NBA

Bryant, Gasol lead Lakers to Game 1 win over Thunder

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The Canadian Press
4/18/2010 7:32:44 PM
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Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) - Kobe Bryant had 21 points and Pau Gasol chipped in 19 with a game-high 13 rebounds, as the Lakers kicked off their quest to repeat as NBA champions with a wire-to-wire 87-79 victory in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Andrew Bynum, who missed the final 13 games of the regular season with a strained right Achilles' tendon, was back in the starting lineup and gave Los Angeles a big boost with 13 points, 12 boards and four blocks.

Derek Fisher added 11 points and sank a big three-pointer late in the fourth with Oklahoma City threatening to make it a one-possession game.

Ron Artest provided Los Angeles a strong defensive presence in guarding Kevin Durant, who became the youngest scoring champion in NBA history this season with 30.1 points per game.

Durant accounted for 24 points, but shot 7-for-24 from the floor and got to the line for 9-of-11 free throws.

Durant's noted ability to draw fouls was a much ballyhooed topic leading up to the series' first game and even led to a fine for Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who essentially suggested Durant was receiving preferential treatment from referees.

"It was a tough one for us today. We couldn't get it going. Defensively, we played hard. Ron (Artest) plays physical, he's a great defender," Durant said. "It was discouraging. I got some good looks, I just didn't make them. In Game 2, I hope to be able to knock down those shots."

Russell Westbrook helped pick up the scoring slack with 23 points and eight assists. Jeff Green, who averaged 15.1 points during the regular season, had 10 on 4-of-12 shooting.

Sunday marked Oklahoma City's return to the playoffs for the first time since the then-Seattle SuperSonics won the Northwest Division back in the 2004-05 campaign.

Oklahoma City has dropped eight straight games as the visitor in this series and 13 of 14 overall dating back to its days in Seattle.

"Our effort was good. Offensively we didn't have anything going. Credit the Lakers, they're a good defensive team," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "We didn't play well, but I'm encouraged that we competed. We just didn't hit shots and it had nothing to do with nerves."

The Thunder shot 40.3 percent from the floor overall, including a 2-of-16 showing from three-point range. LA was only slightly better at 41 percent.

The Lakers' lead hovered close to double digits for most of the game, but a sustained surge by the Thunder covering the middle of the fourth had the outcome in question.

Durant got on track for six points during the run and put in two at the line with 3 1/2 minutes remaining for a 79-73 difference.

Bryant and Lamar Odom helped keep the margin at two possessions with three- pointers on the opposite end, then Fisher's three-ball with 1 1/2 left pushed the lead back to 10.

Durant slammed with under a minute to go to make it 84-77, but Green turned it over on the next possession, leading to a pair of Gasol free throws to essentially seal the win.

"We supported each other very well today. They (OKC) played hard and we knew they were going to fight. We tried to eliminate Kevin's (Durant) easy opportunities. Ron did a solid job on him," Bryant said. "We could have played better. We gave up too many points in transition."

LA settled into a nice groove early on with solid contributions from Bynum, Artest and Fisher. Bynum announced his return with a hook shot for the game's second basket and combined with Artest and Bryant to score three straight layups and gain an early 10-4 edge.

Durant did his best to keep the Thunder close with a layup and three-pointer, but those two scores served as the only points for the visitors in the final six minutes of the opening quarter.

Fisher buried two three-pointers and Artest a third triple on consecutive Laker possessions in the closing minutes and LA was up 27-13 after 12 minutes.

It proved to be the lowest point total for Oklahoma City in an opening quarter all season.

Oklahoma City scored on its first three possessions of the second quarter for a 10-point difference, then went over four minutes without a field goal.

On the opposite end, Bryant stroked a three-pointer and Bynum backed down Nenad Krstic to throw down a rim-rattling dunk to open up a 38-21 advantage and bring the Staples Center crowd to its feet.

Close to a minute later, Bynum converted a three-point play on another slam to make it a 17-point game with 5 1/2 minutes to go until halftime.

However, the Thunder received a late lift from Westbrook to make it a bit more respectable entering the second half. The unheralded second-year pro tallied eight of the half's final 10 points, cutting the Lakers' lead to 47-39 with a driving layup prior to the horn.

"We eeked the game out. Defensively, we played a good game all the way through. We know that we have to get easier baskets. We had energy in the first quarter...we have to sustain it all the way through the ball game," Jackson said.

A slow-developing third quarter saw LA's lead holding close to 10 after Gasol sank a jump shot with 5 1/2 minutes on the clock for a 55-44 score.

Westbrook, meanwhile, continued to carry Oklahoma City and had eight of the team's first nine points in the third. His three-point play cut the gap to 58-49 at the three-minute mark.

Durant snapped out of a shooting funk with a jumper for his first field goal since the first two minutes of the second quarter, then added three free throws in two trips to the line in the final minute to help draw the Thunder back within 64-56 moving to the fourth.

Game Notes

LA began its title defense as the West's No. 1 seed for a third straight year and is aiming to pull even with the Boston Celtics all-time record of 17 championships...The Lakers beat Orlando in five games last summer to raise the trophy for the first time since 2002, the last of three consecutive championships. LA has missed the postseason just twice since the 1993-94 season...Artest and Odom each scored seven points...Krstic had eight points and seven boards for the Thunder.

Kobe Bryant (Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
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