NBA Playoff Recap - West First Round, Game 5
(1) L.A. Lakers 111, (8) Oklahoma City 87 - Lakers lead series, 3-2
Well, that was different.
After the first four games of this surprisingly competitive first-round series, the Los Angeles Lakers - dinged up by nagging injuries and inconsistent to the -nth degree - looked like a team that lacked the ability to deliver overwhelming roundhouse punches. The defending world champions still deserved to be the favorite against the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder. After all, the eighth seed from the South Central Plains had not yet managed to win at the Staples Center in L.A. Yet, in the same breath, it seemed very unlikely that the Lake Show could play the brand of ball which would leave Kevin Durant and the rest of the Thunder in a state of awestruck admiration.
That all changed on Tuesday night in the City of Angels.
Pau Gasol threw down 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. A focused Andrew Bynum produced 21 points. The Lakers emphasized their size and strength near the basket, and they defended with considerably more intensity than they had in the first four games of this series. The results were unmistakable.
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Up by a 31-16 margin after the first quarter and then by 21 points at halftime, the Lakers - in full lockdown mode at the defensive end of the floor - rolled to a 24-point triumph which gave them the lead in this best-of-seven showcase. Just as importantly, the convincing and commanding conquest enabled a strong dose of confidence to re-enter this team's bloodstream.
Since the All-Star break, the Lakers had won only three games by double-digit margins. Yes, the point of NBA games is merely to win them; the 82-game regular-season schedule demands the ability to pull close contests out of the fire on a consistent basis. Yet, the mark of an upper-tier ballclub is also found in the ability to land haymakers and send opponents crashing to the canvas every now and then. The Lakers - distracted by the boredom of the season and limited by injuries to Bynum and Kobe - treated the final month of the regular season as a chore and a burden more than as a chance to display their greatness. That combination of attitude and approach was understandable, but it pulled the Lakers away from a champion's mentality. At the very least, such a claim gained validity and legitimacy after seeing the first four games of this encounter with Oklahoma City. The Thunder played L.A. on very even terms in Game 2 before falling, and when the series shifted to Oklahoma for games 3 and 4, the Thunder struck down the Lakers with superior shotmaking and energy.
It was only in Game 5 that the Lakers finally looked the part of a championship team with designs on a repeat. It was only in this laugher that Los Angeles hounded Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, holding the dynamic duo to 9-of-27 shooting. It was only in this game that the Lakers held the Thunder to 34 first-half points and decided the issue early in the second half.
Will this Laker team show up for Game 6 in Oklahoma City? If it does, that championship vibe will be back in full force, and the rest of the NBA will have cause to be very afraid.
By: Matt Zemek
ProBasketball-fans.com Senior Staff Writer
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