Heading into Tuesday evening’s pivotal Game 5 between the L.A. and Oklahoma City, the Lakers boasted an all-time record of 17-0 in Game 5′s at home.
Make that 18-0.
The Lakers looked every part the defending champions in a dominating performance that started with a 10-0 Purple and Gold burst out of the gates and finished with a 111-87 victory, the lead reaching as many as 32 late in the third quarter.
“We just got beat up,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Every phase of the game.”
L.A. got something productive out of everybody, led by the twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who put a giant Lakers’ sticker in the paint by going for respective 20-point, 10-rebound double-doubles to punish the Thunder all night long. While Kobe Bryant was L.A.’s straw that stirred the drink, the 7-footers were as efficient as Charles Barkley at Krispy Kreme, making a combined 18-of-26 field goals (69 percent).
“We shot the ball well and were aggressive,” said Gasol. “I think we made ourselves a big presence in the lane and were effective.”
In related news, paint points favored the Lakers 58-26.
“I was very pleased with the way Pau played tonight,” added Phil Jackson. “I thought he moved the ball and attacked in certain situations that were very important for our basketball club … ‘Drew played with better energy out there tonight as far as transition defense and the things that we have to have.”
Indeed, the Lakers held the Thunder to only seven fastbreak points while scoring 12 themselves, accomplishing what assistant coach Jim Cleamson called goal “Numero uno” for the game plan.
Jackson went on to explain the primary reason the Lakers had so much success inside: much-improved ball movement, and penetration. The statistics showed what was obvious from watching, L.A. collecting 27 assists while both swinging the ball and making extra dump off passes, while Bryant in particular repeatedly penetrated the lane with the dribble to break down OKC’s D.
“I was just aggressive,” Bryant said. “Just getting in the paint, making them make decisions. When I do that, I collapse the defense so they just have to make a choice.”
Bryant’s statistical line – 13 points, seven assists, three boards, two steals in 29 minutes – doesn’t jump off the page, but as Brooks described, No. 24 dominated the game with his toughness.
“The guy was competing and set the tone defensively,” he said. “He did a good job of guarding Russell. That kind of threw us off a little bit. Kobe’s a great player. He found his way.”
‘Russell’ would be Russell Westbrook, OKC’s point guard who shot 55 percent in the first four games of the series to give the Lakers fits. As Jackson explained, Bryant volunteered for the task of guarding Westbrook after breaking down game film of Game 4, then held him to just 4-of-13 shooting.
“That’s a much higher activity level, playing the ball on every play so there’s no time off on defense,” said Jackson. “(It) didn’t get him any defensive rest. It showed me what his determination was.”
“Just being a savvy old dog, I guess,” said Bryant of staying with Westbrook.
With the victory, the Lakers earned themselves a chance at closing out the First Round series in what’s sure to be a tough Game 6 on Friday night in front of a rabid Oklahoma City fan base.
Jackson said that he’s happy the team has two days before the game, and expects the Thunder to make adjustments to counter what was so effective for the Lakers on Tuesday night.
But until Friday, your numbers:
7 Fastbreak points for the Thunder, who’d killed L.A. in transition in Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City. The Lakers managed 12 FB points themselves to take the category.
14 Three-pointers attempted by the Lakers, of which five went down. Ron Artest nailed two of them, both from the corner, while Jordan Farmar was 2-for-2 off the bench. Nonetheless, that L.A. took only 14 was a good sign, since it meant interior attempts were coming in droves (48 FGA’s in the paint).
27 Assists for the Lakers, who moved the ball well throughout the evening. Kobe Bryant led the way with seven dimes in three quarters, while Pau Gasol and Ron Artest added five each, Lamar Odom four off the bench.
56 Points in the paint for the Lakers, led by the impressive interior performance from Gasol (25 points) and Andrew Bynum (21 points).
69.2 Combined shooting percentage for Bynum (8-of-10) and Gasol (10-of-16).