(Reuters) – Kobe Bryant’s new pass-friendly approach helped the Los Angeles Lakers overcome the NBA-leading Oklahoma City Thunder 105-96 on Sunday as they attempt to reverse a woeful start to the season.
Bryant again flashed his all-around game with 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, matching his season-high in assists for a second straight game, and the host Lakers earned a second consecutive victory.
“You have to figure out a way to win ball games, and that’s what I drew from,” Bryant told reporters of his change in style. “It seems like we’re starting to come up with our identity and what we’re going to become.”
Los Angeles trailed the Thunder 87-86 midway through the fourth but took control with a 9-2 run as Bryant engineered the triumph with a dazzling array shots and passes down the stretch.
NBA-leading scorer Kevin Durant had a game-high 35 points for Oklahoma City but the Thunder, who entered the matinee game with the league’s best record, were forced to relinquish their recent control over the Lakers.
Oklahoma City (34-11) beat Los Angeles in their two prior meetings this season and eliminated them from last season’s playoffs by winning four of five games in the second round.
In a balanced effort, six Lakers players reached double figures, including Steve Nash’s 17 points and Pau Gasol’s 16 points off the bench.
“This kind of unity is exactly what we’ve been searching for and haven’t found until these last two games,” Gasol said. “Let’s see if we can keep it consistent.”
Point guard Russell Westbrook had a tough day for the Thunder, making just 6 of 22 shots, but he did add 13 assists and nine rebounds.
Oklahoma City boasts the league’s top offense, but after grabbing a 53-52 halftime lead they were limited in the second half.
With the contest in the balance, Bryant scored or assisted on his team’s final seven field goals including a clinching jumper with 33 seconds left that left the crowd buzzing.
Los Angeles (19-25) had lost four straight before their recent renewal and are trying to claw their way back into the playoff picture.