NBA Playoff Recap - West First Round, Game 6
(1) L.A. Lakers 95, (8) Oklahoma City 94 - Lakers win series, 4-2
One legendary Los Angeles Laker said that the last six minutes were all you needed to watch in an NBA game. Friday night in Oklahoma City, the last six seconds told the tale in a terrifically tense tilt that created quite a stir in the world of professional basketball.
It was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who cautioned hoops junkies to wait until the end of a 48-minute contest, and in Game 6 of this riveting Western Conference playoff series, he actually understated the matter. The young and untested No. 8 seed from the South Central Plains took the defending world champions to the limit in this defining donnybrook, and stood within one defensive stop of forcing a Game 7 on Sunday. In the end, though, the "almost-but-not-quite" fate that has befallen so many upstart teams in the NBA over the years cuddled up alongside the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The NBA is a league where young teams generally have to endure a tough loss before they graduate to the next level. The Philadelphia 76ers of the early 1980s lost twice to the Lakers before they beat the Purple and Gold in the 1983 NBA Finals. The Detroit Pistons of the mid-1980s lost to the Boston Celtics before breaking through against Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dennis Johnson in 1988. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls endured a pair of losses to Detroit before sweeping the Pistons out of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. Kobe Bryant himself had to endure a miserable experience in the 1998 Western Conference Finals against the Utah Jazz before rising to the top of the basketball world in the 2000 season and staying there for much of the past decade.
Now, the Oklahoma City squad that captured the imagination of its fan base - not to mention many hoopheads across the nation (just not in Seattle) - has encountered the poignancy and pain of a playoff ouster that didn't have to happen.
No one will remember that the Thunder, down by nine late in the fourth quarter, raced back to grab a one-point lead.
No one will remember that Oklahoma City played Los Angeles even-steven despite a terrible 5-of-23 shooting performance from superstar Kevin Durant.
No one will remember that Coach Scott Brooks's ballclub showed remarkable poise and composure against Phil Jackson's world champions, responding to every Laker run with level-headed toughness.
No, all one will remember about this game is that the veteran team with a knack for winning made the big play in the final seconds, while the playoff newbies blew it.
All one will remember is that with Oklahoma City leading, 94-93, with six seconds left, the Thunder didn't double Kobe Bryant on the right wing, which was understandable for a simple reason: Oklahoma City needed to rebound a miss.
Sure enough - and shockingly - Kobe couldn't knock down a mid-range baseline fadeaway jumper. Since the Black Mamba was being guarded by only one player, the backboard should have been sealed.
There was just one problem: It wasn't. Serge Ibaka failed to block out L.A. big man Pau Gasol from the weak side, and Eric Collison failed to box out the Spaniard from the strong side. Gasol slipped through a gap and put back the Kobe miss with 0.5 seconds left, and that was all she wrote.
The Lakers moved on. The Thunder - due to the kind of split-second lapse young teams will make in the postseason - saw their upset hopes die at the Ford Center.
This is how the world works: Young teams learn painful lessons in the springtime of an NBA season. Savvy teams win the games they've become accustomed to winning for many years. The Lakers' march to a repeat title is once again on track.
By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer
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