NBA: Banged-up Lakers head home with series tied 2-2
AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kobe Bryant and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers find themselves at a crossroads.
After suffering their second straight loss, this time in blowout fashion, their series against the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder shifts back to Los Angeles tied at two games.
But Bryant and his veteran teammates see no reason to panic after a surprising surge by the youngest team in the NBA, with most of Oklahoma City's players making their first postseason appearance.
"It's not rocket science," said Bryant, limited to 12 points in the 110-89 loss in Game 4. "We had a tough battle, we've got adjustments to make and we have a team that's playing extremely well right now that we have to deal with.
"It's not something where we lose swagger. They defended their home court. Now, it's our turn. Simple as that."
Game 5 is Tuesday night at the Staples Center in L.A.
"We didn't envision ourselves in this situation but it's where we are, and that doesn't change anything about the way that you should approach the next game," Derek Fisher said. "If we were up 3-1, we would still want to go back and win Tuesday night's game.
"That's what our focus is right now, is making the necessary adjustments to put ourselves in position to win Tuesday night's game and kind of get the series back in our favor."
None of the adjustments coach Phil Jackson laid out for his team ended up taking shape in Game 4. The Lakers again failed to make it a half-court game and instead allowed the Thunder to do damage in transition, with a 24-2 edge in fast-break scoring. Oklahoma City also continued its baffling control of the boards despite the presence of 7-footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum inside for Los Angeles while shooting 20 more free throws.
Any hopes of an early end to the series and extra rest for a team that lists eight players with various injuries are gone now.
"We said at the beginning of the series this wasn't going to be easy," said Bryant, who's nursing a sore knee and a broken right index finger. "It was going to be a long series, it was going to be a dogfight. Now more so than before because they have a ton of confidence, they know how to play against us, they know what matchups they like. So, we've just got to go forward now."
The Lakers faced a similar dilemma in their second-round series against Houston last year. Despite Yao Ming's absence due to an injury, the Rockets opened a 29-point lead — the same as the Thunder's biggest margin on Saturday night — on their way to tying that series 2-2.
Los Angeles ended up protecting its home floor and winning Games 5 and 7 to advance.
"You can't get too high and you can't get too low. You've just got to pretty much stay even-keeled and just move on to the next one," Bryant said. "We obviously have a lot of experience in doing that but that's not going to win the next game.
"You've got to play. You've got to play well. You've got to play hard."
The Lakers played right into Oklahoma City's hands in Game 4 by allowing the Thunder get off to a strong start for the first time in the series, keeping a noisy home crowd involved in the game. Then L.A. compounded its problems with ill-advised fouls — including two against 3-point shooters by Bryant — to go with poor shot selection and missed free throws.
The defending champs settled for 22 3-pointers, making only four, and missed nine of their first 12 foul shots.
All the while, the Thunder continued to get a lift from an energized crowd whirling rally towels — something they'll be missing as the series heads west.
"We're not going to have our fans. We've got to bring the energy somehow, all 48 minutes," forward Jeff Green said. "We've got to find a way to continue to attack them, to continue to bring the effort and the energy without our fans behind us. You've seen the last two games, they're our extra boost."
Bryant said after the rout that he wasn't sure what his team's frame of mind would be moving forward, but he later added that he couldn't have answered the same question last year on the way to winning his fourth NBA title with the Lakers.
"It happens. The playoffs, it's tough," Bryant said. "You go through games where you play extremely well and then you get busted up pretty well, and then you're on to the next one. It's such an up and down thing, especially when you're playing against great competition. It's just part of the playoffs."