This entire series I've hardly mentioned Pau Gasol's name. I've talked about Ron Artest's defense (and problems on offense), Bryant's injuries and poor shooting, Odom becoming more aggressive as the series went on, and Bynum returning from injury without having lost a step. I've talked about almost every Laker but I've glossed over Gasol.
It's not that I overlook him either. It's just that he's a given. I'll pull a Lost reference right now - He's the Lakers constant. Most people would put that label on Kobe Bryant but recently he's been way to inconsistent to be called that. For the series, Gasol shot 53% and averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds. The irony is he might have just had his worst game of the series and now I choose to praise the man. He hit just 4 of 11 shots (the only game in the series he shot under 50%) but his last one was the one that mattered most. Gasol picked up his 18th rebound off of Bryant's shot and scored his fourth bucket with the game-winning tip-in with .5 seconds remaining.
Before I delve into some more details about the game, I want to talk about the Lakers' final possession. With the Lakers down by a point, of course Kobe Bryant had the ball in his hands. Bryant had Russell Westbrook one-on-one with all the other Lakers on the left side of the court. Kobe made his move with six seconds left. He drove right, pulled up and shot over Westbrook. It hit the far side of the rim, then the glass and popped out right to Pau Gasol who was there for the tip-in.
There are a couple things that were very questionable about this whole scenario. First of all, the Thunder must have unbelievable confidence in Westbrook. You leave him on an island with the best closer in the game? If Bryant sinks that shot, there would've been a lot of second-guessing why the Thunder had Westbrook on Kobe instead of Durant. Many would've also wondered why they didn't attempt to double-team him. Although, it should be noted that the Lakers didn't call a timeout prior to their last possession.
But the biggest blunder was by Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has been the biggest surprise in this series. Not only is he a menace on the defensive end, but he's displayed quite a bit of range in his offensive game. On the game-winning play though, he didn't pick up Gasol. Pau skirted right around Ibaka for the easy tip-in. If Ibaka boxes out, this series is headed for a Game 7. But instead, Gasol snuck in between both Ibaka and Collison to win it for LA.
This game really reflected how balanced this series truly was. Over the six games, the Lakers outscored the Thunder by a total of 10 points. The Thunder dominated one game, the Lakers dominated another and the other four were really close.
What the Thunder Did Well
Got to the Rim. This was pretty much a constant throughout the series. The Thunder are athletic and drive to the bucket and get to the free throw line. The Thunder shot 31 free throws and hit 27 of them. The Lakers, on the other hand took just 14 attempts, making just 9 of them. In Game 5 in Los Angeles, the Lakers actually had the edge from the line - this is no coincidence. Home teams get home calls. They're not necessarily bad calls (of course some are) but they are those calls that if they weren't called, an impartial fan wouldn't be surprised. I also think the home crowd really energized the Thunder. How could they not? That crowd is unbelievable. Even after the loss, they cheered the Thunder for at least five minutes.
Fast Break Points. The Lakers did a better job stopping the Thunder than they had in Games 3 and 4 but the Thunder still outscored the Lakers 13-5 in fast break points last night.
Points in the Paint. The Lakers are supposed to own the points in the paint. Yet, it was the Thunder who were able to get nearly half their points inside. They outscored the Lakers 46-38 in that category. Their buckets were mostly created off of drives. Either, they would make the pass off the double-team to someone under the bucket or they'd grab an offensive board off the miss and have an easy put back. They hustled all night long and that shows in the amount of easy baskets they got around the rim.
What the Lakers Did Well
Kobe Bryant Played Like Kobe Bryant. Bryant finally did what everyone had waited for him to do (and what many wondered if he even could do anymore). The Thunder began heating up in the third and Bryant responded. He had 16 of the Lakers' 23 points in the third on eight shots. He finally entered that elusive zone. He couldn't hit the last shot but he did finish 12 of 25 for 32 points.
Bench Players Produced. This was the biggest shocker. Sure, Bryant had a big game but this was really the difference-maker. The Thunder had been able to get back into the game when the Lakers second unit was on the court but not last night. In every game of the series, whichever team's bench scored the most had won and it continued last night as the Laker bench outscored the Thunder's 30-16. They hit 10 of 19 shots including some clutch three-pointers from Shannon Brown and Luke Walton.
Before the beginning of these playoffs, I thought the chances of the Lakers repeating was slim. They were playing their worst basketball of the season and I wasn't sure how productive Andrew Bynum could be coming back from injury. Well, Bynum has shown he can produce but the Lakers have still been erratic. But suddenly I have much more confidence that the Lakers will at least get back to the Finals. They now face the Jazz who are without two starters in Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko. The Lakers took 2 out of 3 during the regular season, winning both games easily and losing one by 8 points. I have no doubt Deron Williams will torch them but as long as they limit the damage from everyone else they should be fine.
If they beat the Jazz, they would face the winner of the Suns/Spurs series. If the Suns don't get Robin Lopez back they won't be able to handle the Lakers inside. And if it's the Spurs, I think they match up well against them too. As long as Ginobili isn't on fire (though, that seems to be happening a lot lately), I don't think they'd have much of a problem dispensing of the Spurs.There's a lot of factors still in play, but the forecast for the Lakers' postseason chances just got a little bit brighter.