Lakers Start Inside and Win Big
Thank goodness for home court advantage. The Los Angeles Lakers continued the home team dominance with a 111-87 romp over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in their first round series match-up. Leading coast to coast, the Lakers never looked back, pounding the Thunder inside with superior interior passing. Pau Gasol (25 points on 10-16, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot) and Andrew Bynum (21 points on 8-10, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocked shots) muscled their way to the hoop early and often. Kobe Bryant (13 points on 4-9, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals) set the tone early, guarding Russell Westbrook (15 points on 4-13, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 8 turnovers) and limiting the high-flying sophomore to contested perimeter shots. Kobe effectively held Westbrook in check, preventing him from slashing to the basket for easy dunks. Kevin Durant (17 points on 5-14, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) was never a factor as the Lakers raced out to a 14-1 lead behind Gasol and Bynum. The first quarter was almost identical to Game 3 when the Lakers established an early lead, except this time, the Lakers held the Thunder down the entire period. The Lakers would pummel the Thunder 31-16 at the end of one and were never threatened from there. The Lakers shot 66.7% for the period and also dished off 11 assists and recorded 5 blocks while the Thunder managed to convert only 26.1% on their field goal attempts.
The second period started slowly as both teams went to their benches. Jordan Farmar (14 points on 3-4, 2 rebounds, 1 steal) lay-up extended the lead to 35-17 as the Thunder looked up and down their bench for someone who could ignite a spark. Kobe continued his pinpoint passing finding Bynum for an easy slam dunk. Ron Artest (14 points on 6-11, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots) attacked the basket for the first time in the series and was rewarded with a dunk off a dribble drive around Durant. Artest continued to bother Durant on defense, forcing the young superstar into hurried shots. And while the Lakers punished the Thunder in the paint, Kobe kept Westbrook in front of him, causing him to second-guess his forays into the paint. Lamar Odom’s (7 points on 3-8, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocked shots) 3-pointer maintained the Lakers dominance at 48-30. And at the end of the first half, it was vintage Kobe, as he took James Harden (12 points on 6-11, 9 rebounds, 1 assist) off the dribble with a cross-over, then pulled up for the easy 7-footer in the paint for a 55-34 halftime lead. For the half, the Lakers shot 64.9% compared to only 26.2% for the Thunder. They held a 24-19 rebounding advantage and controlled the airways with 7 blocked shots.
Coach of the Year recipient, Scott Brooks’ halftime pep talk did little to stem the tide. The Lakers came out intent on putting the Thunder away with a 12-7 burst out of the locker room. Suddenly the lead had ballooned to 67-39 after another Bynum dunk. The Thunder called time out but the game continued to spiral out of control for OKC. Gasol and Bynum would continue to have their way in the paint, and Artest’s 21-footer would give the Lakers a 79-47 lead with 4:26 to go in the quarter. Pau would record 15-points in the period as the Lakers took a commanding 88-60 lead at the end of three. By all accounts, the game was over midway through the period as the thunder continued to struggle on offense. Farmar opened the 4th with a 3-pointer as garbage time officially started. With Kobe planted on the bench icing down, Bynum attacked the rim again, and dropped in a point-blank lay-in. The only drama would be who would stay long enough for the free tacos. Shannon Brown (2 points on 1-4, 2 assists, 1 rebound, 2 steals, 1 blocked shot), Josh Powell (5 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist) and Adam Morrison (4 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist) would all get extensive playing time as the two teams exchanged baskets down the stretch. The Lakers look to close out the series in Game 6, back at the House of Horrors at the Ford Center on Friday night.
• dEDGE Post Scriptum •
58-26 points in the paint. 27-18 in assists. 22-31 free throws for 71% compared to 18-24 for the Thunder. A 12-7 advantage on fast break points. 23-points off of 16 OKC turnovers. Fisher diving onto the floor to grab a loose ball after Westbrook had momentarily secured the offensive rebound. Artest nailing a pair of three-pointers in the flow of the offense. Artest slamming one home off the dribble drive. The Lakers won the game from the opening tip with a clear mind set. Get the ball inside and punish the smaller Thunder. Limit their quick outlet passes to stop the break. Control the boards and stop their drives to the hoop. Westbrook found himself more on the floor than in the air, where he had done most of his damage in the series. And with Artest clearly planted inside of Durant’s jersey, no one else picked up the slack for the Thunder.
Jeff Green (8 points on 3-10), Thabo Sefolosha (3 points on 1-7) and Nenad Krstic (4 points on 1-4) left their games back in Oklahoma City. Harden was not a factor and got all of his points in garbage time with the game clearly out of reach. The only bright spot was Serge Ibaka (12 points on 6-11, 9 rebounds, 1 assist) who continues to baffle the Laker defenders. Daring him to shoot, he has been able to knock down the midrange jumper with relative ease. Why he is not starting in place of Krstic is beyond me, but perhaps he is apt to early foul trouble when given more minutes. As badly as the Lakers were outplayed in Game 4, the same can be said for tonight’s contest for the Thunder. Heads were down, shoulders were slumped and frustration definitely set in tonight. Size and experience was the clear victor against youth and athleticism. But as they have shown throughout this series, is that they are capable of leaving the past behind them quickly. Just as fast as their fast break, the Thunder have rebounded back after going down 2-0. How they respond in a decisive do-or-die Game 6 will determine just how far this team has grown, or needs to grow.
The Lakers are on the verge of advancing to meet either the Utah Jazz or the Denver Nuggets (Jazz 3-2) in the semi-finals of the Western Conference. Cleveland, Orlando and Boston have all advanced in the Eastern Conference with a showdown between Boston/Cleveland set to begin. So, as the cards are played out and the bluffs are called, it’s now up to the Lakers to declare their hand. Do they push all-in on the road or do they sit tight and play the odds for a Game 7 at home? The Lakers just saw the flop and knocked the Thunder back on their heels. Now it’s time to drop the hammer and send the Thunder packing for next year’s Main Event.