The storybook ending to an extremely hard-fought Round 1 series was all set up as Kobe Bryant, the man who’d done it so many times before, rose for a baseline jumper with L.A. down one and the clock heading towards zero in a fourth quarter.
Two seconds later, the Lakers had advanced to the Second Round, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 95-94.
But there was a lil’ Spanish twist to that equation, as Bryant’s shot actually rimmed out into the hands of Pau Gasol, who softly laid the ball off glass with 0.5 seconds left in the game. The Thunder had a chance for a desperation heave, but Russell Westbrook’s attempt clanked off the front rim.
“We’ve done this often, running the clock out at the end of a game and allowing Kobe to have that opportunity to shoot the ball and create the space he has to have to make a basket,” said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. “Tonight it didn’t go in, but Pau was there. He made the tip in.”
That miss was a rarity for Kobe in the second half, as the Lakers rode him to 16 third quarter points and 32 total on 12-of-25 shooting.
“His offense was great tonight,” said Jackson.
Overall, the contest went much like Game 3 in the series, the Lakers controlling the tempo and the score until late in the third quarter, the difference of course being the result. As it were, L.A. possessed a six-point lead when Bryant picked up his fourth foul with 2:40 to go in the third, and the Thunder took advantage in reeling off a 6-0 run to tie the score at 73.
It was Derek Fisher on first response for L.A., hitting his third three-pointer of the game to give a slight buffer into the fourth quarter. Then, with Bryant and Gasol resting, Luke Walton came up with five points on a corner three (his first of the series) and a baseline turnaround to help push the lead back to seven with five minutes to go.
Yet the Thunder had been resilient throughout their season and the series, proven again with a timely 8-0 run sparked by consecutive Lakers turnovers to take a momentary 92-91 lead, their first edge since the second quarter. Kevin Durant, who struggled yet again from the field in making just 5-of-23 shots (though he did convert 14-of-15 free throws), then pushed the lead to three with a jumper, but Bryant quickly countered with a contested J from the corner.
Stepping up in a big way defensively in the final two minutes was Lamar Odom, who blocked a shot and cleared two rebounds, and it was Bryant who cleared Westbrook’s near miss from the baseline with 15 seconds left.
Then came Kobe’s jumper, Pau’s tip, and the Lakers victory.
We’ll have much more to come on Lakers.com, but until L.A. begins the Second Round against Utah on Sunday, your numbers:
8 OKC’s edge in fastbreak points (13-5), an acceptable if not ideal number for the Lakers.
18 Rebounds for Pau Gasol, none of course bigger than his massive tip in to win the game for L.A.
19 The Thunder’s edge in free throws made, thanks mostly to Kevin Durant’s 14-of-15 effort. L.A. helped make up for it by nailing 12-of-24 3-pointers, including three makes each from Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. Bryant finished with 32 points and Fisher 11.
21.7 Durant’s shooting percentage from the field (5-of-23), for which Ron Artest deserves more than his fair share of credit after an extremely impressive defensive job on KD throughout the series.
30 Bench points for L.A., led by Shannon Brown’s 11 and Lamar Odom’s 9, to outscore the Thunder’s bench 30-16.