OKC – 106
LAL – 90
OKC: Kevin Durant – 25 Points, 10 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 2 Steals
LAL: Kobe Bryant – 42 Points, 5 Rebounds, 2 Steals
Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers faced elimination in a deciding Game 5. The problem was it seemed like only two Lakers got that message. Kobe Bryant carried the Lakers and Pau Gasol put in a solid effort in the paint. However, the Thunder were able to one-up the Lakers and counter every attack.
The Oklahoma City crowd was very loud and vibrant, backing their beloved Thunder team from start to finish. Despite the hot streak Kobe Bryant was on, the Thunder were able to remain cool and collected, and hit the timely baskets when they needed them the most. They were able to set up their baskets with their constant aggression. Playing passively against the Lakers will only result in the Lakers exploiting the opponents’ weaknesses. Rather, the Thunder attacked hard, and more importantly, early. The Lakers were thrown off early by Andrew Bynum’s foul trouble. That affected his play for the rest of the game. Lakers coach Mike Brown had to decided at times whether to keep Bynum in the game or on the bench. Regardless, either way Bynum was ineffective. Even while on the court, he played reserved and timidly, trying not to pick up more fouls. Therefore, he was not aggressive offensively, taking only 10 shots all game, and he took plays off defensively trying to avoid fouls.
Pau Gasol attempted to hold the fort down in the paint for the Lakers in Bynum’s essential absence. He did a solid job, but still, the Thunder posed too much of a challenge. Gasol filled the stat sheet with 14 points and 16 rebounds, yet without Bynum’s effective presence, his output was negated by the Thunder’s production.
Though Metta World Peace and Andrew Bynum scored in double figures, it truly seemed like Gasol was the only player other than Bryant doing any kind of damage. One stat in the box score that is very deceiving is the zero in Kobe Bryant’s assist column. He did not account for any actual assists, yet he was distributing the ball in scoring situations. I’m not playing the role of Kobe Bryant’s advocate, but it became glaringly obvious this series that Kobe is not the only person that lacks confidence in his teammates; It seems they lack confidence in themselves too. There were two missed layups by Ramon Sessions early in the game, a situation where Devin Ebanks dunked the ball after the buzzer sounded rather than pulling up or releasing a floater to beat the clock, and several other situations where Lakers players choked or gave up the ball in scoring situations. Kobe shoots as much as he does because he plays with a sense of urgency, a sense of urgency that other Lakers players don’t seem to have.
Kobe Bryant did all he absolutely could. He scored 42 points, hitting shot after remarkable shot. He looked like the Kobe of old, throwing down five dunks at least. He wanted to win more than anybody on the Los Angeles bench and it was evident by him scoring almost half of his team’s points. He cannot be faulted for his effort in the Lakers’ Game 5 loss.
The Thunder deserve considerable credit too. The Lakers did not just lose; The Thunder won. The Thunder played efficiently, especially through stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have grown so well together this season, improving from their lopsided roles displayed last year. There were times when it seemed Westbrook was trying to accomplish more than what his role required, and more importantly, allowed. Kevin Durant is the go-to guy on the team and Westbrook now understands. Durant is the cool and collected leader, ready to hit the big shot when necessary, but Westbrook’s role is that of a scorer who can take the load of Durant. They play better and more balanced off of each other now, rather than countering each other. Durant was as clutch as ever this series, stealing two games from the Laker. Westbrook stepped up huge this series too, especially in the final two games. Westbrook brings the the spark to Durant’s quiet edge. His energy is the epicenter of their nucleus.
Check Westbrook’s energizing steal leading to a spectacular three point play:
James Harden played one of the biggest roles in the Thunder’s Game 5 victory. Coming into Game 5, Harden’s numbers had been noticeably lower than in the Thunder’s series sweep of the Dallas Mavericks. He had been tasked with defending Kobe Bryant at lengthy periods of time, which caused him to work more defensively, draining the energy needed to produce offensively. Game 5 was a different story. He set the Thunder’s tone for much of the first half, leading the team in scoring heading into halftime. Harden’s production allows Thunder coach Scott Brooks to rest his stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when needed and not have to worry about offense. Harden can score and distribute making the Thunder work when Westbrook and Durant are not present in the lineup. When Westbrook and Durant returned to the court, many times alongside Harden, the Thunder took off and never looked back. Fueled by a controversial flagrant foul/technical foul combination called on Metta World Peace giving them a three point lead to conclude the first half, the Thunder came out surging in the second half. The Lakers looked old, tired, and confused. Most of all, they looked like they had given up and were ready to lose. The energized Thunder outscored the Lakers 52-39 in the second half en route to their convincing series closing victory. Congratulations to the Thunder on advancing to the 2012 NBA Western Conference Finals.
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