Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers pull ahead 3-2 in series with Thunder

Pau Gasol had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Andrew Bynum added 21 points and the Los Angeles Lakers vigorously rebounded from back-to-back losses with a 111-87 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night, taking a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Kobe Bryant had 13 points and seven assists in three quarters of work as the defending NBA champions coolly shook off the eighth-seeded Thunder’s series-tying blowout win in Game 4 with a comprehensive thrashing of the post-season newcomers.

With their offence purring and their defence throttling Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Lakers led by 21 points at halftime and went ahead by 32 late in the third quarter of their third home victory in the series.
Game 6 is Friday night in Oklahoma City, where the top-seeded Lakers will attempt to reach the Western Conference semifinals for the third straight year.

Durant scored 17 points and Westbrook had 15 on combined 9-for-27 shooting for Oklahoma City, which never recovered after missing its first 13 shots.

While the Thunder are still learning about the demands of playoff basketball, the Lakers already have an advanced degree — and they showed off what they’ve learned during two straight trips to the NBA finals.

Los Angeles jumped to a 10-0 lead before the Thunder’s first point on Westbrook’s free throw nearly 4 ½ minutes in, and Oklahoma City couldn’t hit a field goal until Durant’s jumper with 5:49 left.

Bynum scored eight straight points underneath the basket as the Lakers finally turned their superior height into an advantage, rather than the anchor it became in Oklahoma City. Bynum had 11 rebounds and hit his career playoff high with 8-for-10 shooting, while Gasol scored 15 points in the third quarter to put away the win.

Los Angeles also got 14 points in a resurgent effort from Ron Artest, whose shooting woes had overshadowed his defensive efforts against Durant in the series’ first four games. The mercurial forward clearly is done playing around as he chases his first championship ring: He even shaved off his platinum-blond dyed hair from late in the regular season.

After Los Angeles won the first two games, Oklahoma City evened the series and gained a wealth of confidence with back-to-back wins. The Thunder embarrassed the Lakers in Game 4, going ahead by 29 points and holding Bryant to 12 after the former MVP didn’t take a shot in the first quarter.

The Staples Center crowd had a palpable unease before the game, with fans rising and cheering anxiously before the opening tip in a blatant violation of the usual rules of Hollywood cool. Los Angeles clearly was paying attention to the rowdy crowds in Oklahoma City.

Yet the Lakers also brought their best game, playing heady defence from the opening tip — including Bryant’s move to guarding Westbrook, the speedy former UCLA point guard whose dribble penetration leads to much of the Thunder offence.

Los Angeles led 31-16 after one quarter and steadily pushed the advantage heading into halftime, going up 55-34 on Bryant’s jumper with 7.7 seconds left. The Lakers made nearly 65 per cent of their first-half shots while holding Oklahoma City to 26-per cent shooting, including Westbrook’s 2-for-8 effort on a variety of wild drives to the hoop.

The Thunder fast breaks that shredded the Lakers in Oklahoma City were almost non-existent, with just two first-half points on the break.

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