The Lakers knew their season was on the line Friday night in Game 3 at Staples Center against Oklahoma City, and put in an effort matching the gravity of the situation. After racing to an early 16-4 lead, they found themselves down by as much as seven with three minutes remaining in the third, but clawed their way back into the game, and at gut-check time in the fourth made enough good plays to win.
It wasn't easy, but did anyone expect anything different?
The Lakers now trail 2-1, with Game 4 coming Saturday night. Here are six takeaways...
1. Kobe Bryant played large.
At this point, it's fair to say he's not going to shoot a great percentage against the Thunder, who have defended him well in three regular-season games and now three more in the playoffs. But while Kobe's numbers from the floor weren't overwhelming (9-of-25) he made up for it by attacking. His best moments offensively came with forward motion, whether off high screens or plays away from the ball. He spent plenty of time in the paint, as well, including a critical driving layup with 1:31 remaining. The aggression helped facilitate 18 trips to the line -- all converted -- nine more than he had made in Games 1 and 2 combined. Six came in the final 1:08, including the pair ultimately icing things for the Lakers. Bryant finished with 36 hard-earned points, seven rebounds, and handed out six assists, as well.
His line reflects an overall theme for the Lakers. A couple warts, but great play as well, defined as much by the effort and intensity as the numbers themselves.
2. Turnovers (nearly) killed the Lakers.
Fifteen, leading to 22 points for Oklahoma City. The Lakers were simply too sloppy with the ball, killing possessions in a variety of ways. Pau Gasol was a major culprit with four, most coming on passes where he tried to be too fine, forcing high-risk passes into short spaces. The miscues were poorly timed, as well. Critical fourth-quarter mistakes from Steve Blake, Bryant, and Matt Barnes were nearly the team's undoing. Moreover, it was four early turnovers in the third helping OKC out to a lead the Lakers spent a great deal of energy eating up.
In the end, L.A. escaped, but if they continue playing with fire, the series won't last much longer.
3. Ramon Sessions earned a measure of redemption.
He wasn't perfect, but Sessions, struggling mightily through much of the postseason and even more so in the first two games of this series, came out of the gate aggressively in Game 3 and did some productive stuff. Still tentative with the outside shot -- Sessions passed on more than one Friday -- he compensated by attacking the rim early and often. He finished with 12 points and four assists, on 5-of-9 shooting.
The Lakers need him to be a positive factor, and while there's still plenty of room for improvement (particularly on defense) at least tonight Sessions kicked in.
4. Free-throw shooting saved the Lakers.
They went to the line 42 times. They made 41. They won by three. You do the math.
Shooting 97.6 percent is getting it done, people.
5. Andrew Bynum worked hard, despite struggling from the floor.
The looks were there for most of the night, but particularly in the first half, Andrew Bynum had a terrible time getting anything to fall. He missed with the jumper, and hooks from both sides of the block. In the end, he finished a putrid 2-of-13, but rather than get discouraged, however, he kept forcing the issue, and began piling up free throws. Four in the third, and another four in the fourth. Even better, he was nearly automatic at the stripe, hitting his first 10 before missing the 11th (then making the 12th). Defensively, he stayed engaged throughout, challenging shooters on the perimeter and doing what he could inside. Add in 11 rebounds and it wasn't a bad game, but he'll lament the wayward bunnies inside.
High-percentage shots he normally makes, but tonight he couldn't. It almost cost the Lakers in the end, but they got away with it. The good news is they did great work establishing Bynum on the block, and if they can repeat it in Game 4 he's a good bet not to miss 11 of 13.
6. The nightmare postseason for Matt Barnes continues.
He has had some horrendous games this playoffs, but Friday's might have been the worst. No points, five personal fouls, a host of blow-by's on the perimeter defensively, and three turnovers, including a killer giveaway to James Harden with just under seven minutes remaining that resulted in OKC going up by five.
All of this in 10 minutes.