But look at them now.
Durant scored 22 points, Russell Westbrook(notes) added 18 points and eight rebounds, and the Thunder evened the first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers with a 110-89 victory in Game 4 on Saturday night.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here and once we got here, people were saying we were going to get swept and a lot of different things,” Durant said. “We knew what we were capable of and how hard we play every day and how hard we practice every day.
“With those attributes, I think that we can go far as a team. It’s all on us. We control our own destiny at this point.”
For the second straight game, the Thunder capitalized on a significant edge at the foul line and on the boards despite the presence of the Lakers’ 7-foot tandem of Pau Gasol(notes) and Andrew Bynum(notes).
Oklahoma City never trailed after the opening 5 minutes and led by double digits for the final three quarters in a thorough dismantling.
“This is as big as a game can possibly be,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “You’re playing against one of the best teams in the playoffs on your home floor. Like I told the guys after the game, the Lakers did a good job the first two games. They took care of their home court. We did the same thing.”
Bynum had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Gasol also had 13 points to lead Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant(notes) had 12 points after spending the entire first quarter deferring to his teammates and the whole fourth quarter on the bench with three other L.A. starters.
“I was managing the game exactly how I wanted to. Unfortunately, it got away from us,” Bryant said. “By them getting out in transition and getting those buckets, I wasn’t able to do what I normally do at the end of the game and close games out.”
Lakers coach Phil Jackson stood by Bryant’s decision to wait nearly 15 minutes into the game—and until his team was down by 15—to take his first shot, but said “It was a pretty good meltdown” in the second half.
“Our expectation is we wanted to win both of these games and be done with it. I think that’s every team’s mindset coming on the road being up 2-0,” Bryant said. “It’s not the reality of the situation. We’ve got a tough fight, and it should be fun.”
Game 5 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
After Durant clamped down on Bryant in the fourth quarter of the Thunder’s 101-96 win in Game 3, the matchup between the NBA’s youngest scoring champion and the 2008 MVP never materialized this time around.
Instead, both superstars were on the bench for the entire fourth quarter while lineups of mostly reserves toiled away with little more than the final margin at stake. Bynum was the only Lakers starter to play in the fourth, as Bryant, Gasol, Derek Fisher(notes) and Ron Artest(notes) stayed on the sidelines.
Bryant considered it a chance for extra healing time on his aching right knee, which has required a “boatload of treatment” lately.
It was the Lakers’ largest playoff loss since Boston’s clinching 131-92 victory in Game 6 of the 2008 finals. Oklahoma City held a 50-43 rebounding edge and shot 20 more free throws—finishing 42 of 48—while leading by as many as 29.
“The only thing that did cross my mind was, `Wow! We’re up on the Lakers by 29,’ and a big part of me thought that. You don’t expect that,” Brooks said.
Oklahoma City grabbed the lead early and pulled away with a 12-0 run late in the first quarter. Westbrook had the first six points in the rush and Bryant headed to the bench for his first rest of the game while Oklahoma City surged to a 27-14 lead.
The Lakers were never within single digits again.
“It was a great feeling but we know we’ve still got work to do,” Westbrook said.
The Thunder are still fighting against history. Only three of 52 eighth-seeded teams have ever pulled an upset against a No. 1 seed, and Jackson is 44-0 when his team wins Game 1 of any playoff series.
But who expected Oklahoma City, the youngest team in the league, to make it this far in the first place? The team won only 23 games last season and made no significant free-agent acquisitions before its 27-win improvement.
Now, they’re guaranteed at least the chance to extend their season until Game 6 on Friday night back on their home court—and maybe beyond.
NOTES: After tying a franchise playoff record with 31 3-point attempts in Game 3, Los Angeles went 4 for 22 in Game 4. … Among those seated courtside were Gov. Brad Henry, NFL wide receiver Mark Clayton and Gerald McCoy, the former Oklahoma defensive tackle taken third overall by Tampa Bay in the NFL draft.