OKC Thunder dump Lakers out of NBA playoffs
With the Oklahoma City Thunder just starting to come to life, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant didn't need to take a break.
They will have enough time to rest as they get ready for a second straight trip to the Western Conference finals.
Westbrook scored 28 points, Durant added 25 points and 10 rebounds, and the two All-Stars skipped their usual rest periods to power the Thunder ahead in the second half for a 106-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the West semifinals today.
"We know that's the most important time of the game, especially in a tight game," Durant said. "I think that we kept our composure throughout the fourth, and our poise and we made plays."
Kobe Bryant scored 42 points for the Lakers and took the briefest of rest - less than 2 minutes - in the second half. It didn't even take that long for the game, and their season, to slip away.
After getting eliminated by Los Angeles in 2010 and Dallas in 2011 before both of those teams went on to win it all, the Thunder knocked both out on their way to the West finals for the second straight year.
The only other time the franchise made consecutive conference finals was from 1978-80, including Seattle's only NBA title in 1979.
Once there, they'll face the top-seeded Spurs, the only team other than the Lakers or Mavs to win the West in the past 13 years and currently riding an 18-game winning streak. The series starts on Monday (NZ time) in San Antonio.
After Westbrook's pair of three-point plays fueled a 14-3 burst that put Oklahoma City ahead to stay late in the third quarter, Durant hit two 3-pointers as the Thunder scored the first 10 points of the fourth to push their lead to 93-77.
Bryant was waiting to check in when Durant connected on his second 3-pointer, just 89 seconds into the fourth quarter. But by the time he got in, there was little he could do - despite the 13th 40-point game of his playoff career.
"That what we do. That's our rotations and that's the right rotation to make," Bryant said. "You have to trust that unit coming in there to hold the fort down."
Lakers coach Mike Brown said he trusted that unit - including starters Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum - after it had turned a five-point deficit into a lead to start the second quarter.
"I've got to be able to rest Kobe a few minutes here and there, and we didn't do a good job of handling it at that point in the game," Brown said, adding that he didn't keep Bryant out as long as he had planned.
Westbrook went running to the scorer's table and pumped his fist in the air after his first energizing three-point play, when he was able to flip the ball in after Ramon Sessions fouled him on the fast break.
"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," Westbrook said.
Westbrook converted another after banking in a jumper from the left side despite Sessions slapping him on the arm to make it 82-76 with 1:29 left in the third quarter.
Durant extended the lead with a 3-pointer in the opening minute of the fourth and then hit another 32 seconds later - just after Bryant had stepped to the scorer's table to check in after a brief rest.
Bryant described it as "tough, to say the least."
After blowing a fourth-quarter lead in Game 4, Bryant had called out forward Pau Gasol to be more aggressive - much as he had with Gasol and Bynum before the Lakers faced elimination in Game 7 of the first round against Denver.
Gasol came through with a monster game - 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists - and Steve Blake scored a playoff career-best 19 points to save the Lakers that time. Bryant didn't get nearly as much help against the Thunder.
Gasol took 14 shots, his most of the series, but made only five to finish with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Metta World Peace scored 11 and Bynum 10.
James Harden added 17 points as Oklahoma City's bench outscored the Lakers' 35-5. The Thunder also had a 30-6 edge in fast-break scoring. The Lakers were outrebounded 51-35 and had only three offensive rebounds, two from Gasol and none from Bynum.
"We're asking our bigs to do a lot but I know for sure we could have gotten more scoring from those two guys in the offensive rebounding category ... and we could have gotten more from our bench," Brown said.
The Thunder got five of their first eight baskets on dunks and controlled the boards early on, grabbing 16 of the game's first 22 rebounds while keeping Los Angeles off the offensive glass for the first 11 minutes.
Bryant had to create all of the offense, scoring 15 of the Lakers' first 19 points and getting all six of his baskets without the benefit of an assist. When others started chipping in, the Lakers went on a 16-7 run to go up 35-32 following Bynum's three-point play.
Oklahoma City scored the next eight points, including Harden's fast-break dunk, before Bryant got past him for a pair of dunks of his own - the first a driving, two-handed reverse jam and the second a two-handed alley-oop slam over Harden.
But Bryant and World Peace both drew technical fouls as the Lakers lost their cool with 31.9 seconds left before halftime when World Peace was called for a flagrant foul against Thabo Sefolosha on a fast break. World Peace used his right hand to strip the ball from Sefolosha as he went up to the basket but then shoved him out of bounds with his left hand.
Sefolosha hit both free throws and Durant capitalized on both shots from the technicals World Peace and Bryant got for arguing the flagrant call to put the Thunder 54-51 ahead at halftime despite shooting less than 40 percent.