Pau Gasol Tips the Lakers Into the Next Round

It was not easy, but maybe the Lakers needed that.

Well, so much for that “easy” first round series.

The Lakers had to fight for the win — but they proved they can fight. It took the Lakers hitting 50 percent of their shots from three, Kobe Bryant’s best game of these playoffs and a last second tip in from Pau Gasol all to squeak by the Oklahoma City Thunder, 95-94. That gives the Lakers a 4-2 series win.

Next up for the Lakers is the Utah Jazz, starting Sunday at Staples Center.

But for a night, the Lakers should revel in a hard-fought series win.

A lot of credit should go to the young Oklahoma City Thunder — can you imagine how good that team is going to be in a couple years? They play hard-nosed defense, something a lot of young teams don’t. And they are loaded with talent. But young talent.

The Lakers taught the Thunder some hard lessons. LA’s star Kobe Bryant saved his best game for an elimination game with 32 points, Kevin Durant did not (5 of 23 shooting). Pau Gasol knew how to time a sneak inside for a game-winning putback, Serge Ibaka did not box him out. Derek Fisher knew how to step up and hit big threes, Russell Westbrook did not.

The Lakers largely did what they had done in game four — they controlled the tempo and took away a lot of the Thunders’ easy baskets. The Thunder had just 13 fast break points, and forced into the halfcourt they shot just 36.5 percent, 26.3 percent from three.

The Lakers, however, were lighting it up from three. The last two games the Lakers did much better about setting up angles for entry passes to the post, or getting the ball inside off penetration, and that led to kick-outs and good look threes for LA. They hit 12 of 24 from three in this one, and shot 46.8 percent overall.

Still the Thunder never went away. It took some last minute heroics from the Lakers.

The Thunder were up one with 15 seconds when Westbrook had a clean look at the jumper from 10 feet baseline. Oh, the midrange game continues to be his challenge. On the season from the right side baseline there Westbrook was shooting just 25.7% (thank you NBA Hot Spots). He missed.

Kobe Bryant grabbed the rebound and was clearly going to take the last shot. The Thunder did not double team him, so he got off a good shot baseline, but one that was destined to miss. When Kobe made his move and started to go up Nenade Kristic and Durant were under the basket wrestling with Artest, while Serge Ibaka was watching the ball, not bodying his man. So Gasol stepped inside Ibaka, got the tip with 0.5 seconds on the clock. Ballgame.

Lakers fans are looking ahead to a Jazz team they dominated in the regular. Because if the Oklahoma series taught the Lakers one thing, it’s that there will be no easy outs.

Kurt Helin lives in Los Angeles and is the Blogger-in-Chief of NBC's NBA blog Pro Basketball Talk (which you can also follow in twitter).

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