Lakers Sent Packing, OKC Thunder Advance
Though Kobe Bryant posted 42 points (the 13th 40-point game of his playoff career), his efforts were not enough to propel the Lakers into a potential Game 6. Pau Gasol took 14 shots, his most of the series, but only made five, finishing with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Metta World Peace and Andrew Bynum scored 11 and 10, respectively.
Oklahoma City controlled the momentum early on after scoring five of its first eight baskets on dunks and grabbing 16 of the game's first 22 rebounds. Bryant was the sole generator for the Lakers offense, scoring 15 of the first 19 points including six "assist-less" baskets. The Lakers then went on a 16-7 run, surging ahead, 35-32.
Bryant and World Peace drew technical fouls 31.9 seconds before halftime after World Peace was called for a flagrant foul against Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha. World Peace used his right hand to strip the ball from Sefolosha as he went up to the basket but had shoved him out of bounds with his left hand. The technicals sent the Thunder into the half with a 54-51 lead.
A pair of Russell Westbrook three-point plays during a 14-3 run allowed the Thunder to regain the lead in the third quarter. The Thunder promptly scored the first ten points of the fourth quarter extending their lead to 93-77. Westbrook scored 28 points and tallied four assists, while Kevin Durant posted 25 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.
The 2012 playoffs have not been an easy road for the Lakers. In the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers were pushed to the brink when the series was extended to seven games against the Denver Nuggets. Without the defensive expertise of Metta World Peace (who was suspended for a total of seven games, including the first six of the Nuggets series), the Lakers were struggling to regain their swagger.
Aside from the evident on-court fatigue, the off-court drama did not aid the Lakers in their quest for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Guard Steve Blake and his family received “hate tweets” after he missed a game-winning three pointer in Game 2 of the second round.
Blake wasn’t the only Laker receiving harsh criticism. Immense criticism of Bynum and Gasol continued with every game. Claims that Gasol is “soft” and not aggressive filled the sports airwaves throughout the series. Like Gasol, Bynum also faced much disparagement for his lack of physicality. Though both have had spurts of outstanding performances in certain games, neither has managed to silence the critics entirely.
Now that the Lakers are officially in the off-season, do not be surprised if roster changes occur. However it is important to note that the Lakers had to embrace a coaching switch and the lost time due to the lockout. Such developments made it more difficult for the players to become acquainted with the new offensive and defensive schemes.
Without a doubt, the Lakers need to take advantage of the offseason in order to better the franchise for the 2012-13 season. Only time will tell before the Lakers future is determined.