Thunder 106, Lakers 90
Nuggets from my notebook from Monday's series-clinching win over the Lakers.
- I said 90 minutes before the game that if Andrew Bynum scored 30, the Lakers would win. But if Kobe Bryant scored 30, the Lakers would lose. Bynum finished with 10 points. Kobe finished with 42. The thought process was simple and has shown itself to be accurate time and time again. When the Lakers play as a team, they're an awfully tough team to beat. But when Bryant goes one-on-five and plays hero ball, they're an easy out. That's what L.A. was tonight, and the writing was on the wall very early on.
- Kobe scored 15 of the Lakers' 21 first-quarter points. That was the best thing that could have happened to the Thunder. OKC led 26-21 after the first period behind a balanced attack that saw seven players score. The Lakers got points from just two other players, four from Pau Gasol and two from Jordan Hill. There was no way, it seemed, that Kobe could keep up that pace. If he did, which he darn near did, the Lakers would lose. Plain and simple. It became clear long ago that Thunder is too good of a team to get beat by one player.
- With that said, Kobe tried the team thing. After calling out Gasol following Game 4, Kobe started this game by getting his power forward involved so he could have a chance to be more "assertive." But Gasol seemed to be pressing early. He missed five of his first six shots and became part of the problem rather than the part of the solution. The Lakers' foolish attempt at forcing Gasol into being more assertive wasted valuable early possessions and alienated Andrew Bynum. And both of those things benefited the Thunder.
- With Bynum not receiving touches, he became an afterthought, the forgotten man. If that didn't take him out of the game, foul trouble surely did. He was whistled for his second foul with 4:44 remaining in the first quarter and was forced to sit for the remainder of the period. When Bynum returned in the second, he scored seven points in a 12-4 run by to put the Lakers up 35-32. Then he picked up his third foul with 5:24 left in the period and had to sit for the remainder of the second quarter. Finally, his fourth foul came 51 seconds into the third period, effectively making him play cautiously the rest of the night. The biggest threat to the Thunder in this series was always Bynum, not Bryant, and the Lakers never seemed to realize that.
- Bynum finished with 10 points and four rebounds in 35 minutes. If you're a Lakers fan, you have to shake your head at that line. That should be a quarter for Bynum, not a game.
- The play of the game was made by Russell Westbrook. It came with just more than four minutes remaining in the third quarter. It happened when he intercepted a Ramon Sessions pass intended for Kobe and raced the other way. When Westbrook got to the free throw line, Sessions tried to wrap him up and prevent a shot attempt. No luck. Westbrook powered through the contact and got a runner to bank in for a three-point play opportunity. Westbrook made the ensuing free throw and gave the Thunder a 73-70 lead with 4:09 left in the period. It sparked a 25-7 run over the seven minutes. That was your ballgame.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks on Westbrook's improbable three-point play: "That was an amazing play. Obviously, there was a lot of luck to that. But he put himself in that position to get a little lucky there."
- Westbrook on that shot: "Sessions grabbed me kind of early, and I just tried to throw it to the rim and luckily it went in. That kind of sparked us, and everybody else kept it going from there."
- Actually, Westbrook kept it going. He scored 12 of the Thunder's points during that 25-7 run before finishing with a team-high 28 points. Game ball goes to young fella.
- Brooks on the impact of that shot: "I thought from that point on, we really played with great energy on the offensive end. We moved the ball and we made shots."
- Another stretch that lost this one for the Lakers and won it for the Thunder: Lakers coach Mike Brown's ill-advised decision to park Kobe on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter. It was obvious that the Lakers, with Sessions, Gasol, Bynum, Steve Blake and Devin Ebanks, wouldn't be able to hold off the Thunder. And sure enough, they didn't. Brooks wisely left Westbrook in to start the fourth, along with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Nick Collison and Derek Fisher. And the Thunder's unit raced to a 8-0 run while Kobe sat before scoring another basket when Bryant returned to bump it to 10-0. That gave the Thunder a 93-77 lead, its largest of the night to that point, and essentially KO'd the Lakers.
- Here were the Lakers four possessions, in order, while Bryant sat: a missed running hook by Gasol, a missed 15-footer by Ebanks, an offensive foul on Sessions and a bad pass turnover by Sessions.
- Sessions showed that he simply wasn't ready for this stage, proving not-so-quiet questions about whether he would be to be warranted. He had never played in the playoffs, and after a disappointing showing in round one he was even worse in the semifinals. He made just 12-of-34 shots (35.3 percent), including an 0-for-4 clip from 3-point range, and had 15 assists against 12 turnovers. So much for being the answer for guys like Westbrook.
- After all the talk about officiating in Games 3 and 4, it was Sessions who attempted a game-high eight foul shots.
- Got to give the big men a lot of credit in this one. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka helped set the tone early by rebounding and protecting the paint. Collison then came in and did the dirty work in clean up duty as he always does. That trio combined for 2o points, 23 rebounds, six blocks and four assists.
- Led by the bigs, the Thunder out-rebounded the Lakers 51-35, including 14-3 on the offensive end. That's incredible.
- A staggering 30 fast-break points for the Thunder tonight. That's also an incredible number, as well as a series best. Coupled with just 12 turnovers and the dominant rebounding, the Thunder did exactly what it needed to do to close out this series.
- After all the talk about handshakes going into this series, Harden and Metta World Peace finally embraced one another in front of the scorer's table at the end of the game.
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