LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers had the fight to the finish Friday night in Game 3 of their NBA playoff series against Oklahoma City that they lacked in Game 2.
The Lakers rallied from a five-point deficit in the final minutes and earned a 99-96 victory over the Thunder, avoiding the so-far-always deadly 3-0 series deficit.
Kobe Bryant scored 36 points, hitting all 18 of his free throw attempts -- including two clutch ones after drawing a foul on Russell Westbrook with 33.8 seconds left. Those free throws offset a Kevin Durant jumper just before and gave the Lakers a 95-94 lead.
The Thunder tried to go back to Durant but couldn't get the lead back again. Durant had one more chance in the final seconds but missed a 3-pointer that could've forced overtime.
Durant had 31 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 shooting from the foul line. But Oklahoma City's 26-of-28 free throw shooting wasn't nearly as prodigious as the Lakers' 41-of-42 performance, which included 11 of 12 from center Andrew Bynum.
The Thunder ran its offense through Durant instead of Russell Westbrook early in the third quarter and got off to the sort of post-halftime jump it wanted to take control of the game.
The Thunder pushed its lead to seven points before the Lakers chipped away and went into the fourth quarter trailing 70-69. It was tight the rest of the way before the Lakers had the final kick.
Bryant had said immediately after the Lakers' blown Game 2, in which Oklahoma City rallied from seven points down in the final two minutes, that he was at least encouraged by the progress the Lakers made in defending the Thunder's favorite offensive thrusts.
The Thunder dropped from 119 points in Game 1 to 77 in Game 2, and Bynum was moved to say after Lakers practice Thursday: "I don't think we have any pieces to pick up. We know exactly how to defend them now."
The Lakers certainly did a better job against Westbrook's pick-and-roll attack. Westbrook went from 10 of 15 from the field and 27 points in Game 1 to going 5 of 17 from the field and 15 points in Game 2.
The Thunder was looking for Westbrook to go harder around the picks and deliver quicker, wiser passes in Game 3. But he started slowly again.
Westbrook's point guard counterpart, the Lakers' Ramon Sessions, was looking to put his unsteady start to this series behind him -- and he did. He shot 2 for 10 from the field in the first two games, but he found renewed assertiveness and hit three shots in the first six minutes after his first shot was blocked by Serge Ibaka.
The Lakers jumped out to a 16-4 lead before Thunder coach Scott Brooks called a 20-second timeout and brought James Harden and Derek Fisher in for Ibaka and Westbrook.
The Thunder came back strong after the rough start with Westbrook and Harden active against a Lakers team resting Bryant and Bynum to start the second quarter. Both Westbrook and Harden drew fouls time after time -- Westbrook leading the Thunder with 14 first-half points -- and Oklahoma City came back to take the lead, 33-32, on Kevin Durant's 3-pointer with 6:14 left in the first half.
Metta World Peace's 3-pointer off Sessions' pass gave the Lakers a 50-47 lead at halftime. World Peace and Westbrook got into a scuffle that resulted in double technical fouls 4:14 before halftime.
NOTES: Pau Gasol was honored before the game for being voted the winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, the NBA's honor to one coach, trainer or player each year for outstanding service to the community. Gasol is a UNICEF ambassador and has done work with local hospitals. The Lakers had the winner of the award, given out by the Professional Basketball Writers Association last season, when Metta World Peace, then named Ron Artest, was honored for his work with mental-health counseling. ... Lakers guard Steve Blake, who missed the potential winning shot with 3.9 seconds left in Game 2, complained of harassment he received over Twitter. Both coaches commented on Blake's wife and kids being threatened, with Lakers coach Mike Brown saying: "It's a doggone shame" and Brooks saying: "It makes no sense that people are like that." ... The Lakers' lack of depth will be tested in a rare back-to-back playoff set: Game 4 is Saturday night at Staples Center with no day off in between games.