NBA: LA beats Thunder with some home cookin'

Kobe Bryant shot a perfect 18-of-18 from the free-throw line and had a game-high 36 points as the Los Angeles Lakers beat Oklahoma City 99-96 to hand the Thunder their first loss of the 2012 playoffs.

Pau Gasol finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists and Ramon Sessions came off the bench to score 12 points for the Lakers, who cut the Thunder's series lead to 2-1.

All five starters reached double figures in scoring on Friday for Los Angeles, who shot a superb 41-of-42 from the free-throw line.

"Two games in a row we controlled the tempo," Bryant said. "We just tried to be aggressive, driving to the basket and protecting the ball because they got quick hands."

A change of scenery proved to be just what the doctor ordered for the Lakers as they looked like a different team on their home court than the first two games of the series, when they lost by 29 points in game one and let game two slip away down the stretch.

The Lakers have little time to celebrate Friday's win as the two teams are back at Staples Center arena for game four on Saturday in the first back-to-back set of the Western Conference second-round series.

Thunder forward Kevin Durant had 31 points in the loss but missed a potential tying three-pointer on the game's final possession.

"If he made that one then God bless him because he was really far away from the hoop," Bryant said.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden each scored 21 points for the Thunder, who won two of three games over the Lakers during the regular season.

"Tonight was one of those games where we had a great defensive effort, we just couldn't close it out," said Westbrook.

Lakers centre Andrew Bynum finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds despite shooting just two-of-13 from the floor. But Bryant's scoring and the Lakers stellar free-throw shooting more than made up for Bynum's misses.

"If you get fouled then you have to knock those down because you are not going to get any better looks against these guys than a free throw," Lakers coach Mike Brown said.

Bryant, who finished second to Durant as the NBA's top scorer during the regular season, scored eight of the Lakers' final 10 points in the fourth quarter. He scored just 20 points in each of the first two games of the series.

Bryant made a pair of clutch free throws with 33.8 seconds left which put Los Angeles on top for good.

He said he enjoyed the heavy physical play of game three, which included Lakers' Metta World Peace appearing to knee Westbrook during a tugging match for the ball in the second quarter.

"It is what playoff basketball is all about. It's nice to get physical," Bryant said.

The Lakers still have their work cut out in the series, and especially Saturday's game four, as they try to prevent Oklahoma City from taking a split of the two games in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is just 2-17 when losing the opening two games of a best-of-seven series.


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