Chris Mannix of SI.com: “The confidence inside Durant, in this Thunder team grows by the day and everyone is on the same page. Talk of a rift between Durant and Russell Westbrook is old news, and the whispers that maybe, just maybe these two alpha males can’t play together get quieter by the day. Westbrook is a critical cog but this is Durant’s team. Soon, it could be his league, too. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird ceded the throne to Michael Jordan, Jordan to Kobe. It’s assumed that, eventually, Kobe will step aside for LeBron. Durant may have a say in that. As the injury to Chris Bosh puts the title hopes of the Super Friends in Miami in doubt, the door is open for someone else to seize Kobe’s throne. Someone, perhaps, more like him.”
Chris Broussard of ESPN.com wonders if a ring would make KD the game’s top player: “To find a cautionary tale, all you have to do is go back five seasons to when James was annihilating Detroit in The Palace, leading an unheralded and largely untalented cast of Cleveland Cavaliers past the ballyhooed and championship-proven Detroit Pistons as a 22-year-old. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that in 2012 James would still not have a ring. Honestly, I thought he’d have at least two and probably more by now. So let’s let this thing play out first. But if the way it plays out is with Durant averaging 30 points per game in a postseason that ends with an Oklahoma City title, it might be hard to argue that the skinny scorer in OKC is not the baddest baller on the planet.”
Ed Maisonet of the Sports Fan Journal on James Harden: “Many seem to think that Harden will stay in OKC, but will his starpower diminish on a different team? How will he grow with another team as a starter? Can he continue to grow on this current squad? I’m not sure, but I’m going to listen to as much Andre 3000 as humanly possible. The man never said a bad rap lyric, and doubt it if you like, but you’ll always end up coming back for more, just like Harden’s game.”
Ben Golliver of CBSSports.com on OKC’s win: “The Thunder saved their worst performance of the postseason with a dramatic 9-0 comeback in which everything went right on both sides of the ball. You steal that game one out of 20 times and the rest of the night was so choppy that Oklahoma City leaves this one feeling way more relieved than proud. OKC struggled from the field all night and was way too hesitant and passive when it came to shot selection. They also turned the ball over 13 times with Kevin Durant and James Harden combining for nine. Both made up for those miscues with some excellent play-making in the game’s final stretch but this was a “by the skin of their teeth” victory rather than the total domination they displayed in Game 1. With the win in hand and the undefeated postseason record still intact, this might seem like nitpicking. But OKC was a minute or so away from looking at a totally different series against a lesser opponent. Now, they just need two wins in five tries, a task that seems like a molehill rather than a mountain.”
What KD’s game-winner looked like in Thunder Alley. And check out this picture of Thunder Alley. Impressive.
Clark Matthews of The Lost Ogle says thank Kobe for the Thunder: “I hesitate to say this because no one needs an ego boost less than Kobe Bryant, but without him, the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder never happens. Bear with me: In 1996 Bryant was only the second player in twenty years to enter the NBA draft after his senior year of high school (note: The year before Kevin Garnett started the trend.) Since it was not a common occurrence, the first twelve teams passed on Kobe before he was drafted thirteenth overall by the Charlotte Hornets.”
Who knows if it was planned this way, but after KD’s winner, TNT aired Durant’s Doodle Jump commercial. Well played.
Darnell Mayberry: “What did the Lakers figure out defensively? Aside from switching a few matchups, they were more engaged in the pick-and-roll and got much more effort by their big men and everyone else in the help positions. A few times, the Thunder still made shots or knifed into the lane for layups or drive and kicks. But the Lakers were more physical tonight, and that threw the Thunder off its rhythm. It’s not something that the Thunder can’t counter. There were still huge holes in the Lakers defense and plenty of opportunities for OKC to make them pay. But the Thunder missed a ton of quality shots tonight. You could make the case that they were the shots the Lakers wanted the Thunder to take, shots that L.A. can live with if they go down. Therein lies the adjustment that the Thunder now has to make.”
Dave McMenanmin of ESPN LA: “The question now is, did the Lakers prove enough to themselves to truly believe they can get back into this thing when the series shifts to Staples Center for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Saturday? Kobe Bryant, who has likened himself to the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera in the past and embraces his reputation as basketball’s greatest closer, registered the equivalent of a blown save in Game 2.”
Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold: “And while this game will stay with these players – especially Kobe – for some time, there is no time to sulk over the result. They must take inspiration from the good, stew over what went wrong, and repeat their effort from this game on Friday. It’s really the only way.”
Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports: “Durant has grown into one of the league’s biggest stars because of his scoring ability. But Thunder coach Scott Brooks also has praised Durant for his improvement defensively. Standing taller than his listed 6-foot-9 height with a wide wingspan, Durant has the physical tools to become a great defender. And on this night, Durant rose to the challenge when Brooks told him to guard Bryant with about five minutes left. Bryant already had scored 10 second-half points while being guarded primarily by Harden and Thabo Sefolosha.”
J.A. Adande of ESPN.com: “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 day. They found Bynum and Gasol inside for a combined 34 points. They dragged down the pace of the game to their tempo. They had even turned the Thunder crowd’s noise level down to “putting at Augusta National.” And they have nothing to show for it.”
Kurt Helin of PBT: “The Lakers came in to Thursday night with a better defensive plan, they ground down the pace, they hedged on Durant’s curls and forced the issue with both him and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder’s stars and scoring machines were passing a lot. Mike Brown made some good moves. But he can’t escape some blame for those final minutes. Neither can Kobe. Neither can any of the Lakers players. This was a team loss in the final two minutes. Those minutes cost them any real shot at the series.”
Bill Plaschke of the LA TImes: “Just wondering, but, in crunch time, when the strongest things on the court are usually Kobe Bryant’s legs, when is the last time someone actually touched one of his game-saving shots? But, oh, it got worse. With the Lakers leading by one with 36 seconds remaining, Bryant clanked a silly three-point attempt with six seconds left on the shot clock to give the Thunder the ball and a chance to take the lead with the arena literally rocking with noise.”