Updated: May 17, 2012, 9:39 AM

1. Kobe Stars In The Late Lake No-Show

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

OKLAHOMA CITY -- This wasn't a step up for Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder as much as a calamitous tumble for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

You'd think the Thunder would be capable of climbing the NBA ladder without the Lakers doing everything they can to help them up the final rungs. You would not expect Bryant, who had every Lakers assist for much of the night, to be the one helping add to Durant's playoff résumé.

The Lakers, having already ceded youthful energy to the Thunder, lost their supposed veteran poise as well in the final two minutes, letting a seven-point lead turn into a 77-75 Thunder victory, the type of collapse that is impossible to compensate for against a superior opponent.

Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oh, and speaking of résumés, Kobe is lucky his has so much padding. It will cushion the fall he took in this game, and is the only thing keeping him from the end-to-end roasting that would have awaited LeBron James should he have failed this much in the clutch. After negotiating his way to 20 points despite a paucity of good looks (in addition to handing out all four Lakers assists through the first 27 minutes), Bryant missed all four of his shots in the final 5:31, had a turnover that led directly to a Durant dunk and had another tipped pass go off his arm and out of bounds.

This wasn't a case of Bryant playing his gastroenteritis-drained guts out and his teammates failing to match him, like Game 6 in Denver. This was a collective effort putting the Lakers in position to get the victory in Oklahoma City they need to win the series, and Kobe bobbling it away.

Kobe's past performances prohibit us from saying he never comes through in the clutch. But his recent history tells us it's been four years since he hit a game-winning shot in the playoffs, and the ledger is starting to pile up on the negative side. This is not about discussing the totality of his career. Not when there is the immediate task of competing for the 2012 championship at hand.

Kobe talks about his desire to give his supporters as much ammo as possible for the debate about his place among the greats … and now, with the Lakers down 2-0 heading for back-to-back games at Staples Center this weekend, there's a distinct possibility that the conference finals and NBA Finals will arrive without him having a chance to contribute anything else to the argument.

Bryant credited a "great play by Durant" for the steal, blamed the missed shots on being "too far from the basket" and that was all he had to say about his performance down the stretch.

On the court, his facial expressions showed the fury he felt about not getting the inbounds pass on the Lakers' last real chance at winning this game, with the ball out of bounds on the sideline, 5.7 seconds remaining and the Thunder ahead by a point.

Metta World Peace inbounded to Steve Blake in the right corner, and Blake fired up a 3-pointer that felt to him it would be off to the right as soon as he shot it.

"Kobe was coming up the middle of the floor," Blake said, describing the play. "I was in the corner to be an outlet. Russell Westbrook ran off of me. I was wide open."

It was a sensible basketball play. Open man gets the shot. It's never that simple anymore. If this were LeBron and the Heat, it would be LeBron's fault for not getting the ball, right?

Durant was suffering through the same type of criticism for his unwillingness to assert himself throughout much of the game. The observations came over Twitter and even from his own coach.

"He was looking to pass too much tonight," Scott Brooks said. "Do you tell your player, 'Stop passing'? It's hard. He was passing up good shots. You only pass up a good look to get a better look."

Brooks described the shots Durant created as "lateral looks." Most would consider Serge Ibaka jump shots instead of Durant jump shots a downgrade. Yet through the first 45 minutes of the game they each had 11 field goal attempts.

But Durant asserted himself in the final 2½ minutes. Seconds after a James Harden basket cut the Lakers' lead to five points, Durant, picking Bryant up near midcourt, stole Kobe's pass and swooped in for an uncontested dunk. He tried a 3-pointer that missed, and after Harden tipped a Bryant jumper and got ahead for a fast-break layup, Bryant missed a 3-pointer and gave the Thunder a chance to take the lead.

Durant dribbled to the right. A screen freed him from World Peace, then he went around Andrew Bynum and pulled up along the baseline, lofting a shot over Pau Gasol. The ball hit the rim and rolled in, the second friendly bounce he has had on that basket for a game-winning shot in these playoffs.

"I was close to the rim," Durant said. "I just tried to put some touch on it. And it went in."

In the process, his legitimacy as a superstar went up. We demand that they come through in the clutch, and Durant just did it again in these playoffs. The next step is to do so in June.

The NBA Finals just got a little more distant for Kobe and the Lakers. Their defense was markedly better than in the Game 1 blowout. The open jumpers Westbrook had in the opener turned into contested shots over Bynum's arms in Game 2. The Lakers created 13 turnovers, with Bryant jumping the passing lanes and even trying to draw a charge, things that were neither his forte nor his preference, as he outlined colorfully to reporters during the off...

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