We fouled too many times,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s the bottom line. Forty-two is a high number. It’s more than they average. A lot more than they average.”
True. The Lakers of the regular season shot 24.1 free throws a game.
With the season likely hanging in the balance, given the very slim chances of recovering from a 3-0 deficit, the Lakers got 41 points from the line alone. Kobe Bryant was 18 of 18, en route to the game-high 36 points. Andrew Bynum, while missing 11 of 13 field goals, was 11 of 12 from the stripe.
“Every possession is huge in a series against a very good team like the Thunder,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “When you talk about possessions, that means if you get fouled and you step to the free-throw line, you have to knock those freebies down. It is a grind-it-out game, and you’re not going to get any better look than a free throw against these guys. That’s how good they are. So for us to step up to the free-throw line and have the concentration, the focus, that we had there and knock ‘em down, especially at a rate of 41 of 42, it’s huge.”
Oklahoma City was 26-of-28 from the line.