Peace out, Lakers.
The Thunder are through the second round in five over the Lakers, winning Game 5 convincingly 106-90. Time for the pupil to face the master.
Advancing to the Western Conference Finals is no small task, but it certainly doesn’t feel as significant this season as it did last. It was expected, and anything less would’ve been a major disappointment. Which is what makes this pretty impressive to me. A sweep of the defending champions, and then a gentleman’s sweep of the Lakers.
Game 5 restored some order in the series too. No more of this halfcourt-grind-it-out-need-a-comeback stuff. It was close for a long while as Kobe was brilliant, but a Nick Collison dunk, then a Russell Westbrook circus and-1 brought everything to life. From that point on, the Thunder went on 27-7 run to essentially finish the Lakers. After KD hit two daggers 3s, all the game was really missing was Andrew Bynum taking his jersey off.
It was an interesting dynamic that led to the explosion though. The Thunder began the second quarter with a 26-21 lead, and Scott Brooks went to his bench. The Lakers stayed mostly with their starters and went on 14-8 run to take the lead. Brooks stayed with his second unit a bit too long, finally inserting Kevin Durant and Westbrook to which promptly pushed OKC on a 6-0 spurt. That same setup played out again to start the fourth, except this time Brooks stuck with Durant and Westbrook to begin the quarter, while Mike Brown sat Kobe. OKC went on an immediate 10-0 run.
“It’s a decision I usually don’t make throughout the season, but I felt with the days off between games and the long timeouts that they can handle the extra four to five minutes that they would normally get a break during that time,” Brooks said. “Usually I do it with Kevin and not Russell, because the point guard takes so much physical effort to play both ends of the floor and the mental part of the game.
“But I thought with the long timeouts and the way he was playing tonight that there was no reason for me to take him out. He would have enough energy to finish the game off.”
It was a wise decision by Brooks. The Western Finals were within reach. The team just needed one more little push. A small run would do it, and Durant delivered with the triples.
But three main things stuck out to me from this game:
1) The Thunder completely owned the glass. After giving up 18 offensive boards to the Lakers in Game 4, they only had three (three!) in Game 5. The Thunder outrebounded LA 51-35. Remember, this was supposedly the strength of their team and a weakness for the Thunder. Instead of Bynum and Gasol creating second chances, it was one and done for the Lakers. Perk, Ibaka, Nick Collison, KD — all did terrific work on the boards.
2) KD, Westbrook and Harden were all three terrific. When those three click, boy oh boy are the Thunder good. Westbrook was in his Superman mode, KD was shaking loose and drilling shots and Harden was steadily pacing it all. Seventy points between the three.
3) Perk’s interior defense. Bynum never was a factor. Maybe I should be credited Kobe Bryant’s defense, but only 10 points on 10 shots. Perk fronted, played him straight up, muscled him and basically eliminated Bynum from the equation. Yeah, Kobe shot 33 times which kept the ball away, but a lot of that had to do that there wasn’t really an option to feed the big man.
Obviously the job isn’t done, but the win is important because a) it’s finished and b) the Thunder get to rest along with the Spurs. Instead of battling it out over the next few days, OKC has five days off before Game 1.
- Mike Brown on if he was tempted to start Kobe in the fourth: “It was. I just felt he was playing a lot of minutes. That unit I put out there played well at the beginning of the second … I didn’t even get to sit him as long as I wanted to.”
- It’s about time Nick Collison made an imprint on this series! His putback dunk helped spark the run but he played tremendous interior defense in the fourth, made plays on the offensive end and did his usual dirty work thing.
- Russell Westbrook had four turnovers in this series. FOUR TURNOVERS EVERYBODY.
- Metta World Peace was hit with a Flagrant 1 late in the first half for fouling Thabo. To me, it was a weak call. World Peace blocked the shot and gave him a light push while in the air. It was soft. But he reacted and picked up a technical, then Kobe was hit with one. The Thunder essentially were gifted a free 3-pointer, and the ball.
- Prior to the game a couple Thunder players sat around in the locker room quoting “Superbad” for a good long while. It wasn’t an unusual scene as there’s really not a more fun place to be than the OKC locker room before a game, but it shows how loose and confident these guys were before going out and playing a massive Game 5.
- Kobe should’ve had his third foul to end the first quarter but Scott Foster decided to put it on Jordan Hill instead. Clearly a terrible call.
- Kobe’s lefty banker was just plain terrific.
- Serge Ibaka doesn’t block out. He wrestles out. Just turns around and bear hugs people.
- I saw a bunch of Thunder fans rocking red glasses tonight. Well played.
- Thunder Alley is pretty awesome. Thousands were out there tonight and TNT was in love with the aerial footage. However, it might be short lived as there was some violence in Bricktown after the game. It was likely unrelated to anything, but it’s still scary.
- The Thunder outscored the Lakers 119-97 in the fourth quarter of the five games in the series. 93-67 in the four wins.
- KD on the fourth quarters: “Well, we know that is the most important part of the game and I think we kept our composure in the fourth quarter and made plays on the defensive end as well as the offensive end. And we believe, even if we’re down or even have a lead, we still wanted to play the right way and the right basketball.”
- That Derek Fisher 3 in the fourth quarter? I would’ve bet my life that thing was going in.
- I wanted to get mad at Nazr Mohammed for a minute, but then he went around and dunk on Bynum.
- Great move by Brooks to stick with Collison and leave Serge Ibaka on the bench for most of the second half. Ibaka has been a major impact player on the series, but Collison had it working and the matchups just fit better.
Next up: Game 1 in San Antonio Sunday.