- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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Two, if you think being embarrassed by 29 points in the series opener hurt, it carries nowhere near the sting that a two-point loss after leading by seven with two minutes remaining does.
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.
His fingerprints were all over the Lakers' demise in this one, from his 0-for-5 finish from the field (including an airball on a 16-foot turnaround jump shot with the Lakers clinging to a three-point lead with 1:22 remaining) to the two turnovers he was a part of from throwing the ball away to Durant and having another tipped pass from Steve Blake go off his arms and out of bounds.
"It was a tough loss, yes, but the biggest thing for us was that we found some things out defensively that we feel like we can do that's effective," Bryant said, choosing to focus on the positive rather than dwell on the negative. "They did a great job. It was a great comeback by them in the last two minutes, or whatever it is. They got themselves a gritty win, and now it's on us to go back home and defend our home court."
Whatever scowl that was on Bryant's face when Metta World Peace inbounded the ball to Blake in the corner for the Lakers' last shot had melted away by his postgame news conference. Sure, he was ticked off that World Peace didn't follow the play and go to the first option of Bryant or the second option of Andrew Bynum, but what good would it do to throw World Peace and Blake under the bus? How would that help the Lakers achieve their goal of winning four of the next five games in order to make it to the conference finals?
Bryant took a similar stance two seasons ago after the Thunder won Game 4 of their first-round series with the Lakers in resounding fashion, 110-89. Bryant, playing on a bad knee, limped out of the arena puffing a cigar to displace the stench from the ugly loss that surrounded him.
There's no denying there was some definite spin by Bryant. By crediting the Thunder for their miraculous comeback, he tried to turn the focus away from his own questionable performance down the stretch. But, there is something healthy about Bryant's approach at the same time. If the Lakers got discouraged by being blown out in Game 1, they never would have given themselves a chance in Game 2. If the Lakers can't quickly forget about what might have been in Game 2, they won't have a prayer to win Game 3.
We've learned a thing or two about the psychological mind games Bryant is capable of in these playoffs. After the Lakers were blown out in Game 6 of the Denver series, he explained how he can make his brain operate the way he wants it too, truth be damned.
"You have to emotionally put yourself with your back against the wall and kind of trick yourself, so to speak, to feel that there's no other option but to perform and to battle," Bryant said.
The Lakers are back in that same boat again and maybe, just maybe, Bryant's teammates learned a little about themselves in that Game 7 against Denver when Pau Gasol and Bynum played like their pants were on fire.
"It's a loss that hurts, especially after how hard we worked," Gasol said. "After putting ourselves in that position, it's hard to lose an important game like this. But, we can't really dwell on it too much. We can't feel sorry at this point. We just have to understand that next game is probably the biggest game of the series for us. Now we have to go home and play our best to protect our house, to protect our court. That's got to be our mindset."
Instead of thinking about the statistics that say teams that fall down 2-0 to start a playoff series have come back to win it only 5 percent of the time or that Bryant is just 1-7 in his career in advancing after starting a best-of-seven series off 2-0, L.A. must make like SNL's Stuart Smalley, look themselves in the mirror and focus on the positive.
They held Oklahoma City to 42 fewer points in Game 2 than it did in Game 1. They forced the Thunder into 13 turnovers after just four on Monday. They outscored them 18-12 in the third quarter, playing with renewed focus and energy after halftime when they allowed the Thunder to score 39 points in that same quarter just a game ago.
"It is still a series," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "They did what they were supposed to do, they protected their home court, they got two wins, now we have to do the same but I feel like there is a lot of basketball left in our team."
There could be as long as their memories don't get in the way.
11hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann