Oklahoma City Thunder closes out Lakers in 5; is L.A.’s championship window closed?


Is this the end of an era in Los Angeles? (Ronald Martinez/GETTY IMAGES)
May 22, 2012

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder finished off the Los Angeles Lakers with a dominant second-half rally that sealed a second straight Western Conference finals berth. And it was one of Westbrook’s many incredible finishes at the basket that helped power the Thunder’s run and send the home crowd into a frenzy. As the Associated Press reported:

Ramon Sessions did the best he could to keep Russell Westbrook from making a high-flying dunk that would energize the Oklahoma City Thunder.

No matter.

Even with his feet flat on the ground, Westbrook found a way to get the Thunder rolling past the Los Angeles Lakers and into the Western Conference finals for the second straight year.

After Sessions committed a foul to stop him on the fast break, Westbrook flipped the ball up toward the rim and got it to go in for what would become a three-point play. Westbrook took off toward the scorer’s table, pumping his fist as the home crowd celebrated.


Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after hitting a basket against the Los Angeles Lakers in the third quarter of Game 5 in their NBA basketball Western Conference semifinal playoff series, Monday, May 21, 2012, in Oklahoma City. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

There was no turning back after that, and Oklahoma City pulled away for a 106-90 victory in Game 5 on Monday night to knock the Lakers out of the playoffs.

“That was an amazing play,” coach Scott Brooks said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of luck to that. You put yourself in that position to get a little lucky there.

“I thought from that point on, we really played with great energy on the offensive end, moved the ball and made shots.”

The playoff exit once again kept Kobe Bryant one ring short of Michael Jordan’s total of six NBA titles and could lead to wholesale changes for a Lakers team whose championship window appears to be closing. As the Associated Press reported:

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol spent the final minutes of the Los Angeles Lakers’ final game arguing in Oklahoma City, disagreeing on the best way to run a pick-and-roll play.

It might have been the tandem’s last few minutes together with a franchise that has little patience when even great players stop bringing home rings.

The Lakers were eliminated in the second round for the second straight year Monday night with a five-game loss to the Thunder. Although the Lakers had a solid season despite getting no real training camp to make the enormous switch from coaches Phil Jackson to Mike Brown, they weren’t as good as the NBA’s best.

That likely means changes for a franchise and a fan base that considers seasons ending before June to be abject failures.

In Lakerland, it’s easy to forget that the large majority of NBA franchises would be quite pleased by a 41-25 regular season, yet another Pacific Division title and a decent performance against the Thunder, clearly a top-four team. Many teams would be excited to retool a roster topped by Bryant, four-time All-Star big man Gasol, and emerging All-Star center Andrew Bynum, who frequently dominated during his best pro season.

But no franchise has the incredibly high standards of Bryant and the 16-time champion Lakers, who don’t even acknowledge division titles that would be a significant achievement for other teams. A second-round playoff loss to a better team caused panic and widespread soul-searching Tuesday.

While his teammates struggled, Bryant tried to will the Lakers to victory, but it wasn’t enough. Now with questions swirling about the future of the team, Bryant is remaining defiant. As Michael Lee reported:

You had to know Kobe Bryant wasn’t looking to pass the torch to the Oklahoma City Thunder on a night when he wasn’t even looking to pass the ball. Bryant offered an offensive clinic in his final game of the season on Monday, serving up a plate of assorted pump fakes, fadeaways, footwork and flash.

He scored 42 points in 41 minutes as the Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated from the second round for the second year in a row, following a 106-90 loss to the Thunder. But Bryant also had zero assists, which was evidence of the limited trust he had in his teammates – and also confirmation that he was playing for his legacy as much as a Lakers victory in Game 5.

After losing another opportunity to win that coveted Michael-Jordan-tying sixth ring, Bryant was even more reluctant to concede anything to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the young’uns who exacted their revenge for losing to the Lakers two years ago. In Bryant’s mind, the changing of the guard hasn’t occurred. Not yet.

“I’m not fading into the shadows, if that is what you’re asking. I’m not going anywhere,” Bryant told reporters in Oklahoma City, before interrupting a follow-up question to add, “We’re not going anywhere. This is not one of those things where the Bulls beat the Pistons and the Pistons disappear forever. I’m not going for that . . .”

More NBA Playoffs coverage from Washington Post Sports:

Mike Wise: Oklahoma City Thunder Coach Scott Brooks never gave up on his dream

Kobe Bryant still defiant in defeat

Eight wounded in shootings after Thunder win

NBA Playoffs schedule & results

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