Lakers 99, Thunder 96: Lakers Survive By The Skin Of Their Free Throws

May 18, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (17) controls the ball against the defense of Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (5) during the first half of game three of the Western Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

The Los Angeles Lakers took care of business and protected their home court in defeating the Thunder 99-96 to win their first contest in the 2nd round of the playoffs. It was in no way easy. The Lakers had difficulty scoring from the field all night long. Kobe Bryant went 9-25. Andrew Bynum was 2-13. Ramon Sessions, Pau Gasol and Steve Blake (a fantastic bounceback 4-5 performance) were the only guys to shoot 50% or better. Throw in 15 turnovers, and you have all the ingredients for a blowout loss. Well, all the ingredients save one.

Free throws. A boatload of made free throws. The Lakers shot 42 freebies on the night. They made 41. When factoring in the number of attempts, it was the most prolific display of free throw shooting in their history (or least, the part of their history which can be looked at on basketball-reference.com). The Thunder had plenty of their own trips to the strike, and did fine in their own right, hitting 26-28, but they could not overcome a Lakers team that was desperate and fortunate to have the whistles going their way.

Inevitably, this will be where people start combining words like Lakers, Stern, Refs, Conspiracy, and Rigged into randomly assembled sentences, and the purple and gold were certainly on the good end of many questionable whistles, but the bottom line is that this was a horribly officiated game all the way around. James Harden was whistled for three fouls in the fourth quarter that were all dubious. He also drew a foul by reaching his arm around Steve Blake's back and pulling Blake into him and then accentuating the contact. Kevin Durant stuck his ENTIRE foot into the backcourt on one move without getting called for an over and back. ABC showed an entire montage of Kobe Bryant dealing with contact while making shots, and those were all fouls that weren't called. Bad officiating is bad officiating. The Lakers were certainly the primary benefactors of the poor performance on the part of the refs, but that, like all other things, is just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. And to hit nearly every single one of those free throws is a worthy feat all by itself.

The Lakers don't win without so many free throws, because OKC made life a living hell for them in the half court set. In that respect, they were most certainly lucky to pull out a victory tonight. But they also played with the determination that shows you they knew their season was on the line, fighting like hell for every last scrap. They will need every ounce of that fight to repeat the feat (winning) tomorrow night and turn this series into something worth watching.

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