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Gasol one of many heroes for Lakers
Kobe Bryant, of course, is supposed to be a game-winner, and there was no denying the brilliance and timeliness of his shot-making — 12-for-25 for 32 points. However, Phil Jackson let him cool too long on the bench at the start of the fourth and deciding quarter, choosing not to let him re-enter the fray until the 6:21 mark. After Kobe was finally sent back into the action he only shot 1-for-4, including his short-stroking of an ostensible win-or-lose shot with only two seconds left — a miss that Pau Gasol put back to end the game and the series.
Derek Fisher was his usual steady presence, hitting three of six treys, scoring on a right-handed layup, and distributing six assists. Yes, he’s slow, and no, he can’t defend speedy opponents. All Fish can do is find ways to help his team win.
Until his clutch basket, Gasol was a strong candidate to wear the goat’s horns. He did snare 18 rebounds, but his defensive rotations were erratic, and in the closing minutes of play he had the ball ripped out of his hands by Jeff Green, and in an even more critical situation, badly missed a lefty hook with 39 seconds remaining. However, by making the right play at the right time, Gasol wears a crown.
Lamar Odom took a couple of misbegotten shots, but scored an important basket after executing an important dive cut, made three crucial blocks, hauled down seven tough rebounds and played superbly in Kobe’s glittering shadow.
Previously in the series, Luke Walton couldn’t hit a shot to get into heaven, but he calmly nailed a long deuce and an important 3-ball while Kobe was resting his hot hand on the sideline.
Pau Gasol puts in Kobe Bryant's miss with less than a second left.
Shannon Brown was often careless with the ball, but compensated by shooting four of five, including two of two from beyond the arc.
For someone who’s such an unreliable shooter, Ron Artest shoots too much — 3-for-10. Even Kobe was visibly upset when Artest launched one particular ill-advised long-ball late in the third quarter. However, Artest surprised everybody (except perhaps himself) when he dropped a triple and a 20-footer in the end-game. And, of course, Ron-Ron’s lock-down defense on Kevin Durant was certainly no surprise.
For the Thunder, their most significant almost-hero was Russell Westbrook — 7-for-20, nine assists, three steals, zero turnovers, 21 points. Dared by the Lakers to shoot jumpers, Westbrook was only 4-for-12 from outside and missed an uncontested springer from 10 feet with 20 seconds showing on the game clock. In fact, after nailing his first two jumpers, Westbrook fell in love with the worst part of his offense and frequently jacked up jays instead of passing to open teammates. The young man has a ways to go before making a complete transition from being a scorer to being a point guard who can score.
Nenad Krstic was another guy who played above and beyond his normal game plan — 11 points, 11 rebounds. He did most of his scoring when either Bynum or Gasol made too much of a commitment to helping on ball-penetrators and left him alone to scoop up offensive rebounds and easy buckets.
Serge Ibaka was easily the most athletic big on the court — 4-for-6, eight rebounds, 10 points. If he works hard in the summer, next season and beyond this guy is going to be a monster.
Jeff Green ran himself into several dunks, took too many treys — two of six — and wasn’t as dominant in the paint as he should have been.
Who, then, were the irredeemable goats?
The primary one was Durant — 5-for-23 for 26 points. Not only did he force shots, he bricked numerous open ones, and even missed four layups. He did wind up going 14 of 15 from the stripe, but that’s mainly because the refs treated KD as though he was already in the Hall of Fame. Indeed, on one sequence, they sent him to the line when Westbrook actually committed an offensive foul.
Sure, Artest rooted around in KD’s kitchen all game long. But let’s face it, the young man choked. Still, he surely did look good when, just before the opening tip, he broke into the herky-jerky.
Compared to Durant, much less was expected of Bynum and that’s precisely what he delivered. Bynum’s defensive rotations were either late or nonexistent, his footwork was clumsy in tight quarters, and his subnormal basketball IQ was also demonstrated when he was guilty of a pair of costly 3-second violations.
Bynum usually dominates the paint for about four or five minutes early in games. But the better the competition the worse he plays. In truth, the young man seems to regress year-by-year.
Overall, the Thunder lost because they missed 12 layups — four by KD, three by Krstic, two by Green, and one each by Eric Maynor, Nick Collison and Westbrook. Also because, with Durant firing mostly blanks and the Lakers swarming the ball in the paint, the Thunder only shot 36.5 percent.
The Lakers won because Kobe was aggressive in the attack zone from the get-go; Gasol spent much of the game at the high post, thereby opening the middle for Kobe’s drives; and because, unlike the young Thunder, the Lakers were able to overcome their mistakes.
As the playoffs progress, being pushed to the edge by OKC should ultimately lead to the Lakers focusing their sometimes hazy concentration, and to their playing more like reigning champions than they have in the past few weeks.
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