Los Angeles, CA – Kobe Bryant scored eight of his team's final 10 points on Friday and the Lakers willed their way to a 99-96 win over the Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Bryant finished with 36 points on 9-of-25 shooting and made all 18 of his free throws, including a pair with 33.8 seconds left which put Los Angeles on top for good.
As a team the Lakers, who were blown out in the series opener and fell in Game 2 despite holding a lead in the final minutes, made 41-of-42 foul shots.
"We fouled too many times. It's hard to win on the opponents floor when they make 41 free throws. We have to defend without fouling," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said.
Andrew Bynum added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Pau Gasol chipped in 12 and 11. Steve Blake, who missed a potential game-winning three-pointer in Game 2, had 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
The Thunder suffered their first loss of this postseason after sweeping the defending NBA-champion Mavericks in the first round. Kevin Durant had 31 points in the setback but missed a potential tying three-pointer on the game's final possession.
Game 4 will take place Saturday in Los Angeles.
Russell Westbrook and James Harden both had 21 points for Oklahoma City. The latter led a 7-0 run which staked the Thunder to their largest lead of the fourth quarter. He began with two free throws, then hit Durant in stride for a layup before coming up with a steal and burying a three for an 83-78 lead.
Blake responded with five straight points, but Oklahoma City was on top again, 92-87, when Kendrick Perkins made a pair from the foul line and Westbrook finished a transition dunk after stripping Bryant.
Just under three minutes remained, but unlike their performance in Game 2, the Lakers took control down the stretch.
Gasol started with a pair of free throws before Kobe drove right and banked home a contested layup. After a Durant miss, Harden was called for a loose ball foul while jostling for position with Bryant, who made two from the charity stripe to put his team on top.
This time Durant answered, hitting a pull-up jumper out of a timeout, but the Lakers took the lead for good on their next possession.
Bryant missed two shots in the sequence, but Gasol and Blake each grabbed an offensive rebound and Bryant, isolated on the baseline, drew a foul on Westbrook with a shot fake.
His 15th and 16th free throws made it 95-94 and Durant, instead of shooting, passed to Serge Ibaka on the Thunder's next possession. The defensive-minded center missed a fadeaway jumper and Metta World Peace made it a three-point game with two free throws.
Perkins made a layup with 11.6 seconds left but Bryant's final two foul shots pushed advantage back to three and Durant's deep pull-up at the buzzer rimmed out.
"You have to do what it takes to win. Tonight we were aggressive defensively. We got to the free-throw line," said Bryant. "We have to slow the game down and play our tempo."
The Lakers scored eight straight points to open the game, getting baskets from Bryant, Gasol and Bynum. It marked their largest lead of the series until that point and they went up by 12 later in the quarter on a Ramon Sessions dunk.
The Thunder battled back, though, and went ahead 33-32 on a three from Durant midway through the second quarter.
Westbrook, Durant and Harden combined for 39 points in the first half, while the rest of the team scored just eight. The Lakers, meanwhile, featured a balanced attack, led by 13 from Bryant.
The first half also featured a minor scuffle between Westbrook and World Peace, whose buzzer-beating three-pointer gave the Lakers a 50-47 lead at the break.
It was a back-and-forth battle going forward.
The Thunder largely controlled the third and led for the majority of the quarter. They got 10 points from Durant and were up by as many as seven, but the Lakers hung around and closed the frame with an 8-2 run to trail 70-69 entering the fourth.
The Lakers are 2-17 all-time when falling behind 0-2 in a best-of-seven series...Los Angeles has gone 9-2 in its last 11 home games against the Thunder...Westbrook and World Peace both received technical fouls for their minor altercation.