The L.A Lakers endured much criticism over the last few days regarding their standing in a 2-2 series with the No.8 seed Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the 2010 NBA playoffs.
But as Kobe Bryant said “Our backs aren’t against the wall, the series is tied a 2-2. What’s going on here?”
Pau Gasol called Game 5 for the Lakers a must-win, and the team responded with a performance that looked the the No.1 seed in the conference, dominating the Thunder from the start, and winning 111-87 to take a 3-2 series lead.
Gasol led the Lakers with 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Andrew Bynum put up 21 points for a team that desperately needed a win following two consecutive losses to the Thunder on the road.
“Considering how inconsistently we’ve been playing, and the last game in Oklahoma, this was one of our better [games of the season],” Bryant said in a post-game interview.
Bryant finished the night with 13 points to go along with seven assists, but it was his defense that was the storyline for him. Bryant matched up against Russell Westbrook of the Thunder and shut him down, allowing him to collect only 15 points on the night.
Ron Artest also put on an impressive defensive effort against Kevin Durant, limiting the All-Star to just 17 points to complete a full-circle effort from the team.
“It’s like conducting an orchestra,” Bryant said after the game. “You have guys that you can use and go to in certain situations.”
On the other side of the court, the Thunder began the night failing to connect on their first 13 shots from the floor. They got behind early and were unable to recover.
“I wish I could say why, but they kicked our butts from the beginning,” remarked Durant in a post-game interview. “They had some dunks early on and got the fans excited, and they just kind of cruised from there. It was tough to come back.”
While it was not a 40-point effort by Bryant on the night, he elected to guard Westbrook, and switch up the defense to try and create some new looks for the Thunder.
“I enjoy a challenge, and he’s been playing sensational,” Bryant remarked. “If we’re going to be eliminated, I don’t want to go into the summer thinking I could have done something about it, so I accepted the challenge.”
By halftime, the game was practically over, with L.A controlling a 21-point advantage. They only increased it in the second half, at one point to 32 points.
The two stars in Westbrook and Durant never got it going and the entire team suffered as a result.
The series now goes back to Oklahoma City for Game 6, where the Thunder won back-to-back games.
“We know what we needed to do,” Bynum remarked. “We got embarrassed, and we wanted to show them that we’re still the world champions. … We’re supposed to do that. The message will be sent in Game 6. Close ‘em out.”
Online Sportsbooks believe that the Lakers will advance past the Thunder and eventually come out of the Western Conference. They are behind only Cleveland in the list of betting favorites to win the 2010 NBA championship.