LOS ANGELES — The Oklahoma City Thunder finally lost a playoff game.
After six straight post-season victories, the Thunder gave up a five-point lead in the final three minutes and dropped a 99-96 game to the Lakers in Game 3 of their NBA playoff series Friday night.
The Thunder still leads the best-of-seven affair two wins to one.
Game 4 is a matter of hours away, set to tip-off at 9:45 p.m. CDT Saturday night in L.A.
The Thunder got off to a disastrous start, falling behind 8-0 less than three minutes into the game but OKC kept rallying back time after time.
After trailing just 50-47 at halftime, the Thunder stormed out of the locker room for the third quarter and actually took their widest lead of the night 68-61 late in the period.
Then the Lakers went on a 12-4 run to not only catch up but take the lead themselves early into the final stanza.
Kevin Durant, who led the Thunder with 31 points, started hitting shots from all over the floor and OKC actually had a 92-87 lead with a little over three minutes remaining.
After that though, it was all Lakers, with some help from the officials.
Kobe Bryant, who led all scorers with 36 points, hit a couple of free throws and a basket to put the Lakers back in front 93-92 with 1:09 left.
Durant hit a jumper from the key to give OKC its final lead of the night at 94-93 but on the next LA possession, the Thunder played fabulous defense only to watch the Lakers grab TWO huge offensive rebounds to keep the possession alive.
Eventually Bryant got fouled with 34 seconds left and hit both foul shots to put the Lakers up 95-94 and the Thunder never regained the advantage.
The biggest controversy of the final closing moments was a Durant attempt at a follow shot in the lane with 15 seconds to go when he was clearly hacked by a couple of Lakers’ big men.
No foul was called and Ron Artest eventually got fouled on the other end, hit the two free throws and the Lakers were up 97-94.
With LA still leading by three points and time running out, Kevin Durant’s desperation 3-point try to tie from the top of the key missed and the game ended.
Too many free throws were shot in the game; the Lakers were near-perfect at the line, hitting 41 of 42 for 98 percent.
The Thunder was equally tough at the stripe, going 26-28 for 93 percent.
Afterwards Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said his team simply put the Lakers at the foul line too many times and couldn’t come up with the winning plays at the end to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
Kevin Durant was visibly upset after the hard-fought loss saying his team will continue to fight and play to win in any style, up and down the court in transition or slowing it down to a half-court grind it out game.
Kobe Bryant told us his team has controlled the tempo two straight games against the Thunder and said the Lakers must do that again Saturday night to have a chance at evening the series.
Pau Gasol said the older Lakers would have to fight through fatigue, playing a second game in as many nights but said his mates are willing to work.
“We want to win this series and move on,” Gasol said.
Our continued exclusive coverage of the Thunder can be seen on Oklahoma’s News Channel 4.
We are the ONLY local television station travelling with the Thunder on this rugged road trip.
(- Bob Barry Jr. Staples Center in LA)