A late three-pointer by Kevin Durant capped a dramatic fightback by the Oklahoma City Thunder as they left the Los Angeles Lakers on the verge of playoff elimination with a 103-100 win in Game 4 on Saturday.
The second-seeded Thunder stormed from 11 points behind early in the final quarter to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final series.
Forward Durant finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds, while guard Russell Westbrook weighed in with 37 points as Oklahoma City stunned a sellout crowd at Staples Center that had sensed a home win.
“I wanted to run the shot clock down and get the last shot,” Durant told reporters of his dagger blow of a three-pointer with 13.7 seconds remaining. “It left my hand, [and] I was thinking: ‘If this doesn’t go in, it’s going to be a terrible shot.’ It was able to go down.”
Kobe Bryant led the way for the third-seeded Lakers with a game-high 38 points and eight rebounds, but his team were ultimately let down by poor shooting, a rash of turnovers and a leaking defense over the closing stretch.
Trailing by 11 points with just under eight minutes remaining, the Thunder steadily clawed their way back before a layup shot by center Kendrick Perkins put them ahead 98-96 with 1.16 minutes left.
Though Bryant made two free throws to tie the score at 98-98, Durant poured in a three-pointer to give Oklahoma City welcome breathing space with 13.7 left on the clock.
Two free throws by reserve guard James Harden gave the visitors a 103-98 cushion before a Bryant jump shot on the buzzer lifted the Lakers into three figures.
In front of a packed Staples Center crowd, the lead changed hands seven times in a closely contested first quarter before the Lakers ended it with a rousing 8-2 run to go 29-24 up.
Los Angeles tightened their grip in the second quarter, suffocating defense and strong rebounding helping them into a 56-46 lead by halftime.
Though the Thunder twice cut the deficit to seven as Westbrook found a hot hand, Bryant scored with a jump shot to put Los Angeles ahead 80-71 going into the final quarter.
Oklahoma City then mounted their stirring comeback.
SPURS 96, CLIPPERS 86
REUTERS, LOS ANGELES
The top-seeded San Antonio Spurs pushed the Los Angeles Clippers to the brink of elimination from the NBA playoffs with an astonishing 96-86 comeback win in Game 3 on Saturday.
Trailing by 24 points early in the second quarter, the Spurs seized control through All-Stars Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final series.
Guard Parker recorded 23 points and 10 assists, while towering forward Duncan weighed in with 19 points and 13 rebounds as San Antonio extended their unbeaten run to 17 games, including seven in the playoffs.
Forward Blake Griffin led the way for the fifth-seeded Clippers with 28 points and 16 rebounds, but his heart-broken team paid the penalty for poor free shooting, making only 50 percent from the stripe.
The fast-paced Clippers made a rousing start at a sellout Staples Center, racing into a 27-9 lead after a sizzling 14-0 run sparked by Griffin before ending the first quarter 33-11 ahead.
Los Angeles briefly stretched their lead to 24 points when Nick Young poured in a three-pointer, but, with Parker and Duncan beginning to make an impact, the Spurs cut the deficit to 53-43 by halftime.