By JEFF LATZKE
AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kevin Durant had 29 points and 19 rebounds, and snapped out of a shooting funk just in time to lead the decisive run in the first playoff game played in Oklahoma City, lifting the Thunder to a 101-96 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.
Durant and Russell Westbrook scored 22 of the final 23 for the Thunder, including every point during a 10-2 surge that put Oklahoma City ahead to stay.
The top-seeded Lakers got back within 98-96 on Kobe Bryant’s driving layup with 13.5 seconds left, but the Thunder closed it out from the foul line to pull within 2-1 in the seven-game series.
Game 4 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City.
Bryant scored 24 points to surpass Jerry West’s franchise record for playoff scoring, and Pau Gasol had 17 points and 15 rebounds for Los Angeles.
Undaunted by a raucous sellout crowd, the top-seeded Lakers scored the first 10 points of the game and were in control until the Thunder roared back with an electrifying run of eight straight points late in the third quarter.
The fans reached a deafening pitch as the Thunder completed their charge back from an 11-point deficit set off by Westbrook’s right-handed tomahawk dunk. James Harden and Durant followed with back-to-back 3-pointers to tie it at 74, and Oklahoma City finally took its first lead of the game on its opening possession of the fourth quarter.
Andrew Bynum pulled Los Angeles even for the final time by powering through Nick Collison’s hard foul for a right-handed dunk, then hitting the ensuing free throw to tie it at 80.
Durant answered at the other end with a jumper from the right side with 8:41 left to give Oklahoma City the lead for good, then converted Bryant’s turnover into a two-handed jam on a fast break.
His 19-foot jumper from the right wing put Oklahoma City up 90-82 with 4:28 remaining, and that lead was just big enough for the Thunder to hang on down the stretch.
Westbrook finished with 27 points and Harden, a rookie, scored 18 after going scoreless in Games 1 and 2.
Fans wearing free blue “Rise Together” T-shirts were standing even 15 minutes before the game to chant “Beat L.A.!” and rose to their feet again when the Thunder brought out a new pregame video that showed key moments from Oklahoma City’s time in the NBA.
It was billed as the biggest sports day in the city’s history, with three Oklahoma players taken among the top four picks in the NFL draft on the same night as the first home playoff game for the Thunder or the New Orleans Hornets — who were displaced to the Ford Center for two seasons following Hurricane Katrina.
And it came on the 121st anniversary of the date the state, which was formerly American Indian territory, was first settled in a land run.
All that didn’t seem to bother the defending NBA champions.
They kept the fans standing — and waiting for the Thunder’s first basket — until coach Scott Brooks burned a timeout 2:34 into the game with his team already down 10-0. Los Angeles made its first seven shots, taking advantage of three early Thunder turnovers and the 7-foot Bynum’s size advantage inside with a series lobs.
Even as Durant missed his first seven shots, Oklahoma City clawed back within 36-33 on Westbrook’s right-handed fast-break dunk with 5:15 left before halftime. Bryant then hit a series of three 3-pointers to help the Lakers stay in front on their way to a 50-43 halftime lead.
Los Angeles then pounded it inside to Bynum and Gasol to extend its lead back to 11 in the third quarter before Oklahoma City started charging back.
After starting out 4 for 19 from the field, Durant made four of his five shots during the key stretch for Oklahoma City. By game’s end, he was pounding his chest and popping his jersey to show off the “Thunder” printed on the front.